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The Leadership Secrets of Rob Ford and Justin Bieber: Addiction is the New Normal

So Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, just got outed again in a new crack video. You’ve got to hand it to him; he’s a newshound and a highly successful one at that. Ironically he also seems to be a good mayor, if you exclude his many exploits, both drug-related and otherwise.

Actually I think we have to view him not as a politician but as an entertainer, maybe even in the same class as Justin Bieber. What is it with these apparently staid, boring Canadians anyway? Something they put in the maple syrup maybe?

Both have achieved great success, after their own fashion. And both have achieved it in no small part because of their relationship with drugs, of varying degrees. Is there something about being a drug addict that can make you successful, even if not as a conventional leader? Is there something about addiction which we are all missing?

Ok, so for two exhibits about us all being drug addicts. You may have noticed that there are new medical guidelines for who should take statin drugs (to lower cholesterol). Under the new guidelines, almost half of the US population aged between 40 and 75 should be taking these drugs. For people over 60, this rises to almost 80%! You will soon be a rarity if you don’t take one of these drugs!

Exhibit 2. This one really tickles my fancy. Of course you have heard of ADHD, As of 2011, 11% of children had been diagnosed with ADHD and around 6% of all children were taking drugs for this condition. More tellingly, the rate of increase in diagnosis of ADHD is increasing at 5% per annum.

However here is where I was getting to. Have you heard there is a new condition that the professionals have identified? It’s got the catchy name of sluggish cognitive tempo (sic) or SCT. SCT is basically the opposite of ADHD. Naturally it requires a drug to subdue it, and conveniently Ritalin and other ADHD drugs fill the bill.

So now we can expect SCT to be the fashionable new condition for kids, and yet another drug in their repertoire. Since the condition is so new, I guess we can expect diagnosis rates for it to increase much more rapidly than a paltry 5% p.a. Sounds like a gusher right?

And there are a huge number of drugs for mental health that are increasingly being prescribed. Depression, psychosis, dementia, sleeping disorders etc. Mental health is the growth industry since it’s been under-emphasized in the past due to the stigma attached to it.

That stigma has now almost disappeared, so rates of drug use are going up rapidly in this area also. This is being fuelled by professional guides such as theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible for mental health professionals. Psychotropic drugs are now being taken regularly by 20% of the population and of course this is increasing too, especially amongst Alzheimer’s’ sufferers.

We all know that the rate of increase in consumption of medical drugs is high. But what about recreational drugs? Marijuana? E-cigarettes? Spice? The hard drugs that Rob Ford takes like cocaine are actually totally passé. Justin Bieber’s alcoholic rampages are so Stone Age.

Personally I think we should legalize all these drugs because it removes a major burden on our legal system. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to fry your brain no matter what the drug, be it marijuana, crack, or even nicotine. I didn’t Google what proportion of the population is taking all of these because the data would be too depressing. But you get the idea.

It’s kind of inevitable that with so many people taking drugs of all types that leaders of all types will also be in the mix. Like Paul Flowers, the CEO of Co-op Bank in the UK who was recently caught buying cocaine. And he moonlighted as a Methodist Minister so where does it all end?

And it’s not just business but medical leaders. One of the tragic things about drug-taking is that one of the populations most affected is medical professionals. It’s hard to get a handle on the proportion who abuse drugs but it also seems to be rising rapidly. Propofol abuse is one of the areas of concern. There are even special medical units that treat drug abuse for medical professionals, mainly doctors.

So I’ve made my point right, that drugs are incredibly widespread, what with medical, psychotropic, lifestyle and hard drugs?

Nope, not even started.

What about our the food we eat every day? We are now starting to realize that much of our food is addictive, having been designed that way by food vendors so that we eat more of it. That’s why there is so much sugar in everything; you just can’t get away from it. It’s not just the sugar but the way the foods are formulated with many other chemicals to enhance the taste and its impact on our brain’s pleasure centers.

It’s not just sugar but all those yummy cookies and things that make us fat, give us Type 2 diabetes and other types of metabolic diseases. We don’t even understand all of them yet. But one of those metabolic diseases is increasingly starting to look like Alzheimer’s.

Many researchers are starting to call Alzheimer’s “diabetes type 3”. So it’s not only that drugs can give you bad side effects and have dangerous long-term impacts. They might also cause the most terrible brain disease there is, short of Mad Cow disease. And you can’t even choose to opt out since sugar is contained in just about all foods.

So why does this all matter? Is it just a matter of ill-health, even death? No, not even that.

My major concern is the insidious impact that all drugs have on our cognitive and decision-making quality and effectiveness. Sure there are the apparent outliers like Rob Ford and Paul Flowers. But for every one of them there are thousands more whose decision-making and cognitive capabilities are being reduced by all the other types of drugs out there. And for every thousand of these people there are millions whose cognitive abilities are being affected by sugar and other substances in our food.

The major focus in my blog posts is leadership. We all love to read about how to make leaders better and how we ourselves can become better leaders. That’s why we all consume the Harvard leadership stories with gusto.

But who’s talking about the way that our leadership capabilities are being quietly but powerfully and systematically undermined by the drug-ification of our society? By the drugs we take ostensibly to improve our health and mental functioning that are often actually undermining these? By the very food we eat which is seemingly slowly eating away at our brains to make many of us zombies once we get to our allotted four-score and 5 years on this Earth?

It might be that the biggest obstacle to better leadership in global society is not education, or development, or the intellectual base. It might well be the drugs we are taking that we know and recognize as such, and the ones that we don’t, such as certain of our foods.

Rob Ford and Justin Bieber are doing us a favor by showing us what we could all become, if we are not terribly careful. That’s the heart of their leadership secret.

Aldous Huxley famously created the fictitious drug “soma” in his path-breaking book “Brave New World”. He presciently saw how we would all become hooked on lifestyle and entertainment drugs.

Ironically he didn’t see the half of it.

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