By Angie Chaplin, founder/owner, Mindful Leadership

For 30 years, I have devoted my career to studying, designing, implementing and facilitating leadership cultures for industries ranging from higher education to nonprofits and financial services to the federal government.  

Examining companies and cultures of all shapes and sizes, I observed the impact of exemplary leadership in little moments and large milestones. Even so, fully grasping the power of a personal leadership culture – an internal operating system of values, behaviors and processes – would take a life-altering crisis.

It happened 15 years after earning my graduate degree in strategic communication and leadership from Seton Hall University and receiving the designation of certified master from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of “The Leadership Challenge.” At a time when my passion and purpose for leadership seemed to be climbing to new heights, behaviors related to severe alcohol use disorder led me to dangerous lows.

With my physical, mental and emotional health in crisis, I made a choice to begin leading an alcohol-free life. Forty days later, when the global pandemic shut down the treatment systems supporting my sobriety, I faced a dilemma – where do I go from here?

The answer was to look inward by turning toward the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership from “The Leadership Challenge.” Understanding that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” I realized that if I didn’t strengthen my personal leadership culture, strategies for staying sober would risk failure. 

Here’s how integrating the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership for personal culture transformation makes sobriety work for me, and how you might embed the practices yourself: 

Model the way. Authenticate who you are by clarifying your values, finding your voice and setting an example. When you align your behaviors accordingly, your actions articulate credibility and integrity louder than words alone. Expanding on a values exercise from “The Leadership Challenge, I designed and published Values to Vision cards with supplemental facilitation guides and created a values-mapping process to check that my behaviors align with my values of love, gratitude, connection, growth and well-being.

Inspire a shared vision. Visualize yourself leading your life by design, not by default. Articulate what your values and actions look like visually by journaling, crafting vision boards and sharing verbally with friends and family. The values-mapping process is an important resource for this practice because I can track and monitor how my appointments, activities and actions support what matters most.

Challenge the process. Through curiosity and creativity, what can you learn by rethinking how things have always been done? Master the art of learning from mistakes to put what you learn into practice. “Leaders are lifelong learners” is one of the fundamentals in “The Leadership Challenge.” For me, challenging the process became a catalyst for continued success by looking beyond traditional pathways to sobriety, including practical tools from SMART Recovery that integrate into holistic leadership.

Enable others to act. Psychological research shows that when we help others, the benefits are mutual. Mentoring and coaching are two powerful ways to walk along someone on their own self-empowered journey, even when their path might differ from yours. Soon after sharing my 30-day sobriety milestone on social media, friends reached out to privately share their own struggles, which led to completing certifications as a facilitator for SMART Recovery and Wellness Recovery Action Plan, plus training as a peer recovery coach. Creating connections and communities reinforces what Brené Brown describes as “the imperative of owning our story. We do this because we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories – it’s in our biology.”

Encourage the heart. The effects of acknowledgment, recognition and appreciation are measurable, with proven impacts for the encourager and the encouraged. Cheer on progress over perfection, and choose to celebrate what’s good rather than what’s wrong to leave a positive imprint on minds, hearts and habits. One word summarizes my personal practice of encouraging the heart: gratitude. Championing and cheering for friends in recovery (regardless of what they are recovering from) becomes mutually beneficial because my own heart gets encouraged at the same time. Looking inward for self-encouragement through yoga, affirmations and mindfulness brings the practices full circle.

Daily and deliberate integration of all five practices reinforces my personal leadership culture. From individuals to industries, doing the same by strengthening systems and strategies from within creates a protective shield of resilience, no matter whether we’re talking about revenue, relationships or recovery.

Angie Chaplin is the founder and owner of Mindful Leadership, where she specializes in personal and organizational culture, strategy and leadership. She can be reached at

Categories: Guest opinion