Great leaders are like drug addicts. Here’s what I mean by that: in my journey from being a homeless drug addict with no college degree to becoming a successful leader, I have learned that the leaders who are supposedly great, today and of the past, look like addicts in active addiction – they are fixing, managing and controlling perception to get what they want.

I look at the great leaders emerging today, and those who will surface tomorrow, and I see people who will lead in a fundamentally different way – they will look like addicts in recovery. But there’s more to it than that. Consider the following questions:

  • In the last 30 days, have you said yes to something you could say no to?
  • In the last 30 days, have you hit a weakness?
  • In the last 30 days, have you avoided a difficult conversation?
  • In the last 30 days, have you held back your unique perspective?

As leaders we perform these "actions" all the time. I call them our "masks" because we're hiding our true selves behind our actions. Leaders teach others that they need to hide their vulnerabilities, imperfections, or weaknesses in order to be successful. To put on a mask. I want to talk about taking off the mask (pandemic aside!), but this isn't about any physical mask. It starts by identifying what mask is holding you back. These are the four masks:

  1. Saying Yes When You Could Say No
  2. Hiding A Weakness
  3. Avoiding Difficult Conversations
  4. Holding Back Your Unique Perspective (You
  5. Don’t Speak Up When You Could/Should)

You can learn more about the mask that’s holding you back at This is a free, five-minute assessment that will give you a clearer picture about which mask is holding you back. But more than that, it also gives you an authenticity rating – to help you determine how authentic you are.

What does authenticity have to do with masks? When you’re wearing a mask, you are not being authentic – your true self. This rating tells you how close you are to being your true self.

So, how do you remove the mask? How do you become more authentic? Mask recovery comes down to three principles:

  1. Practice Rigorous Authenticity - Be true to yourself all the time, no matter the cost.
  2. Surrender The Outcome - Leaders are taught to obsess over outcomes; focus on what you can control.
  3. Do Uncomfortable Work - With this emotional work, we need to take action that is good for us (saying no, having difficult conversations)

When you focus on these three principles, you become more authentic. You are able to grow and become the leader for the future – like an addict in recovery.

Michael Brody-Waite is a recovered drug addict who has since become a three-time CEO and TEDx speaker (with over 1.5 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 Lead Like Your Life Depends On It: Why In A Pandemic Great Leaders Lead Like Drug Addicts.

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