Before the holiday celebrations really start to take off, I want to remind my fellow entrepreneurs about the responsibility of recognizing who in your company may be facing the challenge of alcoholism. It is important to remain sensitive about any individual's struggles during this time.
In business, water-cooler conversation about how wrecked you got the other night at a party has a certain romantic appeal. In my business, being in a famous rock band, you can magnify those experiences and stories to near mythic proportions. Afterall, aren't photos of Keith Richards or Sid Vicious passed out drunk in a chair in the dressing room after a show one of the most iconic in all of rock?
I happen to be in one of the few businesses where appearing seemingly annihilated, is actually a sign of success, where stunted emotional behavior is not only expected but encouraged.
Well...I hate to burst your bubble, but very early on in our history I came to the realization that any partner (or employee) who can't bring his "A" game everyday has the potential of pushing back, if not totally destroying, your goals.
It's hard enough to succeed but it's even harder when your chances of success are being dictated by people whose abilities are being compromised by substance abuse.
Over the years, it has been a sad reminder, through either early death or flat out loss of motor skills, how many of my heroes have fallen.
In the very early days, before I understood exactly how a person should be handled who was either working for me or was a partner, my reaction was to give a couple of warnings and then fire them. Looking back, it was not exactly a caring or therapeutic approach. It was fairly easy because most of them weren't "good people" in my mind. Most became nasty drunks who you couldn't wait to walk away from.
Then, out of the blue, one of my closest friends in the band called to tell me that he was an alcoholic. I had no idea. He was a great guy and apparently, a very quiet drunk who still played at the top of his game. In this conversation, he told me that he was an alcoholic, had joined AA several months earlier, found God and was told by his newly found church buddies that the devil spoke through my mouth in the band. This was particularly strange as I was not the one with a substance abuse issue--which he did acknowledge. He also told me that he was going to leave the band. I really thought that the two of us were going all the way to the "top," and I convinced him to stay.
Looking back at this now, this wasn't the best advice. The last place an alcoholic should be working is in nightclubs surrounded by alcohol.
I convinced him to stay and then hired bodyguards to stand around him the whole night. I really thought this was a great idea but, as we played 5 nights week, this proved to not only be financially debilitating but far too uncontrollable an atmosphere for one with such a problem. Finally, we both realized that it was in both of our best interests to part ways professionally.
We remain friends today because we were both sensitive to each other's situation and we both cared enough about each other to want only the best outcome.
Over the years, our growing sensitivity about alcoholism made it abundantly clear to us that, given the environment we were working in, the proper screening of personnel concerning all substance abuses became just as important as the talent that one brought to the band.
If you have a drinking problem or have a partner or employee who you suspect has a problem this holiday season, be aware, get help, be supportive of others and try to avoid the kind of atmosphere that would make indulging almost impossible to resist.
Ask yourself if those water-cooler conversation days are over. If not, then it's probably about time, for the sake of your company and those whose lives you cherish, to make them a distant memory.