Sometimes you’re born into family. Sometimes you choose family. And sometimes, families are born out of years of dedication, hard work, commitment and co-creation. I have been fortunate to be blessed with families of human beings whose lives were interwoven with mine in a way that allowed us to touch an incredible number of lives. I don’t think leadership is something one aspires to, and “a leader does not have to know it all. Great leaders surround themselves with exceptionally talented thinkers.”(1)
I would never have been able to come to New Directions for Women and accomplish what I’ve done without the abundance of hands-on learning, observing and mentoring I had at Seabrook House. Jerry Diehl and his wife Peggy were the founders. Very much a father figure, Jerry was the next significant man in my life who would die. He reminded me of both my father and my grandfather. Extremely hard-working, mission-driven, and political, he was a man who deeply cared about and committed himself to the well-being of his employees. The coffee pot was in his office and always on, a constant reminder of the safe haven he created for us, and his way of being able to see all of his employees throughout the day. I watched him, even later when he had cancer, still show up at work and remain true to his mission. When he eventually needed a wheelchair, he still came, just like my grandfather who was still showing up at family functions in his wheelchair. From Jerry I learned how to create a safe haven, not only for our women in treatment, but also for our staff.
Ed Diehl, Jerry’s son and vice president of Seabrook House, was 22 when he started. I was 18. We were both in recovery and went to lots of AA meetings together. At a very young age (35), Ed became president of Seabrook House after the passing of his father. For 26 years, Ed and I worked side by side. I functioned under and with him at almost every level of the company, learning every area of the addiction treatment world, until eventually becoming vice president of treatment services and leaving for New Directions at age 42. Ed had a heart of giving back, had positioned himself on various boards, and was influential in our field. So I watched. Also active politically, he was a model to me of how to listen to lots of people, absorb large quantities of information, and put it all together to present in a way that could be understood. He showed how important it was not only to take care of our organization, but also to maintain a presence in our industry.
Telling Ed I had decided to leave to go to New Directions was one of the most difficult things I ever did, but somehow we figured out how to stay together through all of that, and beyond. My third child still works with Ed, as director of IT. Mentor, teacher, confidant, colleague and friend, he was also like a brother. He always showed up for me, and I for him. In every aspect of our lives, whether personal or professional, we were like family. With never a question about whose side we’re on when difficulties come, our common ground is our commitment to and passion for the work we do.
When I became director of admissions, I began working with Matt Wolf at Seabrook House. He and I had so much of the same physical energy and passion for what we did that we became a team. Together, we created, built and brought Seabrook through some difficult times. We grew up with one another in this business and in life. Like Ed, Matt was also like a brother, attending my kids’ athletic events and parent-teacher conferences, taking care of them when I had to travel for work, and going to group sessions for my son’s recovery. He’s walked with me every inch of the way. If I have a question, Matt is who I call. He continually showed up for me, no matter what. He and Ed were the first two people to arrive at New Directions after we moved in. Within the first two weeks, they were here on campus. To this day, we still call on each other and support each other in our efforts. He is the yin, and I am the yang.
When Ruth Stafford asked Greg Rupp to walk the campus 12 years ago, in consideration of acquiring New Directions for Women, Greg said, “The only person I know who can help New Directions survive is Becky Flood.” Greg was vice president and head of acquisitions at CRC Health when we met at a conference a few years before I came here. He was the holder of more insider information than almost anyone, but he wasn’t loud or boisterous or ego-driven with it. In leadership you end up being caretaker of a lot of private information about people, and you can be either hurtful or helpful with that information. Or, you can stay silent and do nothing at all with it. Greg always knew what to do. He always kept the trust. Like the poem “Desiderata,” he walked placidly through life, and I learned from him how to walk placidly. We were kindred spirits. He showed me how to remain humble, quiet, reserved and trustworthy. Being a leader, you don’t always have safe places to go to. He was a very safe place for me.
Two weeks after our arrival, we were in full clean-up mode and accepting bids from contractors for our IT overhaul. Tom Thurston came to us through a volunteer at Charle Street, the men’s detox sober living center that was helping us get rid of our construction debris. He had been the general manager of many large car dealerships, had a master’s degree, and had an undergraduate degree in psychology. At the last possible moment, he showed up. He told us exactly what was needed and what he would do, and gave us a fair price. Two days later he started the project. When I discovered he was also a general contractor, I contracted him to handle our maintenance. Tom is now our full-time head of IT , financial manager, and overseer of the physical plant. He came to our aid 12 years ago, helped guide our ship, and has been part of our New Directions team ever since. Tom Thurston helped us become who we are today.
Virginia Mendiola arrived a month after I did. She had been laid off from her job as a legal assistant and came on board as our receptionist. It took us two weeks to figure out what she was capable of and that she needed to be doing a lot more, and a month after arriving she became my assistant. Twelve years later, we’re still together. Indispensible, she keeps me in line and reels me back in when I’ve gone off course, as I’ve been known to do. Whether I’m here on campus or 3,000 miles away, she’s the one running my day. She’s the one who’s really in charge.
I want to mention that all of our board members, employees, volunteers and supporters could be mentioned here for their tireless commitment and contributions to New Directions for Women and to each employee that has made footprints in our tapestry.
There was a time when we didn’t have electricity, running water, men on the moon, or rocket ships. Nothing is impossible. When the tapestry weaves itself out of love, tolerance and forgiveness, miracles happen. When people thank me for what I’ve done, I tell them I didn’t do it alone. That is the ultimate understatement. In every minute of my life, through every fiber of my being, I know that something much greater is at work. “The best leaders are those who understand that their power flows through them, not from them.”(1) When I talk about roots and history, family and forefathers, and the people and synchronistic forces in our daily lives, it is because I know the magnitude and impact of the angels, spirits, forefathers, family and people walking alongside of us, assisting us in our work here. The power that comes from uniting people together is unimaginable. It is what moves mountains.
Are leaders born, groomed, or called? I think leaders are inspired by the experiences and people they’ve been surrounded by, the words they’ve been influenced by, and the footsteps they’ve been a witness to. There is not one great leader who didn’t walk through some dark, scary or questioning times, or didn't make their fair share of mistakes along the way. Leadership isn’t always all that it’s built up to be. They pay a price, give up things, sacrifice, and bleed—emotionally and spiritually—just as deeply as any other human being. Great leaders get up with grace, walk placidly amid the noise and haste, speak their truth quietly and clearly, take kindly the counsel of the years, and know that mercy is their friend. Like the eagle that flies alone, they’re always surrounded by angels.
1. Blanchard K. The Heart of a Leader: Insights on the Art of Influence. Colorado Springs, Colo.: David C. Cook; 2007.