Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

Leadership Lessons from AA By Joe Tye

Almost every recovering addict I’ve ever spoken with eventually uses the word “miracle.” And many of these people have been led to their miracle through the principles of AA. That’s actually a pretty good metaphor for the very best that organizational leadership has to offer: helping people achieve the miracle of personal transformation.

In this article I’ll share several lessons from AA that are directly applicable to being a more effective leader. If you find this to be thought provoking, check out the book The Spirituality of Imperfection, for more on story-telling as a pathway to authenticity. (Authenticity is Core Action Value #1 and Leadership is Core Action Value #12 because the one begins a journey that culminates in the other.)

Fake it till you make it: I was once speaking with a movie producer who told me about the time a young wannabe actor approached the great Spencer Tracy and asked him for the ultimate secret of mastering the acting craft. He said Tracy didn’t even look up from the script he was studying, just said “Don’t get caught at it.”

To be the best leader you are capable of being means to be growing and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and this means to be continuously rehearsing for roles that are (by definition) uncomfortable. So, you fake it till you make it, because if you don’t, you stagnate.

Change your behaviors: In AA, they say that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. By that definition, I know a lot of crazy people (you might be one of them).

For example, to always be complaining about how you never have enough money without taking action to earn more or spend less, or both, is crazy.

Lisa Bluder, head coach of The University of Iowa women’s basketball team, closes her emails by saying that if you want to have what you’ve never had, you must be willing to do what you’ve never done. And thus do miraculous things come about.

Foster relationships based on mutuality: In AA, the relationship between the drunk and his or her sponsor is that of a mutually interdependent dyad, not of a supervisory paternalism. They both need each other – equally. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book Leadership, James MacGregor Burns wrote that “transforming leadership” is never a one- way street, but always a relationship in which both leader and followers are transformed. In other words, mutuality in action.

There’s a lot more we can learn from AA, and we can be inspired by the courage and humility of those who transform the inner demons of addiction into guides for helping others grow (a journey Richard Tripp describes in his book Pleas e Underestimate Me). This is ultimately something all leaders must eventually do, each in their own way.
Joe Tye is president of Paradox 21 Inc., which provides corporate training and culture change initiatives based on a proprietary curriculum of The Twelve Core Action Values of Personal Leadership Effectiveness. He is also the author of several books and audio programs on personal, career, and business success, and a popular motivational speaker. Visit

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