12 Steps of Starting a New Year, Part 2: Lessons From a Business Leader With 25 Years of Sobriety

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In part one of this series, I explored the first six steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and the business lessons I, someone who has lived a life of recovery from alcoholism for 25 years, have pulled from them. 

We left off with step six, which is about removing our character defects. However, true transformation as business leaders (and as individuals) requires following all 12 steps. Here are the things we should learn from the final six steps of AA. 

Like I did in part one, I’ve quoted the steps below from the AA website but have added my own business lessons. And, here’s the same disclaimer: Some of these steps mention God, but you don’t need to approach them with a religious interpretation. However, please feel free to interpret these steps using your faith if you are religious! 

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Step 7: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” 

Once again, “Him” here can be defined in many different ways. 

I started my AA journey 25 years ago. For me, this step has involved humbly asking the people in my personal and professional life to forgive my shortcomings and me demonstrating to them via my behavior that I’m committed to working on myself. So, if I make the wrong call on a business decision or am short with an employee, I take steps to make amends and do better moving forward. As business leaders, we should all make amends and strive to do better as we move forward. 

Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

Our actions have consequences, and unfortunately, those consequences affect others, especially when we’re running a business. What we do doesn’t just have the potential to hurt us; it has the potential to hurt our employees, customers, families, friends and communities as well. 

Step eight is about honest reflection; sitting down to list all of the people your behavior has harmed in both your professional and personal life. However, I think an important thing to note here is that you should distinguish when closure is needed and when something should be left in the past — more on that in step nine. 

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Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Don’t get me wrong. It is absolutely important to apologize to those we have harmed. However, you don’t have to apologize to each and every person. Some relationships are better left in the past, and it’s best not to open those old wounds. In those cases, you can have a conversation with the person in your head or write a letter to them and never mail it. For example, if you and your former business partner had a falling out and haven’t spoken to each other in a decade, that’s one relationship that is probably best left in the past. 

And even if you do reach out to someone you’ve harmed with your actions in the past, know that they might not be receptive. And they have that right. What matters in those cases is that you did your part (remember step three). 

Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

Once you’ve reached this step, you should have a much more proficient understanding of who you are as a business leader and be able to own it. 

In essence, this step is about continuing to reflect on your behavior and the impact of your behavior on your employees, customers, family, friends and community — and then recognizing when you’re wrong so you can apologize. Over the years, I’ve learned that apologies aren’t just about admitting fault. Apologies should be empathetic, compassionate dialogues where you respect the other person’s feelings and strive to understand them so you don’t repeat that behavior and hurt them again. 

Step 11: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Again, this is another step that you don’t need to interpret in a religious way if you’re not religious. 

To me, the meditation aspect of this step is immensely helpful. Meditation can be a powerful way to understand who we are at our core, which is invaluable when it comes to running a business. Just get quiet in a place without distractions; spend time alone and reflect. Over time, you’ll better understand who you are right now in the world and who you are meant to be. And with that understanding and knowledge, you can take action to become a better version of yourself at work and at home

Step 12: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Each day I wake up, I base my life on this step. The 12 steps aren’t things you should do once and then forget about; you have to practice them regularly to truly live by them. 

Only with regular practice of these 12 steps can you understand who you are on a deeper level and truly help your business — and the people who support it and who are impacted by it — flourish. 

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