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Fostering and building leadership talent for recovery organizations

July 12, 2012
by Lori Ashcraft, PhD and William Anthony, PhD
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Because the leaders of the recovery movement aren't getting any younger, it's time we seriously consider what we need to do to fill our own shoes.
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If you are reading this column, chances are you are in a leadership position. That’s good, because we have some serious things to talk with you about. We’re worried because something is happening to all of our leaders that they can’t change and that no one else can remedy: Our leaders are getting old, just when we need strong leadership to guide us into health care reform and expand what we have learned about recovery.

While there’s not much we can do about the age of our leaders, we can make every effort to preserve their skill and knowledge about how to lead recovery organizations and systems. We must make sure their wisdom is passed on to those who follow them. Aw, but there’s the rub! Is anyone following them?

When we look for those following our wise and aging leaders, we don’t see a big crowd of budding leaders, ready to step in, stand on the shoulders of their predecessors, and lead the field forward. There are a few, but not nearly enough.

Recently, we were on a conference call with a group of leaders who are working to address this problem. The group identified several behavioral health organizations around the country that are seeking ways to identify and develop new leaders, leaders who can infuse an organization with the values and principles of recovery. While this agreement is an important step, it does nothing to help us in filling the void.

Another group of aging leaders can be found in the peer movement. A decade ago, it was common practice for peers to work in peer operated drop-in centers but there was a reluctance to recognize the important and vital role they could play in mainstream treatment programs. The value of this contribution is now undeniable.  

To help with our leadership gap, we must now consider ways that peers can contribute their skills, knowledge and experience at that level. We need more people who have the courage, humility, authenticity, and vulnerability that peers can offer. We need them to lead us forward, while anchoring the value of recovery and wellness in health care reform.

We heard that Steve Harrington was working on the topic of peer leadership so we gave him a call. Steve is the Executive Director of the National Association of Peer Specialists (, and a post-doctoral fellow at Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation and on the faculty of the Center’s Global Leadership Institute. Steve is passionate about preparing peers for leadership roles and quickly summarized the challenges involved:




In a recovery organization, we have found situations are very much critical. The process of treatment, the process of handling pressure and how people are stable in their level of dedication. These factors will bring several positive results for us, in recovery centers, employees are facing different kinds of atmosphere and through strong leadership attitude and positive thoughts, they are able to get the right path to handle situations. I would like to follow the ingredients present here in this article and also like to add something more in my experience.