CEOs aren’t perfect. You are leaders. You are resourceful. You are all together a different breed. But you ain’t perfect. The job is one of the most stressful out there, and coping can be difficult. So, this week we get real.
I’m happy to welcome Dr. Janet Cox, CEO of Synapse LLC to CEO Exclusive. Dr. Cox is a specialist in working with high profile clients, and Synapse offers a treatment program specifically tailored for CEOs.
CEOs Are Not Invincible
CEOs can be addicts too. In fact, you can be very good at it. Many of the same traits that make you a great CEO can make you a great addict, too. CEOs are masters at pretending that they have things under control, even when they don’t. And the people around them like to believe it. Leaders can fake it until they make it, but in the world of addiction, in the long term, you’re never going to make it. It’s all just about the faking it part.
Dr. Cox says, of the same traits that make CEOs successful, “That actually keeps them using in their addiction, longer perhaps than the average person. They’re educated, they’re intelligent, they’re hard driving, very successful individuals. They have a lot of resources available to them, and a lot of people around them that kind of enable them, that support them, and keep their addiction going; perhaps longer than your average person.”
CEOs are people who can make things work, and that includes (f0r a period of time, at least) addictions. Our world really needs CEOs of midlevel businesses. I believe in a world where peoples, hearts, minds, bellies and wallets are full. And midlevel businesses provide a lot of that goodness for our world. It’s important to keep you healthy. And sometimes, coping with the stress can get to be too much.
Admit You Have a Problem
It’s addiction 101, and you’re good with the simple stuff. When you’re ready to be. CEOs are great at recognizing issues with their companies, and they can be just as great with ignoring their own issues. Admitting you need help can be a tall order.
Corporate culture itself can be great at masking a substance abuse issue for CEOs. Going out to grab a few drinks with clients, potential clients, or with staff (team building an all) is expected to some degree. Addiction is a progressive illness, so what starts out as a manageable part of the game can progress to something less manageable – and it’s difficult to recognize the transition.
I’ve said this for many things related to great CEO-ness, but it fits here, too. Know thyself. When is your dependence on substances costing you too much?
Watch for Warning Signs
One of the hallmarks of addiction is denial that you have a problem. But watching for the external signs can tip you off. Are their changes in your eating habits, sleep patterns, money flow or mood? Are you having issues with your personal relationships? How much time are you spending pursuing your drug of choice, recovering from it, or hiding its use from those around you?
Says Dr. Cox, “What we find is that, as the disease progresses, the individual becomes more and more separated from themselves. They begin to have more difficulty in their relationships. It diminishes their productivity.”
Take an honest look at your life. Where does your substance use fit in? What is it costing you?
Be Willing to Intervene
This one is for everyone. One of the enabling factors for substance abuse by those in leadership positions is the willingness of those around them to cover it up. It can be extremely difficult to confront your CEO if you see that they have a problem. In fact, it’s a great way to find yourself without a job. But so is having a CEO that tanks the business, so here are some tips on how to approach this particular issue.
Be Courageous. Don’t wait for someone else to act. If you’re close to the CEO and can see that there is a problem, stop enabling, and be willing to act. You’re the one.
Bring in Support. You’re likely not the only one to see a problem. Talk to board members, human resources, or other executives about what you see. CEOs, and addicts, are great at making things look better than they are, and they often believe the world they are creating. So have back up.
Hire a Professional. There are professional interventionists, and you might need to bring one in. Professionals like professionals.
Talk to Them Alone. This is a different tactic, but depending on your relationship, it might be the way to go. Have a private conversation and be honest about what you are seeing.
Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. Every situation is different, but there are actions you can take.
Get Help and Still Run Your Business
Everything doesn’t have to stop for you to get help. With outpatient programs like Synapse you can get help while still running your business and being with your family. The impact on your business and personal life can be minimal.
Says Dr. Cox, “What Synapse is able to do is allow the person to stay intact in their job, remain with their family and maintain their relationships, while they’re receiving treatment. They don’t have to go away and then come back to, what they fear would be, that things have changed at the office.” You can continue with your personal and professional life while still receiving treatment.
Know Your Science
It’s possible to change. Explains Dr. Cox, “We can make new neural connections, new synapses, and actually change the cognitive function of the brain.”
Synapse has a success rate that is 30% higher than the national average. They approach the problem holistically, treating not only the addiction, but the issues that caused the addiction, and the environment that supports it. Help is available and it doesn’t have to disrupt your life.
Many of the treatments at Synapse focus on the prefrontal cortex – the executive function part of the brain. Making good decisions, planning, and organizing. So, you’re a natural here. The program is about educating you on how those illicit substances affect your brain, and on the effect they have on your life overall.
One of the reasons I started CEO Exclusive was to provide CEOs with a community in which to connect. It can be lonely at the top. If you’re dealing with addiction, you don’t have to be alone in that, either. Reach out to those around you, and to programs like Synapse that can provide you with the tools you need to succeed.