Fear-Based Management

By Phil Valentine

Every time I facilitate one of our trainings, I listen to people describe working environments that demean, devalue and diminish the recovery coach role. It’s not everyone, but I’m beginning to think most recovery coaches are working under fear-based management.  State systems, managed care organizations and long established clinical addiction treatment providers are exerting their influence on the emerging field of recovery coaching.  The influence is not always positive and often based in fear.  For example, four themes always surface regarding employment of recovery coaches. They are…

  1. The insistence on recovery coaches being in recovery. Read about this in these previous posts – Peer? Rejected and My Lived Experience.
  2. The requirement of a specific time of continuous recovery (A Crock of Clean Time Crap).
  3. The need for a credential (The System Does Not Define Us).
  4. Being supervised by a clinician who is unfamiliar with recovery coach roles and boundaries.

Gleaned from my discussions with recovery coaches, supervisors and administrators from across the country, I offer you my Top 10 list of indicators of fear-based management.

  1. Mistrust. Fear-based management does not trust their employees to do their jobs effectively. It also suspects that people are doing something wrong most of the time; that employees are “getting over” on them.  Suspicion weaves it’s way through their culture.
  2. Micromanagement. Nothing speaks more about mistrust than seeing over every detail of another’s job. As part of micromanagement, an administration will pursue finding faults in another’s behavior and/or performance while neglecting success.
  3. Control. When management attempts to exert complete control, the belief is it can eliminate risk. It imagines that the tighter the control, the more safe and secure the work environment. Yet, this rarely translates into a healthy work environment. Often the culture is heavy and oppressive.
  4. Objectifying. Fear-based management tells personnel what to do, when to do it and how to do it. It leaves little room for individual creativity. For more on objectifying read Bright Shiny Object.
  5. Superiority. When management mistrusts, micromanages, controls and objectifies, it believes it is superior to those beneath it. These organizations take hierarchy to extremes. Great power is attributed to the leadership. Often these managers use their own personal fear to cultivate fear within the culture.
  6. Separation. Fear-based management separates itself from others. It stands alone, isolated. It feels only they can accomplish their mission. It is the expert. It resists outside influence and sets itself up to compete with others in the same field.
  7. Competitive. Fear-based management does not collaborate. It looks at every scenario as win/lose where it must win, sometimes with no regard to the cost. Win/win scenarios are rarely implemented.
  8. Hoarding Information/Data. Information is for internal purposes only. Management’s data is management’s data. It refuses (or is reluctant) to share results. It declines to assist their “competition”.  It builds thick walls and is not transparent in their operations. It is not willing to contribute to the growing body of knowledge.
  9. Tradition. Beware when someone says, “we’ve always done it this way”. This conveys a message that management is not open to innovation. Change frightens it.
  10. Hyper Policy Development. When something unwanted or difficult happens, fear-based management creates policy to assure that the same thing won’t happen again. What was created with protection in mind often has an opposite effect down the road. It may get in the way of doing the right thing. It seeks to eliminate risk when management of the risk is the better solution.

All of the above would create a culture not in alignment with recovery principles, wouldn’t you agree?

For me, being fear-based boiled down to a decision. Fear drove my addiction to alcohol and cocaine. I lived in fear for way too long.  Through recovery I choose faith. Faith motivates me. Yet, on rare occasions, fear still creeps in.  Early in my executive leadership role, I made a few management decisions for CCAR from a fearful mindset. When that happened, things didn’t turn out too well. So, I’m raising this topic to expose a leadership style I want to avoid.

“We teach best what we most need to learn.”

Today, I aspire to lead from a place of faith. In my next post, I’ll take a stab of what I’ve learned about faith-based management.

Doing my best to live in the solution.

Phil Valentine
Phil Valentine

In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During all that time alone with my Creator, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is a way for me to share things I have learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. I find that when I speak I present the same messages over and over. It’s time to write them down.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

8 thoughts on “Fear-Based Management”

  1. Thank you Phil! This has been my experience especially but not limited to those employers who are adding peers for the first time. If I would be able to retire if had a dollar for every time I had a clinical supervisor tell me “that is not how we do things here” to which I would always politely respond “of course not, you have never utilized peers before.”

    It saddens me because there are so many of us out here with so much passion and willingness to make a difference and yet so often peers are left to feel like what they bring to the recovery table is not as important as other services offered. And yet we know first hand how very important it is.

    Allowing folks to choose their path of recovery and meeting them there not only saves lives it transforms them.

    Thank you for always speaking your truth so that the rest of us less eloquent peers can say, “what Phil said!!”

  2. This was a helpful piece. It can be difficult to be on the program management side of peer coaching. I think having lived experience is helpful in understanding the role of a coach. In working for Baltimore County Government, we have been given a great deal of autonomy in the development of our programs. A good amount of time was spent initially in outreach to other agencies and providers defining the peer role and how the peer support services could enhance other programs and services. We are now partnering with emergency services, crisis response, the criminal justice system and child welfare. Our management team do not have time to micromanage, but training and protocols have to be in place. We work diligently to create a work environment that involves collaboration and support. As the program manager for the peer support programs one of my highest priorities is to ensure the integrity of the programs by protecting the peer coach role. Thanks to CCAR for the tools!

  3. My god. This is my job right now, 1-12 to the letter. And here I thought it was just me. Everything that has been presented in this article is my position to “T”: demeaned, devalued and diminished in my role. Basically, I feel like an over-glorified, over-qualified gopher. Thank you again for not only opening my eyes, but giving me the information needed to better myself and my position.

  4. Thanks Phil for your powerful topics…I would love to continual the conversation with you in person at the Cosmic Omelette about creating a supervision role training. Since RCA I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to not only work for one agency but two; outpatient MAT and detox. Upon hire there were no specific guidelines to my role except being a support to clinicial staff and clients, so I really had a blank canvas to work with. But in each location my title was different; peer recovery case manager and recovery coach in which both required lived-experience with at least two years clean time. My job responsibilities were somewhat different butcher at times looked more like an administrative assistant than coach. Only one of my supervisors was a clinician and I was told ‘not to share too much’ of my lived-experience with the clients, even though that’s why I was hired. These state-funded positions trained me in CBT and MI prior to hire, but I was told not to report it in my documentation because it sounded ‘too clinical.’ In 2014, I was certified as a Peer Recovery Support Specialist and I’m required to have 60 CEUS ever 3-years. Unfortunately I have to use my vacation time and do not get reimbursed for the cost, like clinicians do. With all of that being said, I don’t regret anything I’m honored to iron out the kinks and pave the way for future RCs. There have been many breakthroughs in the past two years such as I’m involved in clinical team meetings, referrals to HLOC, conduct weekly recovery groups i.e. coping skills, relapse prevention and relationship building and sometimes substitute for the clinical groups, engage in interventions as well as provide family support, take clients to 12 Step meetings, connect them to resources such as housing, vocational/jobs and the recovery community and most recently trained a Recovery Coach for one of our locations. I believe the reason I am successful in my role as a RC is because I am always advocating not only for myself and the clients but to change the conversation and “how things have always been.”

  5. I want to thank you for your direct, honest, and encouraging message surrounding this controversial topic. Fear and suspicion of others in our workplace truly creates an underlying wave of chaos, disharmony, and distraction from our true purpose in serving effectively. My prayer is that we would find unity and gratitude for each person who offers their gift of service, whatever that role may be.

  6. Being told that your certification is fake due to not having to take an exam to become a recovery coach is demeaning, hurtful and just judgmental. I don’t remember having to take a quiz to become addicted. I certainly know there was no quiz to take when I entered treatment at the beginning of my journey. The control of the state to ignore the role of a recovery coach and pressure one to become a certified recovery peer advocate and only be able to be employed a setting that is clinically based and can charge insurance is sad.
    I stand in my integrity. I love recovery coaching.

  7. i put fear based training in the url and i found this site. i am in truck driving 3 week training, so i got my cdl and then got hired on as a potential CDL class A truck driver and i notice that all the training from getting the cdl to driving in the truck is all based on fear based training. there is always a better way. if you lead with faith you can pull yourself from the fire but is you roast in the flames it is torturous and painful and not productive. i am doing it for the money as i am the most poor i have ever been, but i am educated and i know when something is wrong. i know when something is wrong for a reason. I know when something is wrong because the topic is not positive but hurtful and someone is getting off on what the response is. This is this industry in a nut shell from my experience.

  8. Thank you Phil,
    I have a clinical supervisor who would praise the idea and give me high kudos before the precious grant was distributed.
    I am a Peer In a Link-Age program on Long Island. My job is to go on home visits. Meet with 55yr & older clients dealing with substance abuse. Now I’m told we are not aloud to visit clients unless it’s emergency. Only twice a month. Are you F- ing kidding. That’s right grant is in.. Who cares about the peers clients.. Very sad and frustrating.

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