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Leadership Lessons—Bouncing Back

It was a Sports Illustrated article that I read about this leader that gave me a glimpse of the demons he faced. Demons, that someday, he’d overcome.

His first public issues came in 2004 when he was arrested for driving while impaired. He was just a 19 year-old kid then. I imagine all of us made mistakes at that age that are somewhat understandable. A few years later many of us saw his picture in a tabloid smoking from a bong. Then, in 2014, he was stopped doing 84 mph in a 45 mph zone. In addition, his blood-alcohol record was .14—the state limit is .08. This was drunk driving.

He was a sports celebrity and was guilty, like many young celebrities, of attracting “friends” who weren’t really friends. They were people who wanted to hang out with a celebrity. Reminds me of the “posse” that basketball star, Allen Iverson, attracted years ago.

This celebrity knew he needed help. He was in tough shape. In fact for almost five days in the fall of 2014 he lay in a fetal position not knowing if he wanted to live or die. A real friend, the kind that tell you what you need to hear—not what you want to hear—suggested he check himself into a treatment facility.

No one said he had a drinking problem or anything close to a drug problem. But there was an issue that he needed to handle and a treatment facility might be exactly what he needed. After 45 days at the facility he came out as a new person. He gave up drinking. For the first time in years he was able to go to his practices without a hangover. One of the books he read that he feels prevented him from suicide was Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life.” The book uplifted him so much that he often quoted from it and his fellow patients nicknamed him “Preacher Mike.” I’ve read that book and recommend it highly to others.

I’m sure you know this person. If you watched the Olympics this year you saw him participate in the Olympics opening Ceremony for the first time. You saw him carry the flag in for the U.S. You saw him race his 30th Olympic event and win his 23rd gold medal. Imagine that. In 30 races he only didn’t medal twice. What dreams are made of. Life, however, issues challenges regardless of who you are.

Michael Phelps learned how to bounce back.

Let’s move on to the entertainment world.

He was inmate number P50522 in the California state prison in Corcoran, Calif., and spent time in a high-minimum to moderate building.

He started using drugs when he was a kid. As he became more popular his drug use increased. In 1996 he was stopped by the police. They discovered heroin, crack cocaine and an unloaded 357 Magnum in the car.

He was sentenced but broke out of jail wearing hospital pants and a Hawaiian shirt. He got sentenced to a more secure facility. He escaped once again. In 1999 he stood before a judge and begged not to be sent to prison saying, “It’s like I have a shotgun in my mouth and I’ve got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal.” This time his sentence was three years.

After 12 months, he was released and went back to his profession—acting. He won a Golden Globe. Later that year, after an anonymous call, the police searched his hotel room and found cocaine and methamphetamine.

After another arrest he checked himself into rehab. He couldn’t get a job because he needed a surety bond. Mel Gibson believed in him. He cast him in a small film and paid the production insurer his bond.

A short time later he fell in love with Susan Levin, an executive who helped him with his manic personality. She saw him through the issues, married him in 2005, and helped him turn his life around. In 2012 they had son. She saw what few others did.

Today Robert Downey Jr. is the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

Leaders bounce back. Sometimes it takes the advice of a good friend. Other times it takes something as drastic as a treatment facility.

We look at these people and can’t imagine why they had such issues. We look at how good they are at their craft, the money they make, their fame and we just don’t understand.

This week’s lesson is simply that leaders find a way to bounce back. We need to remember this for issues we may have in the future. If not us, it might be issues our family members or friends face. The thing to remember is simple, leaders bounce back. Always have. Always can.

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