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Last week I received a phone call from a distressed wife who asked me about her successful husband who she described as a high functioning alcoholic with narcissistic tendencies. It got me thinking about how we often sweep addiction and mental health problems under the rug if someone is successful in their professional life.

The reality is that addiction is crippling many American businesses today. According to a recent article in Fortune Magazine, addiction affects more than 20 million Americans directly of which 75% are part of the workplace. It is estimated that substance abuse problems cost the American Economy $442 billion dollars a year and the brunt of the hit is due to absenteeism, lost productivity and health care costs.

Diving deeper, I discovered that the National Safety Council offers an on-line calculator tool which considers a company’s employee base, industry and state to estimate the related workplace cost. For example, a retailer in California with 100 employees would lose nearly $37,000 a year due to substance abuse issues.

But what happens when it is a senior business figure who exhibits the danger signs of substance abuse. If the company chairperson (man or woman) is secretly buying cocaine, drinking alcohol, popping pills, gambling, shopping or addicted to porn, their actions put employees and investors at risk for mismanagement and financial crisis.

Recently MWM Consulting interviewed 80 CEO’s, chairman, and board directors on their experiences with (successful and unsuccessful) high-risk CEOs across 40 boards in 21 countries. The same characteristics that make a CEO successful can lead then down the rabbit hole of dysfunction.

By nature, business leaders need unusual levels of self-confidence, charisma, persuasiveness and drive and resilience to reach the top. “But once established, a combination of unchallenged power, soaring financial rewards and a lack of honest feedback risks isolating them from the day to day reality that would keep them grounded and self-aware” (The Evening Standard, London “How to Avoid, Hiring a Narcissist Leader”). That coupled with addiction can surely bring the house down.

If you are concerned for a CEO or leader, here are some warning signs from MWM (When a CEO Has a Serious Drug Problem, Forbes Andrew Cave)

  1. Grandiosity, greed and excessive concern with the trappings of the office and position
  2. An addiction to the limelight and burnishing personal reputation. (having lots of “yes men and women around”)
  3. Control freakery, evidenced by a hub and spoke leadership model enabling a CEO to interact with direct reports individually rather than collectively
  4. Over management of the board
  5. Overspending on personal accoutrements
  6. A disdain for succession planning
  7. Distorted thinking and decision making, promoting ever larger deal making and spending
  8. An absence of contrary voices

If someone is abusing substances, they may

  • Nod off
  • Not be Present
  • Fly Off the Handle
  • Be Dismissive, Forgetful etc
  • And do all the other things mentioned above

Many businesses and families are torn apart by the ravages of narcissism, addiction and an overblown sense of entitlement. Here are a few additional resources on related subjects:

If you are worried about your CEO, the president of the board or your husband or wife that is a leader and exhibits both addictive traits as well as Narcissistic behaviors, reach out and let’s start a conversation.