Great Leaders Live Like Drug Addicts, with Michael Brody-Waite
Michael Brody-Waite is a drug addict who discovered that the same principles he learned in order to stay clean can be applied to his personal professional life. If he’s rigorously authentic and vulnerable, he can live mask-free life – and he’s on a mission to teach others how to live mask-free as well.
Founder of Authentic Leadership Advisors and Authentic Leadership Advisors Academy, Kathleen O’Grady is a visionary leadership coach and fearless leader. She supports driven individuals and organizations to achieve the impossible. Her ability to act as a catalyst for people to discover, rediscover, and embrace their unique genius is what makes Kathleen one of the most sought-after global executive coaches. She is a two-times past president of the International Coaching Federation Raleigh Chapter, and her work is featured in web articles by the NYTimes.com, Huffingtonpost.com, Forbes.com, and eFinancialCareers.com.
Her real-world stories, practical tools, and actionable insights help clients step out of their comfort zone to create authentic meaning and purpose in their life and work. By embracing change, Kathleen believes everyone can achieve something extraordinary.
Kathleen O’Grady: My guest today is Michael Brody-Waite from Nashville, Tennessee. Michael is the author of Great Leaders Live Like Drug Addicts: How to Lead Like Your Life Depends on It. Welcome Michael.
Michael Brody-Waite: Thank you. I’m a Californian from Nashville, Tennessee. So I say dude, and I say y’all
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, I’m trying to remember. I think it was a few weeks ago that you reached out and. I looked you up. I started watching your Ted Talk. Then we ended up having a zoom call about a week or two later. And what we tried to do was come up with an agenda for our podcast today, but we couldn’t because we just kept talking about authenticity and we just kind of went in all kinds of different directions, which I think would have been a great podcast in and of itself.
Michael Brody-Waite: Yeah. I mean, our agenda is to be authentic. Right. So we shouldn’t structure it too much.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. So speaking of that, why don’t you just start out telling our listeners who you are and what your mission is regarding authenticity.
Michael Brody-Waite: Oh, Oh. So this is like a six hour podcast. Cause I’ll just, you know, uh, so I’ll, do the high level. I’m kidding. This is not a six hour podcast. So when I was in high school, I was a goody goody. My parents sat me down and said, Hey, your dad’s an alcoholic. So the last thing that you can do is drink or use drugs. So I think like the next day I started drinking and using drugs because that’s what you do when you have addiction in the genes.
If you’re a parent out there do not do that with your child if you think that they’re an addict. Don’t tell them what not to do. Cause that’s like telling him what to do. I went to college and I felt like I didn’t have the instructions for how to deal with life on life’s terms and I saw a Lifetime movie about a guy that was an alcoholic.
And I looked at that and I said, life is really confusing. But I really think that I can nail that. Not necessarily the type of five-year plan that you want someone to be building when you’re paying for them to go to college as my parents were. But to me, it was a very attractive life because I could be numb.
And I didn’t know how to deal with life on life’s terms. So I continued to build my addiction and find drugs and got kicked out of college and was fired from my job and kicked out of my apartment. And my car was repossessed. And so at the age of 23, I was throwing up blood. I didn’t have anywhere to stay.
My buddy’s couch was the only thing keeping me from the street. I was stealing from people to fund my addiction and I just assumed that I would be dead by the time that I was 30. And then that’s when I got an offer to go to rehab that I promptly rejected cause I said, I’m totally fine, which was a total lie.
But the guy, my really good friend Aaron, to this day love him so much. He was letting me stay there, stay at his house, but it was a terrible situation for him. I would wake up at 11, he’d be at work, I’d start stealing his money and eating his food and drinking his alcohol and inviting strangers over to his house.
And yet he was letting me stay there. And so when my dad offered to send me to rehab like the fifth or sixth time, Aaron started to encourage that I go as well, telling me it was a good vacation for me. My whole life was a vacation, but I needed a vacation apparently. And so I woke up September 1st, 2002 at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California.
That is when I got introduced to the 12 step program. That’s when I got introduced to recovery. And the short story of what I did with that is, at first I learned the principles in order to stay clean. Then I started to learn how to apply those principles to my professional life. I worked at a retail store and then I worked at a Fortune 50 company.
And one of the things that I found out was if I am rigorously authentic and I am vulnerable, all of the things that I’m scared will happen, most of them won’t come true. It’s actually not that bad. But what I learned in my Fortune 50 career was it actually becomes a competitive advantage. So I’m walking around this big corporation and I’m sticking out like a sore thumb.
And it’s not because I have long hair and I have hoop earrings and flip flops. So I’m from California. And I say, dude, it’s because I’m practicing rigorous authenticity. I’m surrendering the outcome. I’m doing uncomfortable work on a daily basis. And it made me very different than the people while I was around, it got me promoted eight times in eight years.
And then I went and founded my startup, which we can talk about later. Today I sit in front of you as someone who’s obsessed with taking a system that has been working for millions of people all around the world and help them get clean or sober from their addiction. And I’m obsessed with taking that and turning that into a leadership system that can allow anyone – addict or not – to be truly great by learning how to be essentially an authentic leader.
Kathleen O’Grady: Wow. I’m just going to sit with that for a minute. So I’ll have to get a hold of your book soon. But if you could give us a high level, what does it mean to live your life or lead your life like a drug addict?
Michael Brody-Waite: So the term that I use to describe this lifestyle is a term that has worked for a long time. But right now it’s a little interesting. It’s called living and leading mask free. And we find ourselves in a pandemic where everybody’s talking about physical masks. But what I’m talking about is the fact that leaders are trained to hide their true selves, to hide their weaknesses, their vulnerabilities, and all those different sorts of things.
And so for me, that’s how the world is. It teaches you. Kids by the age of four, 90% of them are taught how to lie and do so. So we are taught to hide our true selves. And so when we get into the professional world and the leaders that are running the world in the organizations, we go work at, we get trained that if we want what they have, we’re gonna have to do what they did. Well that directly contrasted with my experience in a 12-step program where they said, if you want what we have, you have to do whatwe did. And one of the things that I learned was how to be rigorously authentic, and I learned how to live and lead mask free. And so specifically in my book, I talk about that I think the reason that we have so much narrative around authentic leaders and we don’t actually have authentic leaders, like everybody wants authentic leaders, but when was the last time you heard a politician answer a question with, I don’t know? Like we don’t freaking have them. And the reason is, and why I think addicts are so well positioned to help with this problem is because the reason that we talk about authentic leadership and we don’t have it, is the same reason that most of the people listening right now have an addict in their life and they tell that addict to stop and they don’t stop.
And so I’ll break that down real quick. They told me to stop using, they told me why it was important that I had an addiction problem. Telling me stop never stopped anything. You can tell an addict to stop until you’re blue in the face and nothing stops until you tell them what to start instead.
And so I had to start a program. I had to acknowledge that I had an addiction and start a program on my addiction. Well, the reason that we keep talking about authentic leaders is, could we tell them to stop wearing the mask? What we’re not acknowledging is they’re addicted to it. They are addicted to it.
We are dealing with mask addiction at epidemic proportions. And so if we have an addiction to the mask, then we need a recovery solution. So we need to tell leaders what to start. And I love Brene Brown and I love likeI would pee on myself if I got to meet her, she is like an idol to me.
If you’re listening Brene, I promise I won’t make you embarrassed, but I would love to meet you. And so I’m inspired by so many thought leaders around authenticity, but what I found lacking when I was building my company was I couldn’t equip my employees with the how, with the system. We got systems for how to eat healthy, for how to save money, for how to work out, even how to stay off your smartphone.
We don’t have an actual step by step system for how to truly be an authentic leader, but we have a step by step system for how to stop slamming dope in your veins. And so I was like, okay, if it’s an addiction and we don’t have a how, I’m going to take my inspiration in working a 12 step program. And I’m going to build a system that’s available to anyone that wants to be an authentic leader.
And so that’s what the book outlines is the mask free program, how it works, and it gives them a way to implement the three principles that I’ve referenced in just one minute a day, so that they can reclaim 500 hours a year and more importantly, that they can be their true self and work in life.
Kathleen O’Grady: Gosh, I have so many questions, so I’ll try to keep track of them. The first one is, going back to what you said earlier about feeling like you had to numb yourself. I am no stranger to addiction. Like you said, there’s, if, you know, at least, five people, you know at least one addict or maybe the numbers, even the ratio is even greater.
And it’s, it’s a matter of how it’s glorified in our society. I mean it’s the only substance that you actually get shamed for turning down in a social setting and in some cases, right. Or you have to have like a valid excuse. And I’m talking alcohol of course, but then drugs is a whole other level.
And I’ve always felt that our desire to numb stems from just maybe not even being able to handle how magnificent we are. Like truly genius creative people are more prone to addiction. I’ve heard, I don’t know how accurate that is, is because we just don’t know what to do with all of who we are. And so we mute it.
Michael Brody-Waite: Yeah, I mean, and you’re touching on one of the things that I don’t, I don’t get into in my book, but one of the things that I believe in why I’m doing this work is, I think that one of the reasons that addiction is so prevalent is because we’re trained to hide our true selves and the way that we account for the dissonance between our true self and the mask that we have to wear is we look for ways to numb.
And so I think that that’s why we have so many people that are addicted and then you have this wonderful. tool in the 12 steps. And there are other programs too. I’m not, I’m not just like a 12 steps is the only way, but you have this like global tool, proven set of steps. And they were built in response to the symptom, not to the actual problem.
And the way that they solve the symptom of addiction is they solve the problem. They allow you to become your true self. So my hope is that by making essentially what addicts have had access to for the last 80 years, accessible to all and giving people a step by step system that allows them to be true to themselves in word and action, I actually think we can start to quell addiction. In some ways, addiction is what allows us to emancipate everybody from the mask.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. In the work that we do at Authentic Leadership Advisors Academy, we have our own approach to this, and it really is about focusing on not the elimination of fear necessarily, but the development of self love, because people who really love themselves don’t want to harm themselves and they don’t want to harm each other.
Michael Brody-Waite: Uh, yeah. In fact, in Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown quotes, I think references in someone else, but it was really impactful to me when she talked about something to the I’m going to butcher it. But, um, courage is not the absence of fear. It’s action when you have fear. It’s walking through the fear.
And so like trying to get rid of all these different thoughts and it’s just really hard, but if you can just focus your attention on loving yourself and nurturing the true you, and just find ways to redirect your energy and focus to that particular thing, then it comes down to which dog is stronger. And it’s the one that you feed.
Kathleen O’Grady: So what would you say to somebody who says, well, Michael, I don’t even know who my true self is. Like, I don’t even know who I am.
Michael Brody-Waite: Oh, man, I get that a lot and people hate my answer. They hate it. To me, the answer is, I think it’s nearly impossible to be able to determine who you are.
I think that we are dynamic constantly changing. And I think that that is a really hard thing to identify. I think the way that we actually learn who we are is not by trying to learn who we are. It’s by identifying all the times that we are not being ourselves. Identifying all the times that we put on a mask and going, Oh, wait a second that’s not me. And in that process that teaches you, who you are. But the stimulus in our world that drives us to wear masks and make us want to conform, a lot of us don’t – I mean, even the most enlightened people don’t fully understand themselves. And even if they do, that’s like a snapshot of like yesterday. Today might be a little bit different.
I might evolve my values and my thoughts and my feelings and all that kind of stuff. So for me, I had to really engage in a practice of identifying all the times that I was selling myself out and not being real. And in those moments, I would start to detect trends. Where for example, after our 12 step home group, we would go to dinner and I would hang out with a bunch of addicts that thought shock value humor that was really loud, was a fun thing to do on a Friday night, so much so that we would be next to a bunch of people that were drinking. And the people that were drinking would tell us to be quiet. Even though none of us were drinking. I would do what they were doing and I would say these really raunchy or shocking things. And it’s something that I thought was okay. And then I would have friends say, that’s not okay. And I’d be like, you know, you’re just, you know, conservative and uptight. And the entire time I would have this feeling in my stomach of I’m not acting in alignment myself.
I didn’t know it at the time. And finally, after like a year, I had an experience with a friend where I had to really look at that. And I was like, Oh, I’m trying to fit in and look special by doing all this stuff. And I actually don’t value saying all of these crass things. That’s actually not my DNA.
I don’t value that. But the only way I could come to a place where I don’t like just endless shock value humor was by first by doing it. And then being able to spot when I wasn’t in alignment with myself, I didn’t even know that I didn’t care about that because I was so sold on the fact that I did.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. it’s like we succeed in becoming ourselves through failing to be other people.
Michael Brody-Waite: Yes. I think that is way more succinct than whatever I just said. So we’ll go ahead and just use what you said.
Kathleen O’Grady: No, I mean, I mirror things back succinctly for a living, so I have practice in that. I mean, I can think about so many examples of what you just described in my own life.
And I feel like it’s the punishment and reward system of our society. If you were continuously rewarded for that behavior, instead of having someone that you cared about, push back and say, Hey dude, like that’s not cool with me, then who knows you might’ve continued down that path. And I feel like a lot of times, early adolescents and 20 somethings, our authentic self, took a back seat to our ego because of the fact that we had to live in such a way that would satisfy our parents, satisfy our towns, our teachers, our communities, our churches. And when you have so much expectation coming from the outside world – and let’s face it as much as parents do their best in a lot of ways, they project onto their children the version of their life that they wish they would have had for themselves.
And that like, that really screws with people, just like your parents, like, well, your dad’s an alcoholic or an addict, so you can’t be that. And then that’s just like a mind, you know, I don’t want to drop the F bomb. Cause then we’ll have to put an explicit on this one. I learned that the last time I cursed on the podcast.
Michael Brody-Waite: All right. That’s good for me to know. Cause I hang out a lot of drug addicts that we curse a lot. We’re just glad we’re not smoking crack.
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, so talk to me about like, did you go to the, to the rehab and then that was it like you were better or were there relapses?
Michael Brody-Waite: I am extremely fortunate in my 12 step fellowship, we have key tags and, I’ve only had to pick up one white key tag.
I went to rehab September 1st, 2002, well, actually the day before, but I’ve been using the day before. And I woke up there September 1st, 2002. And that’s my clean date, haven’t used since. But it was – when I first got there, I would tell anybody that would listen, that I didn’t belong there. I had two different things happen that made me realize and reconsider. The first was I was reading a piece of text that said, let anyone who,thinks they’re not an alcoholic, not drink for a year.
And I knew that couldn’t be me. And then I would hear all the other addicts that were not asking themselves whether they were an addict share. And I kept hearing my story coming out of their mouth. And when you hear that once or twice, maybe whatever, but when you hear that from 10 straight people, and some of them with worse consequences than you have, then you start to really go, wow, like maybe, maybe I have an issue.
Now it took me a couple of years to understand that the whole game was rigged. If you are in rehab due to drug addiction and drug consequences, surrounded by other addicts that are there because of consequences, and you’re asking yourself, am I an addict? Most people that are not addicts, don’t find themselves in that situation.
You don’t just like – my wife has a normy. She loves that I call her a normy, she’s like, Oh, I’m a normy this is so great. She’s like, she’s not going to find herself at the Betty Ford Center surrounded by a bunch of addicts going, I wonder if I’m an addict. Because she’s not a freaking addict. So I had to realize that I was one by hearing my story in other people’s mouths.
And by just like getting some really great experience, strength, and hope. And then once I accepted it, I just assumed that I would be dead by my 30th birthday, if not sooner. And I wanted to kill myself, I wasn’t living my life. Like I valued it. I was like, wow, this is my chance to turn it around.
And I’m one of the lucky ones that once I engaged in that process, I never stopped.
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, another thing that you and I talked about a few weeks ago, which I think is so important to recognize too, is that addiction doesn’t always have to relate to a substance like alcohol or drugs. There’s a lot of different addictions out there, you know, gambling, addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, just any sort of codependency really.
And, and it really does stem from that feeling of lack that then needs to be filled with whatever it is. Whether it’s work, social media, an iPhone, being promiscuous, whatever the case may be. The answer always comes back to, how are you not being that for yourself?
Michael Brody-Waite: Yeah, totally. I mean, my first addiction was a phone. I had a private line and put it in my bedroom, my junior year of high school, it was the best gift ever. And so I would like race home before my friends got there and leave like 20 voicemails, just so I could experience the rush of people calling me. And they’d be like, Hey, could you not call so much?
But I’m like, just hitting it. I mean, now I understand I’m manipulating them in myself so that I can trigger dopamine. I get that now. But like, at the time, I mean, I was using that addictively. It took me a little while to put substances in there. And then, you know, since I’ve been clean, I’ve had moments where I was spending money on material things addictively to my detriment, where I was chasing romantic relationships to try to feel better.
I never really fell into full blown addiction in those areas. I was able to manage that through my substance abuse program, but I definitely have a lot of friends that have worked on addictions that are not substances. And I respect the disease of addiction, no matter how it manifests. Cause it’s ultimately the same thing.
Kathleen O’Grady: I’m laughing cause I remember the rush that I would get when I used to see the red flashing light on the old school answering machine.
Michael Brody-Waite: Anyone younger than 30 is completely lost right now, or maybe younger than 35. They’re like, what do you mean the red light on the – what’s an answering machine?
Kathleen O’Grady: I had the phone wall mounted, like right next to my bed. So yeah. I could just be like, hello.
Michael Brody-Waite: That’s so great. That’s so great. You had your priorities in order.
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, so what else are you hoping will come from people getting their hands on your book? Because, I’m guessing that this is not exactly the ideal time to be launching a book tour during a pandemic. So what are some of the ways in which you want this book to change the world?
Michael Brody-Waite: Yeah. launching this book during the pandemic was both one of the worst things and one of the best things, literally the week that we hit the promotion window for the book, we had all this earned media set up. We had a couple like really heavy hitting celebrities, ready to like read the book and talk about it and all this stuff.
And then my PR team is like, okay, so all that’s gone, we can’t even cover the election, let alone you. And so it materially changed my business. I was making a lot of revenue from speaking and that’s how I was paying my employees. And all of that was gone and the book, you know, was suddenly – there wasn’t gonna be a lot of exposure. So the really cool thing is, is that while it really screwed my business and I’ve had to pivot and adapt, but luckily I’m a seasoned entrepreneur so I know how to do that. It’s really helped us drive impact. Ironically, as we live in a time where people are talking about physical masks, people are more desperate to get out from the figurative masks and we have more external pressure to do so.
So I’m getting tons of traction with people that are joining our mask free program. So basically you asked what’s the change that I want. I want a human, any human to be able to recognize that they no longer have to hide their true selves in any dimension. And that in doing so, they will save 500 hours a year and become more successful in work and life.
And then I want that human to be able to do that in a predictable process so they don’t have to think about it or guests on how they get that promise actually have it all figured out for them so they can just execute. And then I want to give them the opportunity to live in a society – virtual society – of other people doing the same so that no matter what your profession is, you have a world’s list of people that are living and leading mask free, available to share that experience, strength, and hope with you, to encourage you and help you overcome whatever challenge that is in the place.
And then I want to give you a format, a platform in which you can help someone else do the same. So the way this works out practically is we built an assessment. We call it the mask assessment. We’ve identified in giving it over a thousand people and companies like Google and Dell and startups and nonprofits, CEOs to teachers to have stay at home parents.
There are four masks that are holding back every individual team and organization in the world and costing them 500 hours a year. And so the first one is saying yes when you could say no. We found people are spending 31 hours a month in meetings that are unnecessary or unproductive. Just that alone would get you 360 of those 500 back.
So saying yes when we could say no. A lot of people – all of us – are scared of what people think if we say no, whether it’s we’re scared when it won’t be the hero, Superwoman or Superman isn’t real, someone will find that out. Or we’re scared about our job security or just FOMO. But we struggle to say yes when we could say no.
The second one is hiding a weakness. This stunts everybody’s growth and it hinders human connection. I once spent 22 hours trying to figure out how to use a Microsoft Excel pivot table when I could have spent 10 minutes asking my manager for help. I mean, you want to talk about these 500 hours, they add up real quick. And right now, every employee and every organization is hiding a weakness that’s holding back their success.
Kathleen O’Grady: Hashtag Beenthere.
Michael Brody-Waite: We have all been there. So the third one is avoiding difficult conversations. 70% of employees are avoiding a difficult conversation with their boss, their coworker, their employee, this doesn’t even take, take into account customers, partners, vendors, investors, board members, friends, and family.
And when we avoid difficult conversations, we end up having seven meetings instead of the one that’s one of the things that drives the meetings, but we also rob people of the data that makes our mutual experience the best it can be. Avoiding difficult conversations is the number one mask that people struggle with at work.
And then the fourth one is holding back our unique perspective. We’re not trained to be leaders or trained to be followers. We’re trained to fall in line and do the things that the leaders did. We’re taught how to be the great leaders and how we can become them instead of being your true self will make you a great leader, which is crazy but when you get into it, if the boss’s boss is in the room or the customer’s in the room or the investor’s in the room or the romantic relationship is on the line, pointing out a blind spot or identifying something zany that could be innovative is scary because you’ll be alone and you don’t want to communicate your unique perspective.
And so that’s how we get companies with hundreds of people and only the three people at the top are identifying blind spots and identifying innovation, and you wonder why they’re not optimized for success. And so these four masks alone are costing organizations the most valuable resource that they have at their disposal in time.
But what they’re missing out on is while so many companies are offering like catered lunches and all these BS benefits, if you carve out an arena at work where someone can bring their true self and like grow like crazy and be incredibly efficient and productive, and then build that skill to go out into a masked world, that’s a gift that allows you to attract, retain, develop talent in a way that like a catered lunch wouldn’t, because you’re actually changing their life. You’re not just changing their work. And so with my book, I want to kill those four masks. I want to kill the notion that a successful leader hides their true self.
That is bullshit. It’s done. It’s over. The time for command and control leadership has passed. We’re no longer in a manufacturing economy, we’re in a services economy. It’s global. Connection is everything. Everything has changed. And I want to pave a way for not only for people to realize that promise, but for them to have a step by step process that they can execute in one minute a day without thinking, the same way I had when I said I have a drug problem. I had a step by step process where there were steps that I didn’t have to think about. And I got a guide and I had a society of people doing the same thing, and I’m trying to provide the world that, and that’s what my book is about.
That’s a long answer. I’m sorry.
Kathleen O’Grady: Oh my God. I love you. I do. I mean, this, you say it’s everything you said is so true and I just wanna have that book potentially be part of the required reading for my program.
Michael Brody-Waite: That would be an incredible honor. I got to send you a copy. I’ve I’ve got copies. It’s just like, let me get your address.
Kathleen O’Grady: I would like a signed copy, yes, thank you.
Michael Brody-Waite: Yes. Done.
Kathleen O’Grady: And I want you to tell everybody how to find you and your book and we’ll also put it in the show notes, but first I want to ask you something that came to me this morning when I was visualizing our conversation. What has been the most heartwarming experience through this whole journey for you?
Michael Brody-Waite: For me when I – so in the book and this is more symbolic than anything, but when I look back at everything I’ve ever done, there’s always been two versions of me. The version that I think I need to be in order to be successful or get what I want, and the version that I want to be. And for me, you know, it was really great to be able to be successful and build an Inc 500 company and all that kind of stuff.
And I’m not diminishing the value of that, but the beautiful thing was creating a culture where everybody was welcome to be their true self. And no matter how safe I made it, I had to fight the world’s programming that was installed in everybody that I hired. So I had to take really extreme measures to show them how sincere I was and teach them how to do it.
And even then we built a mask-free culture and we killed other companies, I didn’t really equip them with how to do it. And so I was like, I need to do a Ted Talk if I can, everybody wants to do one. And then I need to write a book. And when I wrote the book, I wrote it and then I had to trash it because somewhere along my journey, I got lost and I started writing the book that I thought everybody needed to read, or the book that would prove that I’m an expert or whatever.
And I came home one night to my wife and I said, I hate my book. I’m trying to wear the Michael Brody-Waite mask. And so she’s like, well, what book do you want to read? And so out of that changed the book. But one thing that changed was the last chapter in my book wasn’t in it in the first version, and now it’s in and it’s everybody’s favorite chapterand it’s my favorite chapter. And I might get emotional talking about it, but like, what I wanted to do was I’d write six chapters or seven chapters on like this great program and system on how to be an authentic leader and all that kind of stuff. And so the last chapter is supposed to be, and then you’re going to get a Ferrari and the world’s going to be perfect and everything’s going to be great.
And look at me, I have all these great things and so like prosperity BS. And I wanted to end it with a chapter where I threw everything that I teach the reader away. And so I take the reader to a year, 2014 that I call a tale of two divorces. And it’s when I had to divorce my wife, my business partner, and sell my company all in the same year.
And at the beginning, I stopped practicing everything that I’m teaching people in the book. And that I was taught and I started hiding my true self and I got – there was so much pain and I was so alone and I was so confused and I was so angry by all the things that were going on. And then I took off the mask and I practiced what’s in this book and it ushered me through it.
But now I’m living a life where that gets to be my job is to help people do the same. I never would have thought that divorcing my business partner and my wife in the same year would be instrumental in me finding my wife, who is my business partner. And in having our first child and now about to have our second. I never thought that I would be able to teach people that the principles addicts use to recover can help them live and lead mask free and be more successful in work and life.
I never would’ve thought any of that was possible. And so when you asked me, like, what’s the most heartwarming part it happens every day. When someone who is working the mask free system shares, Hey, I used to work till 10:00 PM at night because I didn’t say no. I’m doing the mask free minute and now it’s 6:00 PM, I’m done. And I spend time with my husband and my dogs. To be able to take all the pain I’ve been through and then all the cool stuff, but like turn it into something that doesn’t promise change that’s candy and superficial, genuine change that everybody is thirsting for, but makes it so simple that they don’t have to figure it out.
And there’s no user error. Every time I get that feedback. We’ve got like, you know, depending on how you look at it, 60 to 180 people in the mastery program at different levels right now, we just launched it a couple of weeks ago. And the book outlines how it works and essentially why this is the method that will build a mask free society.
And every day I’m humbled by the people doing the mastery work. And they’re teaching me so much because I’m not an expert. I’m just another dude. And I built this thing because I want it for me. Not because I want to say, Oh, I was successful and now I can be special. And I want followers. Screw all that. I want it for me.
And I’ve been building this stuff. I built it in my company, but I couldn’t really give everybody exactly what I wanted them to have. And so I didn’t exactly experience the mastery world because they didn’t have the tools. But now that did the Ted Talk and the book, now I’m living in a mask-free society, people who are all speaking the same language, doing the same work. And I have what I wanted in the professional world for the last 17 years that I never got that I got every day at a 12 step meeting. And I want everybody to be able to experience that.
Kathleen O’Grady: Wow. I wish everybody could see your face right now.
Michael Brody-Waite: Yeah. I’m crying, which the programming will say makes me weak. But I know it’s not true.
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, I always say at Authentic Leadership Advisors Academy, the greatest gift we can give a person is our tears.
Michael Brody-Waite: Well, then you’re welcome.
Kathleen O’Grady: Thank you. And, and honestly listening to you talk, it reminds me about all the times where I look at the coaching model that I developed and the model within the model. And I know when I’m not practicing the model. It’s there and it’s like, Hey girl, you know, like there’s a simple solution to this. And if you just, if you just practice what you preach, you could probably get over this. But for whatever reason, we have to go through a certain amount of pain and trauma and lessons learned to get to that point where we were like, okay, I’m ready now. But even when we tell ourselves, stop doing this, start doing that. Until we’re legitimately ready, that we’ve exhausted every other solution to like, well maybe if you just do it this way.
Michael Brody-Waite: Maybe if I hit my head against the wall for the 17th time, it’ll be different.
Kathleen O’Grady: Oh, I just, I love that because that’s the beauty of authentic leadership and the beauty of you, Michael, is that you’re not claiming to have all the answers and you’re not claiming to be immune to the same issues that this book is meant to fix. And that it’s a constant commitment and recommitment to following the steps and answering those questions. And we know when we’re not doing it.
Michael Brody-Waite: A hundred percent and you could call what we’re building a quote unquote, personal brand, which I had to learn what those are. Definitely, I’m not trying to speak negatively about other personal brands, but the model definitely feels like it’s very ego focused.
And so one of the things I did with my team early on is like, I was like, well, I need to be able to be vulnerable and admit when I don’t have the answers or admit when I want a crowd to like me and that kind of stuff. I’m like, wait a second. We want people to think of you as an expert. You can’t do that.
I’m like, isn’t that the whole point? Like, why can’t we build the world’s first authentic personal brand instead of trying to look like we have all our crap together on social media. What if we actually like showed the real us, like, you know, instead of the curated version of us, and I’m still trying to find outlets for making that available, but it’s freeing because when you wear a mask, you’re in a prison.
But when you don’t, you’re vulnerable. Just the word vulnerable before Brene Brown in my world at least was a negative word. And now I see it as a superpower. I see it as strength. I see it as courage. I think like the person that can be vulnerable is like twice the bad ass as a person that can’t, but it’s not something that we’re taught.
It’s not something that we’re able to just intuitively know. We have to learn it. And so when you are teaching and I know you do this based off our conversation, when you are teaching people how to be authentic, it can be a trap because there are a lot of times where I’ll find that I want to wear the Michael Brody-Waite mask.
I got to be the authentic leader guy. And so, I had this moment where I was doing social media videos. And my wife gave me a question that we got online and I answered it and she was like, no, we have to do that again. And I was like, why? And she’s like, you weren’t being yourself.
Like, what are you talking about? I agree with everything that I said, she’s like, it’s not what you said. It’s the way you said it. It sounded like you were preaching to an entire audience, but I know that you’re wired to help an individual. Talk as if you’re talking to the person. And I was like, okay, fine, whatever.
And then I do it and then I can see that when I had an audience in my mind, I was performing. I was performing the authentic Brody-Waite show, but I was still performing. I was trying to replicate the things that I know the people – so like for example, a version of that would be if I try to make myself cry.
Cause I know that that fulfills the mold of the authentic guy, right? So when my cat died a couple weeks ago and I had a meeting with a bunch of people in the mastery program, for me living and leading mask free was not crying because I didn’t feel like – I had already cried for three hours. I was good to talk about what was going on. I didn’t want to cry. So I had to learn that it is such a trap, a potential trap, but it also requires us to be so vigilant when we’re teaching this stuff that we have to honor our vulnerabilities. We have to honor when we put on the mask. Because if we actually believe that the people we’re teaching are going to get to a place where they’re gonna be perfectly authentic and never have another problem again, that I don’t think that we actually know what we’re doing.
And so if it’s a process with no end destination, just like physical fitness, but authenticity fitness, then you just have to be committed to the process. And that’s something that we need to model – you and I – from the top down or whatever out front or from behind or whatever leadership paradigm that makes us both look like a bad ass and humble or whatever the right thing is.
And so it’s hard because you can be teaching someone and then you can be like, Oh man, like, I don’t know if I was being authentic at that moment.
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, and I know for sure that I had to overcome that temptation too in the beginning of Authentic Leadership Advisors Academy. And there were-now it’s to the point where I use myself as the client on real topics. And I cry so hard that I’m snotting and hyperventilating.
Michael Brody-Waite: Yeah.
Kathleen O’Grady: Needing a moment to collect myself and because I’m Irish, like my face and my chest is red for like the rest of the day. And it’s our responsibility to lead by example and to show people that we’re not better than them, we’re just in a different phase of the process.
And so I really commend you for that. And I agree that it’s one of the things that when you bare your soul to somebody who you’re teaching to bare their soul, it makes it real for them.
Michael Brody-Waite: They need that. If you don’t show them how they’ll never do it and it’s not their fault.
Kathleen O’Grady: I love this. I wish we could go on forever. But in the meantime, I’m hoping that the two of us can do some great work together.
Michael Brody-Waite: I would love that.
Kathleen O’Grady: Can you tell people how to find you and your book?
Michael Brody-Waite: Sure. Well you can buy Great Leaders Live Like Drug Addicts, like through Amazon or whatever, but if you want to find me, the two ways to do it is to Google Michael Brody-Waite because there’s no other people in the world with Brody-Waite.
It killed me for like 25 years, but now it’s actually nice. That’s how you can find my social media, my website for speaking, or if you just want to be inspired by content, but if you want to practice the mask free minute in order to take the mask off, you can go to MaskFreeProgram.com. So just MaskFreeProgram.com.
Create a free account and that’ll give you access to our mask assessment. That five minutes will tell you which mask is holding you back, what your authenticity percentag is and equip you with a report for what you can do about it.
Kathleen O’Grady: I know what I’m doing as soon as we finish this call.
Michael Brody-Waite: Awesome.
Kathleen O’Grady: So, thank you, Michael. This has been fantastic. And I know it’s just the beginning of maybe some other work we can do together.
Michael Brody-Waite: I love the work that you’re doing. I think I told you in our one-on-one before this, but I wanted to brand myself as an authentic leadership coach and I guess maybe in some ways I did, but I didn’t do that directly, but I was using that term and I’m like, wow, nobody’s ever used this term before.
And that’s when we found you. I was like, yes, this needs to exist. This is amazing. This is an explicit thing that I think everybody needs. And it’s so interesting how words work. So like the work that you’re doing, I love and I support, and I hope that we can collaborate in the future.
Kathleen O’Grady: Absolutely. I’d love to have you go through my program and me go through yours.
Michael Brody-Waite: That would be really interesting. That just gave me fear, but I’m sure I can get over that.
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, I mean, I feel like we’re, we’re ahead of our we’re ahead of our time in many ways. And yet we’re right on time.
Michael Brody-Waite: I agree. A hundred percent. And that’s why, what you’re doing with this podcast is so important.
Kathleen O’Grady: Thank you, Michael.
Michael Brody-Waite: Thank you.