I met my friend in undergraduate school. He was a double major psychology and concert piano and I was a double major psychology and theatre. It was apparent from the beginning that he was brilliant.
After college, we went our separate ways. I didn’t see him for about five years until I ran into him while I was working at a psychiatric hospital. I was working in admissions; he was a program director. Since we had seen each other, he had earned his Master’s in Clinical Psychology.
Over the next 20 years, we would be great friends in many ways. I was a support to him as he moved up the career ladder and earned an MBA. I fixed him up with single friends. He came to our home for dinner frequently and became the Godfather of my daughter when she was born.
Eventually my friend became the CEO of an influential managed care company. He was now seriously successful. Unfortunately, he also began to take himself a little too seriously. He became critical of everyone around him, including me. It became clear to me that his personality was changing and he was becoming a bit unstable. I soon found out that he had a serious addiction to prescription pain killers. Within just a few years of reaching what he considered to be the pinnacle of his career, my friend was fired from his job, escorted out of the building by the police. He had become so unstable that he made verbal threats to his subordinates.
I tried to talk to him about his addiction, to explain to him that his behavior was becoming a problem. He said he didn’t have a problem; it was under control. When I pointed out that he drooled on a professional colleague while talking with him, my friend said that wasn’t true, even though I was sitting in the next chair and saw the whole thing.
I took the final step of putting an end to our relationship when he stole my son’s prescription pain medicine. I thought ending the relationship would show him how serious his problem was. I am not sorry about this, but I never dreamed I would never see him again.
You see, my friend died last summer. He would have turned 47 tomorrow.
It was painful for me to hear that my friend died of a drug overdose. I had watched a brilliant man spiral downward and lose everything that he ever wanted because he made the fatal mistake of living a life that kept him from being a transparent person and a transparent leader. He led a double life and the pressure of keeping his two “selves” compartmentalized dealt him a crushing blow.
As leaders, we owe it to ourselves, our families, our customers, and our employees to be people of integrity. To have nothing about ourselves that keeps us from being transparent. If we can’t, then we are morally obligated to step away before we implode and take those around us down with us.
Rest in peace, my friend. I’m sure your advice to me would be not to write this blog, that it would somehow show weakness on my part. I’m ok with that. Because I am transparent about this: I really miss you on your birthday.