What Corporate America Can Learn from 12-Step Programs

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I’ve been wanting to write this article for a long time out of a deep personal gratitude. My family was saved 13 years ago when our loved one with a destructive addiction to a prescription medication made his way to rooms of support by attending rehab and attending 12-Step meetings.

No one can argue that 12 step programs have brought what is known as “ the promises“ to millions globally. Families and lives have been saved by the power of bringing people together who share experience, strength and hope with each other.

In the business world today, people share that they are feeling more isolated than ever. Technology has played a role. It has brought us exceptional tools of productivity, but has also built virtual walls that often blocks our minds from seeing everything around us. We don’t see the brown labrador puppy walking outside at lunch, the new hire across the hall, that we are missing an important teleconference, and I personally have the habit of tripping on the sidewalk at least once a month… In fact, Gallup research has shown that only 32 percent of employees feel engaged with their jobs, and thought leader Simon Sinek shares eerily that handing a kid an iPhone is like leaving the liquor cabinet wide open to our teens with a big ‘WELCOME! serve yourself’ sign! Technology increases our feel-good dopamineIts addictive.

At work, we break out of this often tech-induced haze and competitive silos when we make eye contact with another human, when we STOP and share learning, professional strength and hope. When walls of perceived judgement go down and we speak and collaborate openly. When we understand we are not so different, you and me, and that we can help each other without giving away the proverbial ranch. I often think about the movie Avatar and the Na’vi theme song “I see you.” When we ask for help and get a mentor, we feel more seen. When we help another see things more clearly, we feel purpose, satisfaction, and our program gets better. We get better.

I have seen firsthand how people see each other and feel seen in 12 Step Programs both for addicts and family members impacted by addiction. Isolation and despair turns to hope, faith and new learning. After reflecting on this incredible impact of people helping out people in a mentoring culture, I reached out to interview a top expert in the field William C. Moyers, author of the best seller Broken and Vice President of Public Affairs at the world-class Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. He had some terrific perspectives to share:

Julie: William, first and foremost, we have now met a few times and I am blown away by your insights both personally from your life as well as from being the face of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. The bringing together of two individuals in any 12 step programs has saved millions of lives. Why are these mentoring relationships so foundational to these Anonymous fellowships?

William: Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is an illness of isolation. People who struggle with these substances also struggle with shame, fear, desperation and so they tend to isolate, especially from family and friends. The antidote to addiction is togetherness, the spirit of recovery that is captured in the first word of the first step of those 12-steps. And that word is “We.” Recovery requires that “we” stick together, offer each other support, learn and listen and share, be it one-on-one or in groups.

Julie: How does a recovery program combat the isolation and loneliness? What can Corporate America learn from this?

William: As we say, there is “strength in numbers.” Especially at the beginning, the idea of not drinking or drugging can seem daunting to that person. Going it alone is hard. For guidance, inspiration, support – there’s nothing better than leaning on others for help. In corporate America this might be called a sponsorship or partnership – often that collaborative spirit means increasing the chances for success.

Julie: You said there is no original thought in recovery… I see people in corporate America paralyzed by fear that someone else will steal their ideas or take their jobs… can you talk more about this concept?

William: Well, I certainly understand the importance of trademarks and copyrights and trade secrets. Getting ahead of the competition oftentimes means using what you know to sell more products or attract more clients. But there is such a thing as sharing knowledge or know how or success in such a way that everyone gains or benefits. Especially when it comes to a problem like addiction, which is so misunderstood and stigmatize in our world. I know that when I give away to others what I have learned about recovery, then I benefit too. Helping others helps me. Plain and simple.

Julie: I’ve been wondering is technology rewiring our brains and addictive? Is it leading to more widespread isolation from your perspective?

William: There’s no doubt that technology can be highly addicting to people young and old. Just walk down the street of Anywhere USA and note how many people are glued to their cell phones or wearing headphones, utterly oblivious to what’s happening around them. Note too, how even in meetings at work how everyone’s stealing glances at their phones or computers. It is scary how we define awareness or interest solely on what’s right in front of our faces – our phones. I am as guilty as anyone sometimes.

Julie: If you are a CEO reading this… What are one or two ingredients from 12 Steps that you recommend they ‘bring in house’ to their people?

William: Be transparent and always remain humbly teachable.


So, Whether you are in a 12-Step Program, a family program like Al-Anon or not, consider helping your employees cultivate mentoring relationships and help them walk away from their computer screens to engage. Isolation is the killer and creating mentoring cultures at our companies can work wonders to drop the cubicle walls and extend the hands of friendship and the healing elixir of feeling seen at work.


William C. Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, based in Minnesota. As the organization’s public advocate since 1996 Moyers carries the message about addiction, treatment and recovery to audiences across the nation. He has appeared on Larry King Live, the Oprah Winfrey show, Good Morning America and National Public Radio. Moyers is the author of several books including Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption, a New York Times best-selling memoir published in 2006 that is still in print. He lives in Saint Paul.

Julie Kantor is the Founder & CEO of Twomentor LLC and passionate about elevating a skilled diverse workforce and driving mentoring cultures. You can reach her directly at info@twomentor.com.  Learn about Twomentor including webinars, corporate mentor training, peer to peer world cafe learning and much more. She lives in Bethesda, MD with her husband, teen daughter and Havanese pup Naomi.

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