The recent avalanche of allegations, admissions and apologies for terrible behavior is crushing.

This painful but important step forward is long overdue. For too long women have been treated poorly, ignored or abused even further by retribution or retaliation for speaking out.

Business leaders should not turn a deaf ear to the topic, nor limit their attention to only the media’s priorities. Here are three key points for leaders to remember amid this wave of stories breaking in the news.

First, the prevalence of inappropriate behavior is certainly not restricted to the CEOs and celebrities that make the headlines. These types of behaviors have been shown to occur at all levels of leadership in both large and small organizations, with devastating effects. Just because you may not have a high profile company, or problematic senior leader, doesn’t mean you get a pass. You need to look hard and take action.

Another critical point for business leaders is breadth of focus. The eye-catching headlines and scintillating sexual harassment details may pull attention away from many other gender, race, bullying and toxic workplace problems. Surveys, studies, books and internal evaluations have shown that even strong companies find widespread opportunities for correction and improvement.

Ignoring these opportunities simply because you are not currently accused of whatever is in the top of the news cycle is shortsighted and a great disservice to your staff.

The final point to remember is the responsibility for these issues falls upon many shoulders, not just the CEO, board chair, or senior-most leaders. This is a lapse of leadership at all levels. To develop a culture that is consistently respectful requires building leaders that raise up, not rule, the staff—leaders who consistently demonstrate decision-making based on their values, not short-term personal gain.

 

These are hard problems. Not complex, but hard. 

 

Many paths forward are available, and many organizations are eager to help. One clear, free, step-by-step approach is available for download from the EEOC.

What is patently unclear to many business leaders is that to move your organization in this positive direction, the purpose and the values of the organization must be demonstrated repeatedly as the prime drivers of decisions across all levels. It takes clarity on paper, in videos and in person to show exactly what values-based decision-making looks like in practice. With a clear set of values spelled out, and clear code of behaviors outlining what is expected of every single person within the organization, you have a path forward.

It takes courage to declare exactly where the edge acceptable behavior is; it takes discipline to stay with those decisions despite who may be involved; and it takes durability to weather the storm regardless of how inconvenient the timing or pervasive the problem.

Sounds hard—and it is—but not complex. Many organizations currently aim to live exactly this way and have been able to rise up and be competitive and vibrant contributors to their community. Your responsibility as a leader is to not allow this rising awareness and tremendous educational opportunity to pass without carefully examining the decisions and behaviors of yourself and all your fellow leaders. You must ensure they are consistent with your values and that they translate into a positive environment that your staff are immersed in every day.

 If you are going to lead, you must find the courage to declare how your team will behave on the path forward, and the discipline to make sure it is followed.

Jeff Thompson, MD, is a speaker, pediatrician, chief executive officer emeritus at Gundersen Health System, and author of Lead True with ForbesBooks. Learn more at jeffthompsonmd.com.

 

First published on Forbes.com/JeffThompsonMD

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