Like most film fans, I was saddened by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Academy Award winning actor and director, earlier this month. Hoffman was found dead, it was reported, in his bathroom, a syringe in his arm and bags of heroin scattered around the apartment. It is believed the actor returned to drug use after a twenty three year period of abstinence. .

Tory MP Charles Walker and Labour MP Kevan Jones both spoke of their respective struggles with an obsessive compulsive disorder and depressive illness. They won wide-spread support for helping to break the taboos associated with mental health in the workplace. .

So many aspects of this tragedy are shocking – not least the loss of an actor and director so widely admired. Every public statement of condolence spoke of his extraordinary gift. One obituary writer described him as “an actor and director who could imbue the many wretches, prigs and braggarts he played with a wrenching humanity”.

Another said “he could nail a part in one punch, summoning the richness of an entire life in the smallest gesture”. At the time of his death, Philip Seymour Hoffman was filming the widely successful Hunger Games trilogy. He had won or been nominated for every actor’s award. Since the 1990s, Hoffman’s career star continued to ascend.

And yet he was felled so swiftly by returning to the drug use which had dogged him as a young man. As the police and press pick over the squalor and tragedy of his sudden death, I find myself wondering about the link between talent and its uncanny knack of self-destruction. Most senior managers will be familiar with the “star performer”, the outstanding sales performer or creative strategist whose charisma fuels his or her success and whose results sometimes blind others to their vulnerabilities. When I founded docleaf in 1997, addiction was rarely mentioned during our leadership coaching workshops.

Even today, we notice a collective awkwardness in the meeting room when we talk about “one-in-five”; the one in five UK professionals who will experience problems with drugs or alcohol in their working lives. The Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice think tank estimates that drink and drugs abuse costs the UK economy £36bn per year. Most business leaders make their own calculations of how many working days, how much productivity is lost to substance or alcohol abuse. docleaf believes that good business leaders should tackle this issue head-on.

Dr. David Perl specialises in workplace issues arising from substance or behavioural issues, says: “drug use at work is a conversation most business leaders shy away from having.” He acknowledges that legal issues and connotations of criminality provide the perfect excuse to ignore drug use, but what about business people in recovery? “How supportive an environment should senior managers create for team members who have faced up to these issues?”

“This isn’t about lecturing staff” says David, “or giving a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s about looking deep into the roots of your business to ensure that there’s a culture of complete support. Do team members feel they can raise concerns about their personal performance and not fear being judged?” This is something which is at the very heart of docleaf depth coaching.

We sometimes call it the “no stone unturned” approach. If we can share with a business mentor, not just our success or our goals but occasionally our darkest struggles, then maybe we don’t slip back into old ways of functioning.

It may be too late for Philip Seymour Hoffman to be helped back to live out his success, but in today’s climate of conscious business leadership, this story of talent and tragedy should be ever more rare…


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