Leading Through Recovery: How Leadership Practices Help Me Stay Sober

Addiction has many faces. Some are recognizable and others may be hidden in plain sight. Business icons, medical professionals, lawyers, clergy members, and leaders at every level have been affected by substance abuse and addiction… including me. We are all in recovery from something – whether it’s a job transition, or COVID fatigue, or a toxic work/life balance – and I choose to recover out loud so that other leaders may not struggle in silence, and what I’ve learned along the way makes me a better leader.

In February 2020, after my fifth medically supervised intervention, I entered an intensive outpatient rehab program, where I learned that there is more than one way to gain freedom from alcohol. When COVID put a halt to in-person meetings and counseling sessions, I leveraged every possible resource I could to protect my newfound sobriety. Books, podcasts, journals, and eventually online meetings were helpful, but my turning point came from a familiar yet forgotten resource that became the crossroads where my recovery journey and my leadership journey became one and the same.

A decade ago, as a Certified Master and Leadership Practices Inventory® Coach, I had spent years sharing The Leadership Challenge®, a bestselling business book by authors Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner. I co-taught a course on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership for my alma mater, Seton Hall University – now, it was time for me to relearn. Getting lost in addiction had caused me to lose my love for leadership, or so I thought.

Rediscovering The Leadership Challenge® and The Five Practices, the commitments of “Model the Way” keep me aligned with my values. Finding my voice as a leader in recovery, “Inspire a Shared Vision” means sharing a vision for living, loving, and leading a joyfully authentic life, free from addiction. “Challenging the Process” is moving past failure, giving it thought only long enough to draw from the lessons it taught. As a recovery group mentor and online meeting facilitator, “Enable Others to Act” shows how positive mindset shifts result in mental models that promote healthy behaviors. The fifth practice, “Encourage the Heart,” comes naturally when offering grace and celebrating victories with others – doing the same for myself is something I work on every single day.

And here’s the thing… doing the work matters. The most important leadership lesson I have learned over the past 400 days of sobriety is that having the right systems in place to support new behaviors requires deliberate practice on a daily basis. Questions to ask: How are you practicing new habits that align with your values? What routines do you have in place to enable your commitment to behavioral change? How are you challenging your current processes?

One more thing… complacency isn’t an option. Exemplary leadership in business and in life requires a daily commitment to behaviors that align with our values. What I’ve learned is that for me, it means the mindful implementation of systems and structures that support my wellness, my growth, my gratitude, and my joy… and the greatest of these is love.

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