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Tomorrow's leaders need mentoring

March 1, 2010
by Lynn Sucher, MC, LPC, CEDS
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For the past few years at the annual conference of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), there has been a lot of discussion about the future of the treatment industry. Some of the most important questions have included: “Where is the next generation of leaders in the industry? What's going to happen as the ‘old guard’ retires? Who is going to continue the work of helping people battle the disease of addiction as we lose some of the great experts?”

Maybe the important question is not where the next generation of leaders is, but what industry experts are doing today to help develop new executive directors, clinical directors and directors of business development. Has much time and thought been given to mentoring this next generation? More than likely, our future leaders are currently in the trenches, facilitating groups, developing marketing relationships, answering intake calls or working in administration.

There are some incredibly bright, dedicated and hard-working young people in this field with tremendous potential. Quite possibly, the next CEO or clinical director currently resides just down the hall from your office. The question is: What can management do to help mentor this next generation, and how can an ambitious, smart employee find someone to help further his/her career?

As president of a consulting company that does a great deal of executive recruitment in the addiction treatment field, I am constantly on the lookout for true potential, for someone with the ability and the ambition to lead. What I'm finding is a lack of management training from within organizations or a lack of assertiveness on the part of employees to seek specific training.

In graduate school, clinicians don't learn business skills, don't take classes in basic marketing principles, and don't learn to develop and manage a yearly budget. On the other hand, some administrators don't understand the work and years of training that go into becoming a clinician. Too often, there is a lack of understanding on both sides of the field. In executive recruiting, finding someone who has both strong clinical and business expertise is like striking gold. It's what we look for. There's clinical director, executive director, or even CEO potential in that combination.

A plan for facilities

How can treatment facilities and corporations develop future leaders? Here are a few ideas:

  • Identify employees who often go beyond the call of duty. Look for those who will step in and help out, even if it isn't “their job”-those who are passionate about their work and want to learn as much as they can.

  • Develop a formal management training program. Appoint a group of department heads to work with employees who have shown an interest in learning and are willing to spend the extra time required to learn new skills. Management training programs take effort to design and execute, but will help identify future industry leaders.

  • If you are an executive at a facility, make it a point to mentor someone who you believe has potential. This can be an informal agreement, but it helps to schedule time on a weekly or biweekly basis to work with that person.

  • Send a deserving employee to a training program or help pay for further education if possible. This constitutes an investment in the future of your company and our profession.

Employee strategies

If you are an employee who is eager to move into a management position, here are some suggestions in seeking a mentor:

  • If you are inspired by or admire an industry expert, don't be afraid to pick up the phone and speak with that person. Once you establish a relationship, ask the person if he/she would be interested in mentoring your career.

  • Research company policy or talk with upper management about available education or training. If no management training is offered, find out what is available outside the company and write a formal report, requesting that the company invest in you and describing how that would benefit the facility.

  • Determine the specific position toward which you would like to work, and talk with other managers around the country currently in that position. Learn their career paths and how they achieved their goals.

  • Don't be afraid to speak with a recruiter. At my company, everything discussed is confidential and the more we get to know you, the better your chance of our calling you when something opens up.

  • Be assertive. You, not your managers, are responsible for your career advancement.

Barry w. karlin, phd
Lynn Sucher, MC, LPC, CEDS Mentoring, training and encouraging the next generation of addiction professionals is an important part of this generation's work. We must make sure our industry continues to save lives and provide the very best treatment available to those who need our help in fighting the disease of addiction.

Lynn Sucher, MC, LPC, CEDS, is President of Treatment Consultants ( She has served as an administrator for several treatment facilities, and she specializes in eating disorders and treatment of impaired professionals. Her e-mail address is

Addiction Professional 2010 March-April;8(2):32-33