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Are Driven Leaders More Prone to Addiction?



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I spent twelve years in middle-level management and leadership roles with a Fortune 50 company. I had a lot of success quickly, but most of that time I was miserable. Even though I enjoyed the leadership aspects of my role and influencing others to become better, I hated the industry and found myself working inside of my strengths only about 30% of the time. Not only did this lead to unnecessary stress, it had me longing for purpose, meaning and fulfillment in my life. At the end of the day, ten of those twelve years, I found purpose in a bottle. In other words, through a substance addiction to alcohol.

Fortunately, for the sake of my family and my own health, I was able to combat that addiction and move forward toward reaching my full potential. A year after overcoming my challenges with substance abuse, I quit that corporation and started my own business. Given the challenges I was able to fight successfully, I literally felt like I could accomplish anything. Even to this day (8 years later), I have to be self-aware of my tendencies and intentionally make good choices. Quite simply, I have an addictive personality. So, this got me wondering. Is there a link between successful leaders, high-achievement, and substance abuse?

In a Forbes article by Alice G. Walton, titled Why the Brains of High-Powered People May Be More Prone to Addiction, Alice explores this topic in depth. As she mentions in the article, it’s no surprise that high-achievers are wired a bit differently than others. Moreover, “it’s been suggested that a decent chunk of the “C-Suite” crowd may have more sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies than the general population.”

But what does this mean? For starters, these characteristics are what propel leaders to success in the first place; however, these are also the same traits that can lead them toward the dark side.

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“My strong, strong suspicion, is that what makes some people more likely to rise to top is same thing that makes them more likely to be addicts.” – David Linden, PhD


Nathan R Mitchell is America’s Leading Empowerment Coach™ and the Editor of Leadership Addict. In 2010 he founded the business and leadership development company, Clutch Consulting. Nathan is also a Certified Speaker, Trainer, and Coach with The John Maxwell Team. Originally from Springfield Missouri, Nathan earned his B.S. Degree in Management and an MBA from Missouri State University. Currently, he lives near Tulsa Oklahoma with his wife and children. His purpose in life is to empower others to lead to their full leadership potential.


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