What entrepreneurs can learn from addiction counselling.

I’ve always been very interested in addiction counselling, and while never having being diagnosed an addict myself, I have been very close to a few people that have. I’ve been fortunate to see them go through the program to come out on the other side as better, stronger and more aware human beings.

In order to be of help to these loved ones, I applied myself to understanding the 12 step program in more depth.

I couldn’t help but notice some real similarities in the core principles of addiction counselling to those that are required to build and run a successful business.

Let’s start with the first principle:

One needs to acknowledge that one is powerless over the addiction and that ones life has become unmanageable.

This could be rephrased as: ‘a deep acceptance of the situation at hand’. In business, this is really a key fundamental principle of being able to manage and lead effectively. Too often we see business leaders not facing up to the reality of the situation in front of them and doing whatever they can in their power to minimise the negativity. Whether it be in terms of cashflow strains, staff issues or just plain poor delivery. There is definite wisdom in this first principle, in that, as leaders we need to face the absolute reality of what is in front of us, and only then, once we have the complete and sometimes ugly picture can we begin to take action. Until we are prepared to do this, we are not leading, we are guessing and hoping.

Believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore our sanity.

There are now endless studies that show that we are not motivated by money, but rather by being a part of something bigger than ourselves and being a part of achieving a common goal. Simon Sinek talks about this in his excellent book start with why. In business, we need to believe that we are working towards something bigger than ourselves and with others who share the same beliefs in order to achieve success. A side note to this is that this ‘greater good should be well articulated and constantly communicated to everyone in your organisation.

Make a decision to turn our lives over to ‘God’ as we understood him.

Its probably a good idea to clarify at this point that I am not a Christian so ‘God’ in this case can really mean anything that you view as your higher power.

Again, its almost repetition of the above point, but there is a subtle difference. In business, and especially as leaders and even more so as entrepreneurs in small organisations, we simply cannot control every variable around us. There is a difficult but essential letting go process or acceptance of the fact that we can’t control everything. Without it, we will drive ourselves insane trying to control the things that we cant.

Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

We need to be absolutely 100% honest with ourselves about our situation. If there are cash flow issues coming, plans need to be put in place. If there are troublesome staff or partners that require uncomfortable confrontations, they need to be dealt with.

It is almost impossible to act correctly and adequately if you do not have the full information set in front of you — this requires and brutal honesty, strength and discipline, 3 characteristics that every entrepreneur will need.

“Admit to ‘God’, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

This is an interesting one. I think for me this speaks to having mentors that you can bounce things off. Personally I have quite a few mentors for which I am deeply grateful. Having mentors is potentially hugely valuable but only if you are prepared to speak the truth to them and to be honest about your shortcomings, mismanagements and mistakes made. There is value in simply getting validation from mentors but that value is dwarfed in comparison to the help that mentors can give you when they have been through the things that you are struggling with at that time. Remember that the problems that you are experiencing right now are being and have been experienced by many many more. This should bring a little comfort — you are not alone.

“Be entirely ready to have ‘God’ remove all these defects of character.”

Eric Reis’s book, the lean startup has made famous the ‘pivot or persevere’ outlook to an agile business model. This is hugely effective and valuable but only if you have all the facts in front of you. Once you have taken stock of all the ugly bits and once you have got all the cards laid out on the table, only then can you decide to pivot or persevere. Once you make this decision, you have to let go of the fear and the resistance and go with the decision that you have made. Without a deep acceptance of these decisions, you and your business will suffer.

“Humbly ask to remove our shortcomings.”

This is possibly getting a little too much into the esoteric now but I think it is still relevant to business. In the program this step talks to meditation, prayer, hope etc. In business, we too do need this but in the form of quietude. Almost every great business leader tells us to find the time to simply be quiet, to reflect and to let the creativity show itself. I think it was a Googler who said “ the best ideas don’t keep office hours”.

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”

This for me is quite a simple one in that I am sick and tired of hearing the cop out “ it’s not personal, it’s business”. Business is absolutely personal. I won’t go into this any more as there are plenty of arguments out there on this. For now, it suffices to say that we need to conduct ourselves responsibly. We need to practice what some wise biblical chap once said and treat others the way that we would have them treat us. Simple as that.

The last 4 steps for me are just about driving home the importance of the above fundamentals and stressing the importance of the consistency that is required.

I was recently asked in an interview what the best advice that I could give to a new entrepreneur was. It was easy for me to answer in that consistent disciplined action is by far the most important guiding principle that an entrepreneur should possess. Our business lives should not be some distant alter ego that we tap in and out of but rather an extension of ourselves. If we nurture conscious, disciplined, caring culture in our businesses we can make a difference in the world, not just in the industry that we play in, but to the people that our businesses touch. Admitting addiction and getting into the program takes enormous courage and commitment — these are things that we can all learn from…

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