At the age of 23, Michael Brody-Waite was a full-blown drug addict. Today, Michael is an acclaimed speaker, Inc. 500 entrepreneur, award-winning, three-time CEO, a leadership coach, and an author. He is on a mission to teach individuals, organizations, and communities how to how to be vulnerable, surrender the mask, and do uncomfortable work. In this podcast, he shares the leadership principles he learned through addiction recovery, which he speaks and details in his book, Great Leaders Live like Drug Addicts: How to Lead like your Life Depends on It.

Michael Brody-Waite


8:00 Michael has a whole part of his family tree who are Latter-day Saints, and one of his Latter-day Saint cousins turned down the opportunity to date one of his NFL idols on the San Francisco 49ers.

9:00 Michael is originally from California, had a normal growing up experience there, but in college, he remembers “losing his marbles” over his good friend asking a small thing of him. That night he was confronted with the reality that he didn’t feel equipped to deal with life on life’s terms. He said something like “I don’t think I got the instructions on how to deal with life.” It was that night that he first drank alone.

10:28 Michael gives a tip for all parents: If you think your kid might have the genetic proclivity to be an addict, DO NOT sit them down and tell them, “You will probably be an addict, so never do drugs or drink.” That’s going to be the first thing that child wants to do.

11:28 “I can’t be an academic, I can’t be an athlete, but I think I could be a drunk.” It was one thing Michael could control over his life, he was able to make himself numb. Michael believes that addicts have an obsessive-compulsive variant that makes the person want to be able to predict how they are going to feel. He would rather choose a drug I knew would make him feel bad than one that he didn’t know how it would make him feel. It was about having control and knowing how he would feel. Since he couldn’t get that from life, he turned to addiction.

13:15 In the summer of 2002, Michael’s life took a severe downturn. He was a junior in college with only one year’s worth of college credit. He was kicked out of college, kicked out of his house, fired from his job, and his car was repossessed. He was throwing up blood on this twenty-third birthday, and he knew he wouldn’t be alive for his thirtieth birthday, and maybe not even his twenty-fifth, and that didn’t sound too bad to him. His friend let him stay on his couch, but he completely overstayed his welcome, but at that point, if he didn’t stay there, he would have been homeless and Michael didn’t want that. His father would reach out and come take him to breakfast every once in a while, and his father said he just wanted to buy him a meal, but Michael knew it was because he just wanted to see if his son was still alive. He always offered to pay to send Michael to rehab, but Michael denied having a problem.

15:00 Michael’s friend eventually talks him into considering rehab. “I chose to go to rehab to have 28 days of bedding and food.” But Michael hasn’t used drugs or a drop of alcohol since. It was in rehab that he was introduced to the 12-Step program, which he still participates in.

16:00 Michael gives his 3 principles he has learned from living the 12-Step program:

  1. Practice rigorous authenticity
    • We talk about being authentic, but we don’t really practice it in leadership.
    • How to take off the “masks” we wear to be strong?
  2. Surrender the outcome
    • Leaders are not taught to surrender the outcome
    • In faith, we are taught to surrender the outcome, but not in our career
  3. Do Uncomfortable Work
    • “Hard work” is physical or mental, “Uncomfortable work” is emotional.
      • We will do more physical work to avoid uncomfortable emotional work.

20:00 Principle 1 allows you to see how you are hiding your true self. Principle 2 is how do I let go of “What’s going to happen when I let go of hiding myself?” and Principle 3 is how do I apply this in the leadership world or in a corporate environment? We are all chasing something, and we are all tempted to wear a mask or pose in a certain way to try and get what we want.

21:40 “85% of the things we worry about never come true.” Fear is what stops us from letting go of the masks, and surrendering the outcomes.

22:26 “The Mask Assessment” which mask is holding you back? Michael has assessed over 1,000 leaders, and found 4 “Masks:”

  1. Saying “Yes” when you could say “No.”
  2. Hiding a Weakness
  3. Avoiding Difficult Conversations
  4. Holding Back your Unique Perspectives

These four things are not leadership; it’s being a follower. It is costing people 500 hours a year. Identify which of these is holding you back. The reason that we don’t have authentic leaders is because we haven’t identified the problem. The problem is that we have an addiction to the “Mask.”

Michael’s book helps leaders by taking the same tools that addicts use to recover, to help leaders recover from their addiction to the “Mask.” This isn’t for a quick win. “This is about living differently.”

27:11 “Addicts don’t get clean when you tell them what to stop. They get clean when you tell them what to start instead. You have to equip them with the ‘how.’”

“What we need is a step-by-step process that teaches people how to lead without the mask.”

“Every addict is taught to lead themselves.”

Everyone needs a community with a leader to help them reset their mask, but we just use it as an opportunity to put on another mask. An Elders Quorum or a Relief Society could be a place for authenticity and mask removal.

31:00 It was finally when Michael lost his mask and gave his first real share at his recovery program. The only way you can stay “clean” is by giving real shares. We are at risk of hiding ourselves in every new experience we have.

34:03 How do you begin to change that culture of going into Elders Quorum or Relief Society meetings and being confronted by all these “masks?” How do you start helping people be authentic in that situation?

  • Imagine being on a date with that guy or girl who you thought was way better than you, way more beautiful than you are, and you think “There’s no way they would ever go out with me.” Now imagine you’re on a date with them.
  • Then imagine that this person is leaning in, and it looks like they are leaning in for a kiss.
  • Most of us feel, in this scenario, not excitement, but fear. We are worried that we might be misreading the situation, that we would lean back in for a kiss, “but she is just bending down to get her purse.” And we feel like an idiot. That is vulnerability.

Simon Sinek says, “Leaders eat last, vulnerable leaders eat first.”

What Elders Quorum leaders need to do is identify what mask THEY are wearing, and share that with the group. Leaders get to set the tone for the entire room, by how they lead themselves.

Michael has a free, 5-minute “Mask Assessment” to help you identify your mask. Leaders should take the test and tell people what their mask is with no positive, just pain.

12-Step Sponsors are the best leaders in the world, because they lead with vulnerability.

38:10 Can we be too open? Michael’s sponsor encouraged him to tell people why he was in Tennessee, “because I’m a recovering drug addict.” People might call it an overshare, they might use it against you, but that’s vulnerability. That is true strength.

“People confuse authenticity with transparency and honesty. Those are two different things.”

  • There are things that keep private because that adheres to my value system.
  • Authenticity is, “Do you live according to your values?”
  • Our values are co-created by us and those who are around us.
    • We do have to worry about other people’s feelings.
    • You are responsible for whether you are a bully or not. It isn’t a license to be mean.
    • It is a license to live according to your value system, and those value systems of those who are a part of your life.

43:15 Google analyzed their highest performing teams. The number one consistent indicator of high-performing teams is psychological safety. If you tell someone about your challenges and problems, and then you work on them, and they see you working on them, they feel safe to admit and work on their own issues. This is what families do. Companies can get close to this by allowing employees to admit their challenges and walk with them as they work on it.

47:14 It will be awkward at first. “Leaders take unpopular stances, despite the potential negative outcomes.” It is our responsibility as leaders to take on the friction and awkwardness, so that we can create progress for others. People want this change, and so you have to be willing to get messy to lead them through this.

“Leadership is, ‘How do you manage the hard things?’” Everybody getting on the same page is ALWAYS a good thing for an organization. Embrace the friction and lead through it.

Tap into your faith and leverage it and use it to lead!

“Regardless, it’s a victory.”

52:00 When the pandemic hit, Michael put on a mask in his own company. He got sick for a time, and stopped communicating with his team for a couple of weeks. As someone who teaches thousands of people about this stuff, he still struggles with it. The goal is to find a different way to do things slowly. It will be messy and imperfect, but do it anyway.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are great in a crisis; we are fantastic at hard work. But we haven’t learned how to do the uncomfortable emotional work.

56:00 Fully lean into exploring your weakness. We might be really great at the big stuff, but lose it on the little stuff. We can constantly practice and reapply the principles.

“The final frontier of faith is the professional world.”

The world compartmentalizes things, so that we can’t pull skill sets from one area of our lives to help us in another. But that isn’t true. Whatever we do to help ourselves in a 12-Step program can also help us in the professional world.

1:00:00 “There is no nook or cranny in your professional life that doesn’t deserve your faith.”

“It’s amazing how powerful I become when I remember God at work.”

1:03:44 Michael’s faith has been tested as writing this book and creating this company. This has helped him uncover “How big is my God?” It changed how he approached the book and company, and it was his opportunity to do it. Michael ends the book with a chapter about a time in his life when he completely stopped doing what the whole book talks about.


TEDx Nashville: Great Leaders Do What Drug Addicts Do
The Mask-Free Program
Mask Assessment
Great Leaders Live like Drug Addicts: How to Lead like your Life Depends on It, by Michael Brody-Waite

Pin It on Pinterest