Leadership Lessons from the 12 Steps

There is a way to recover from bad leadership behaviors. It is found in the 12 steps.

Yesterday I wrote about the three leadership lessons I learned attending a recovery group. Today I want to share the seven lessons for leaders and aspiring leaders that the 12 Steps give us.

What are the 12 Steps exactly? I list them below along with the lessons. Essentially, they are a systematic pathway to recovery or improvement. And they work. If you work them.


Here are the steps along with the lessons:

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

This step is applicable to every area of life.

This is, by far, the hardest step for leaders to admit. You got this far on your own. You are strong and in control. People look up, and often fear, you.

But you have a compulsive habit of snapping at people with bad ideas, or reacting harshly to criticism, or over-working. If you have dealt with anything like this for more than five years, it is out of control. It is unmanageable. The first step is to admit that.

12 Steps: Leadership Lessons from a Recovery Group

I am in recovery.

Not from an addiction or abuse, but from a lifetime of anger. I have touched on the subject in four posts before (the four links are at the bottom of this post). What I may occasionally lack in content, I make up for in transparency.

After years of trying to figure it all out on my own, I finally entered a 12-step recovery group at our church. And my life is changing dramatically.


Through this process, I realized there were ten valuable leadership lessons from a recovery program. But before I share those, I want to share one of the biggest life lessons I learned there.

When I first entered, I admit that I walked in with the attitude that my problems were not as bad as everyone else’s problems. I went in with the belief that my poop did not stink…or at least nearly as bad as everyone else’s. To be blunt, I looked down on others.

What I saw at first was a bunch of drug addicts, alcoholics, and weirdos. What I have found are some of my best friends.