Mastering Authentic Leadership

When I think of the old definition of leadership, I think of corporate CEOs pretending they don’t have weaknesses. Instead of using more productive leadership habits, they’re focused on fixing, managing and controlling perceptions to get what they want (the same way a drug addict fixes, manages and controls perception to get the next hit). 

Great leaders in the future will lead in a fundamentally different way. The only people who have been systematically trained in the new, authentical model of leadership are recovering drug addicts. This is probably not the first time you’ve heard about leadership, and you may be familiar with my story and stories like it. And we have all been impacted by addiction in one way or another. As a recovering addict, I’ve been there. But I’ve also been in leadership positions.

We have a saying in recovery: “A head full of recovery will screw up your using.” Once you know something, you can’t unknow it. It’s all about “screwing up” your perception of leadership. But first you have to understand your addiction – that thing you do over and over again despite the negative consequences. 

There are three behaviors addicts exhibit: 

  1. Saying yes to something you should say no to (getting high)
  2. Hiding your weakness (“I never talked about how much I was struggling”)
  3. Avoiding difficult conversations (such as interventions and getting clean, thus preventing solutions)

As a professional, you waste 500 hours every year doing these three things. It’s possible you are an addict and all you have to do is accept the possibility that you are an addict. When you realize this, you can begin to say no instead of yes. When you do, things will start to change – that isn’t to say it’s easy. 

You can tell a leader to just stop over-committing, stop being inauthentic or to stop working at 5:00 p.m., but these things are scary – and we aren’t addressing the real problem: addiction. Leaders are addicted to their “mask” – that thing they hide behind as they exhibit those behaviors. 

What can you do about this? I had a 12-step process to address my addiction, but it boiled down to three things: 

  1. Practice rigorous authenticity.
  2. Surrender the outcome.
  3. Do uncomfortable work. 

You learn to lead in a fundamentally different way. Addicts have exclusive access to these kinds of principles. So, I’m sharing these same ideas with you, to help you know you can get clean and change the way you lead.

P.S. Be sure to check out the accompanying Petra Coach webinar at

Michael Brody-Waite is a recovered drug addict who has since become a three-time CEO and TEDx speaker (with over 2.2 million views). He’s held a leadership role at a Fortune 50 company, he’s the founder of an Inc. 500 company, he’s led a nonprofit and he’s the author of Great Leaders Lead Like Drug Addicts: Lead Like Your Life Depends On It.

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