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Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers

How substance abuse preys on sales professionals.

“I can’t have wine,” Bill Corbett says, smiling. “It makes me break out … of handcuffs, jails, treatment centers.” The waitress laughs, smiles, and nods in understanding before taking Corbett’s order for a soda.

For many, store revenue is down. There’s a heightened intensity to make monthly sales quotas. Margins are thin. Staff is light, and the workload is heavy. Let’s face it — today’s dealership environment is a pressure cooker that could make even the strongest personality run for the hills. If you’re like most of us, you know someone who has surrendered to substance abuse, either drugs or alcohol, to cope.

As I researched our recent book, I spent some time with an alcohol recovery mentor who had some great pearls of wisdom on why hard charging sales professionals succumb to substance abuse more readily than others. Here is some of what he had to say to me on the topic.

Bill Corbett (33 years sober and counting) is owner and founder of Corbett Business Consulting in Loveland, Colo., and – thanks to his kindness,  he has created an amazing record of success in helping recovering alcoholics. With an astounding recovery rate of 80 to 85 percent (typical success rates are only 5 to 10 percent), Corbett has mentored 15 to 20 men at a time for the past 23 years. He’s also delivered more than 100 recovery workshops, assisting both men and women on their walk out of substance abuse. His success rate with executives and other high-ranking businesspeople pushes 95 percent, in part, he says, because once members of that population make the decision to embrace recovery, their strong inner drive takes over and helps them stay sober.

Are sales professionals more susceptible to substance abuse? You bet, according to Corbett. “Any high-pressure, high-stakes endeavor brings highs and lows to the people involved, especially sales executives and salespeople under that pressure. The wonderful thing and the dangerous thing  is that men and women drink primarily because they like the effects produced by alcohol. How many people return a half-bottle of Scotch to the liquor store and request their money back because it didn’t work? Scotch always works.”

The only thing worse than failure for someone with a substance-abuse problem is success, Corbett says. Failure is used as evidence that the individual is a victim. On the other hand, the success is so intoxicating that he or she is more likely to take 150 percent of the credit for the victory, which leads to more abuse. So, there’s a sense of restlessness either way.

The physical addiction of alcoholism is manifested in the phenomena of “craving,” Corbett claims, which often doesn’t kick in until after someone starts drinking. Alcoholics process alcohol differently than other people and are unable to predict when (or if) they can stop.
Corbett created a self-evaluation form for CEOs and top executives that includes such questions as “Am I unable to complete projects on time?” and “Do I believe that in order to be successful in my industry, I must be able to party?” After all, drinking is socially acceptable in many business cultures and creates a bubble around the drinkers, who subsequently view themselves as the center of the universe and tend to judge other people, fearful that if they weren’t drinking, they would appear boring.

Alcohol brings plenty of success to a lot of people, particularly early on, Corbett continues. Shy individuals suddenly feel emboldened. In fact, that’s why you hear so many people claim the reason that they’re so successful is because they know how to have a good time.

Alcoholism also is an obsession of the mind, a disease of selfishness and self-centeredness, Corbett claims, and it’s important for alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike to learn how to function in social and business settings that involve alcohol. “I tell all my guys this: ‘You think they’re thinking about you, but they’re not. They don’t care what you’re doing. So you can just go get a Diet Coke or a glass of water and just visit with the folks,’“ he says. “No one really cares what you’re drinking or not drinking.”

People with a drinking problem must immerse themselves in the recovery process. “I would say 98 percent of the people that may have a problem need support,” Corbett says. Support can be treatment, a 12-step program or even a church group. Most effective is initial education, followed by a recovery process and then ongoing maintenance.

Corbett estimates there are between 35 and 40 million alcoholics who never seek treatment of any kind. “It can be denial, it can be shame, it can be ignorance; they think the reason they drink so much is because they have all these problems,” he explains. “That happened to me. I was in treatment, and after a week, I had this epiphany that I didn’t drink so much because I had all those problems. I had all those problems because I drank so much!”

We worked with a dealer principal once, for whom it started innocently enough. A couple of beers after work to numb the pressures of the day became longer and longer nights of drinking. He started coming in later and later to the dealership, snapping at people for no reason, and losing focus on what really mattered. Luckily, he recognized he had a problem and got the help to stop.

I’m no teetotaler and certainly not against the occasional  libation, and this article is absolutely not coming from any moral high ground (to see the moral high ground, I would have to look up!). And at the same time, you and I both know people for whom “one is too many, and a thousand is not enough.”

Care enough to send them this link: www.corbettbusinessconsulting.com/addiction-ceo/self-assessment.php 


An award-winning author, top-rated trainer and founder of Peak Dealership Performance, Mark Rodgers holds a master’s degree in adult education and the National Speakers Association Certified Speaking Professional designation — only 500 people in the world have this coveted recognition. Contact [email protected] to improve your performance.  

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