I named my blog "The Recovering Leader" to recognize the value of continuous learning to live and lead others in new and better ways — to gain the self-awareness needed to be at our personal best most days.
That's my hope in my own "recovery" -- to bring an open mind, heart, and spirit together to do what has become my life's work -- coaching leaders and writing about leadership.
I also refer to it as "recovery" because when I held senior executive positions in large corporations, up to age 40, I was hardly at my own personal best. I got to a senior position by “getting it done” and “delivering the goods,” but the cost to myself, and to others, was high. I was pushy, arrogant, controlling, enthusiastic, focused, guarded, fearful, worried, competitive, driven, and ambitious — a climber. That was the game I had unconsciously chosen, even knowing all along,"there must be something more than this..."
Even with glaring liabilities, I was able to “succeed” (as I defined success at the time) more than I failed—at least for a good while. It worked for my P&L, even as I discovered it didn’t work for me. I rose to divisional Chief Operating Officer at a Fortune 500 company, a coveted c-level job I thought I wanted. The very day I got THAT promotion I instantly realized it had no meaning to me. "This isn't everything I had hoped it would be" was my realization. All of a sudden the game itself — the climbing game — was over. My work degraded, as my pilot light which had burned so brightly with ambition, simply went out.
Over the next year or so, I started asking questions that would lead me in a completely different direction. If this wasn’t it, then what did I truly want? What is great leadership? To what should I devote my life?
My recovery really began as these questions led me to work with an executive coach, who helped me to realize that I had been driven more by habit than heart. At first I thought he was insane, but despite myself, he managed to help me to let go of what I thought I wanted, in order to find what I was meant to do. What was in my heart from a work / professional / leadership perspective? How could I integrate those elements into my day-to-day work?
I took on significant change, went back to school at Georgetown and learned to be a coach, founded my own coaching firm, and started to incorporate my training and experience—the good, bad, and ugly—into helping other executives. For this, I will always be grateful to Michael Applebee, my coach and friend at the time, who has passed on. Mike was my guide in helping me begin to find recovery in leadership.
On the last day of my Georgetown leadership coaching training, I remember everyone had left the room, and I was sitting there smiling. Someone had put on some music—I think it was blues—and I began to cry with happiness. Why? Because after 18 years of work, I knew I had finally made the best possible choice, and done the right thing. It left me happy, relieved, hopeful, lit-up professionally, and ready to be at my best every day. I cried for what seemed like a long time, when the head of the program came back in the room, and she took my hand, and we danced. This meant more to me than any title, position, paycheck, or “getting it done” had ever meant. This dance was the moment when my recovery hit “full swing,” and there it has remained.
A little-known but powerful definition of addiction is simply this: a belief or behavior that, over time, interferes with your intended goals in some small or larger way, but that you keep believing or doing anyway. Recovery truly begins when you realize: “There must be something better than this,” and begin to ask the questions of yourself that can get you there.
Today, my work with leader clients is with the Goodstone Group. That, along with my writing, are both intended to hold up a mirror for leaders so that they can see themselves clearly enough to take on their own change efforts, and even, at times, “recovery.”
Once we have a good hard look in the mirror of our leadership, then change is possible — and even probable. This process of putting recovery into action, like my own story, is about awakening, and remaining awake enough to make the best possible choices that lead to the greatest outcomes.
Like my clients, I continue to learn—sometimes quickly, and sometimes slowly. I work with a coach, and stay in my own recovery so that I can be at my own best in being of service to others. Daily life is full of the ups and downs, and lessons necessary to head in the right direction — provided we are willing to be wide awake for the journey. I’m doing the best I can, and hope you will too.