An executive’s sobriety can have a profound impact on the organizations they lead. Recovery doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So how can a business professional apply recovery principles at the office? Is it possible that these practices can actually positively impact the bottom line?
In a Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Presenteeism: At Work—But Out of It,” the writer states, “presenteeism—the problem of workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning—can cut individual productivity by one-third or more.” This applies to “workers” at all levels – even the C-Suite. Addiction/alcoholism is the epitome of an illness that cripples even the highest functioning executive.
Before I got sober, I prided myself on the fact that I never lost a day of work to drinking. Looking back, however, I admit that mornings were never the most productive times of my day due to headache, nausea or fatigue following an evening of drinking. On those days (which were many), my focus was less on the real work at hand and more on my impaired physical state. My goal became more about getting through the day without screwing up versus furthering company goals and living the corporate vision by performing to the best of my ability. Frankly, on those days, I had all but lost the ability (or desire) to be the best version of myself.
We read in leadership self-help books and classes on effective business development that building relationships is the key to success. Addicts and alcoholics, when active in their disease, are simply incapable of building quality relationships. Why? It’s hard to have meaningful relationships with others when you can’t even have a relationship with yourself. Again, I’ll use part of my own story. As a high-functioning alcoholic, I was unaware of the fear that drove nearly every business decision I made. I would sit in business meetings with clients in a state of utter anxiety. While I looked calm and in control on the outside, inside, I heard voices saying things like, “If they knew who I really was, we would not be having this conversation.” This feeling of “being less than” kept me swirling in feelings of shame and fear of being “found out.” Not a good way to build a relationship. When an executive quits drinking or using drugs, sure he/she is substance-free, but the fears and character traits (like lying or cheating) that kept him/her from building relationships remain. Only through the process of recovery does life become manageable.
Here are 4 recovery principles that can also positively impact the bottom line.
1. Awareness: Getting to Know What You Don’t Know
Now that you’re not drinking or using drugs, you’re most likely in better physical shape. You’re more likely to focus on what’s important (company goals, etc.) instead of simply surviving the day. In recovery, you begin learning about YOU. As weeks pass, you start looking beyond yourself and become aware of what’s around you. What do you see? Your vision is most likely clearer…less cloudy. You start asking yourself questions like: What’s working? What’s not working? How are operations? And how about relationships? As you meet with direct reports, you find you can delve more deeply into issues with a greater level of clarity and less fear. Often, as leadership teams become aware of their leader’s more “present” and consistent behavior, they become more willing to approach you on issues that perhaps they avoided in the past because of the potential erratic response they received. Start writing down what you see. Sounds like an inventory, doesn’t it?
2. Acceptance: Owning the Part You Play
Now that you’re becoming more aware of yourself and what’s going on around you, it’s time to explore your role in the company’s operational reality and your role in the relationships you’ve engaged in with direct reports and peers. Don’t try to do this alone. Talk to someone. Reach out to your coach. Get another perspective from someone outside the organization so you can begin to see how your old behavior contributed to operational and relational gaps in a safe and objective setting. So often, I see executives become aware of a gap, and they leap into action before truly seeing their part in it. Spend some time in this phase of the growth process. It’s worth it. As the saying goes, “acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.” With each new awareness that emerges, if you sort things out with someone, you’ll get to a place of acceptance. Only then will you be in a position to take meaningful action.
3. Action: Applying the Principles
Here’s where your coach plays a critical role. Your coach provides you with a safe space to play through the actions you intend to take, allowing you to look at possible outcomes as well as how the proposed actions line up with “what’s important.” How will your actions impact operations? How will they affect your relationships? For instance, when a leader is in early recovery, he/she will need assistance in assessing potential harms that could result from indiscriminately exercising new behaviors. Your sponsor will help you come to an understanding of the words, “except when to do so would injure them or others,” and your coach will give you the space to work on it within the context of your leadership role. Here’s the good news. Just by continuing to stay engaged in a program of recovery, you are taking action.
4. Adherence: Making the Change Stick
How many times have you read a book or attended a training only to file away all the acquired knowledge never to use it again? If an executive is serious about assimilating effectively back into the C-Suite, he/she will need to stay involved in the process of development, both personally through the recovery program that supports sobriety and professionally through the coaching process. Adherence to these processes will yield an ever-deepening awareness of behaviors that can sabotage sobriety and business/career success.
If you are a leader who is new to sobriety, welcome to an exciting chapter in your career! By employing the many skills you learn in recovery, you have the opportunity to not only transform your life, but catapult your organization’s effectiveness to a whole new level.