Great Leaders Do What Drug Addicts Do: Michael Brody-Waite (Transcript)

Michael Brody-Waite at TEDxNashville

 Following is the full text of Michael Brody-Waite’s talk titled “Great Leaders Do What Drug Addicts Do” at TEDxNashville conference.

Michael Brody-Waite – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Hi. I’m Mike, and I’m an addict.

And 16 years ago, my daily habit was to use alcohol and drugs from the minute I woke up to the minute I passed out at night. All I wanted to do was get and stay high.

I was kicked out of school, couldn’t keep a job. I was kicked out of my house. I didn’t even have any money, and so the only money I could get was what I stole from my friends.

I didn’t even have a belt. I’d use a piece of rope to hold my pants up. And my story is not unique. 46% of adults say they have a friend or a family member that’s addicted to alcohol or drugs. And that was me.

And I truly believed that I would be dead by the time I was 30. So, I know after saying all this, what I’m about to propose is going to sound a bit confusing.

I believe leaders should run their organizations like addicts. Addicts aren’t like everybody else. We use all the time, or we can’t use at all. So we have to do recovery the same way: every single day.

And when I got clean, they told me there were three principles that were so important if I didn’t practice them on a daily basis, I wouldn’t live. They told me I had to practice rigorous authenticity, I had to surrender the outcome, and I had to do uncomfortable work.

Now, these principles didn’t just keep me alive. This story isn’t about how I overcame addiction and despite that went on to become successful.

This story is about why addiction is the entire reason for my success. And so, for me, my story starts in 12-step recovery, and I went to meetings.

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And what we do in meetings is we share. When I got there, I wanted to be the best addict, so I shared to impress everybody, and I pretended I’d mastered these three principles even though I didn’t understand them.

Well, after months of this, one time I came into the meeting with so much pain, I knew if I didn’t share real, I would relapse. And so I shared vulnerably, emotionally, messy.

I was all over the place. It was the opposite of impressive. After the meeting, another addict came up to me. His name was Tim. He was a guy with 15 years clean, and he was a biker with a goatee — he was a little intimidating — and he said, “Mike, that was the best share you’ve ever done.”

I was like, “Tim, dude, that was the worst share. What are you talking about, man?”

He was like, “No, that was the first real share that you’ve ever done. That’s what we do here. Keep doing that, and you’ll stay clean.”

That was the first time anyone had ever told me being authentic was impressive. It was also the first time I stood that close to a man in head-to-toe Harley leather. I didn’t even know that they made clothes. Had to become a drug addict to find that out.

So, it was one thing to practice these principles in the meetings; it was another thing to do it out in the real world.

And when I got clean, I also entered a halfway house. When I walked in, the house manager told me that I had five business days to get a job, or they would kick me out.

Now, I’m sitting there, and I’m wondering, “What is a ‘business day’?” Because I’m an addict, I don’t know.

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