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Why Leaders Should Try Psychedelics At Least Once

Micro-dosing psychedelics is all the rage right now, isn’t it? For those of you who haven’t read one of the many articles about the popular Silicon Valley practice (here’s a HuffPost article interviewing psychedelic research godfather Dr. James Fadiman about the practice), micro-dosing involves taking a sub-perceptual dose of LSD or psilocybin mushrooms in order to exploit the mind-expanding properties of psychedelics in a productive way. Users cite increased focus, empathy, and creativity among the many benefits. In the high stress, performance driven Silicon Valley tech scene, any edge is welcomed.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Micro-dosing is all well and good, but I want to talk about a full dose and why every leader should try it at least once. At the risk of falling into the cliché of startup founders idolizing Steve Jobs, I’m going to quote him:

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”
Note: I can’t help but imagine myself as Erlich Bachman from Silicon Valley right now wearing a black turtle neck tucked into jeans and pretending I’m not copying Steve Jobs.

I would argue with Mr. Jobs that you do remember the other side of the coin when it wears off, but that’s neither here nor there. Here’s why I think you should take the plunge. There are three qualities forced on you by a psychedelic experience. I’ve found that they tend to stick around afterwards, and they’re leadership essentials.

I imagine myself as a pretty stereotypical entrepreneur male in terms of the content I consume outside of work. I listen to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (narrowly edges out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History as my #1) and devour Gary Vaynerchuk content. The former is a huge proponent of psychedelics and really turned me onto them to begin with (thanks, Joe), and the latter values self-awareness as a person’s number one attribute.

Nothing I’ve experienced in my life has so relentlessly hammered me with self-awareness as psychedelics. If you’ve had a psychedelic experience, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Psychedelics are famous for killing your ego while under the influence which gives you a very unique ability to objectively examine yourself. You may love what you find. You may hate what you find. But you’ll find it. Some people are undoubtedly awesome at this under normal circumstances. I didn’t know (or didn’t want to admit?) I wasn’t until I tried LSD.
Without fully diving into the depths of my experience, know that there were a lot of things I noticed about myself that I didn’t like. I realized that I’d been letting little things slide for a long time, and they’d become big things without me noticing. Attention to detail had been practically forced on me in my previous professions (sports and military), so much so that I assumed it would remain without nurturing. I realized that wasn’t the case. In equal measure, gratitude was there for all the things that are great about my life. The point is I was able to objectively examine where I was as a person and retain my findings to make changes.

This self-awareness has helped me to admit the things I’m not good at and find people to work with me that have those skills. Old me may have continued to hammer away at everything and become a “Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of None.” That title is no good for anyone.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. With my strong belief in servant leadership, I can hardly imagine a better quality to be brought forth in a leader. A better understanding of what my partners feel, and in its absence, a desire to at least try to understand these feelings has made me a better person and leader. I’m not just making this up, either. Nature (the world’s most cited scientific journal) published an article in June of 2016 titled LSD Acutely Impairs Fear Recognition and Enhances Emotional Empathy and Sociality by Dolder, Schmid, Muller, Borgwardt, and Liechti in which the authors find that, objectively, LSD increases humans’ ability to be empathetic.

In addition to just making you a nicer and more understanding person and leader, let’s think of this from a business perspective. We’re all a little obsessed with the customer, aren’t we? At least I’m pretty sure we should be. Empathy allows you to put yourself in another’s shoes, attempt in earnest to understand how they feel about something. Want to sell somebody? Having an idea of what hits them in the feels is an invaluable tool. Want to design an app that people love to use? Think it might be helpful to try and become your customer tapping through the app for the first time? Empathy helps you do this. Empathy: get some.

Relinquishing Control
Now here’s a topic that feels a little counterintuitive but I think is really important. I’ve written before about the importance of trusting the people who work with you to do a great job (assuming you’ve done the proper legwork in hiring). I think all entrepreneurs are, at least a little bit, naturally controlling. There’s probably more right with that quality in a business owner than there is wrong, but I suppose that could be up for debate. In any case, that desire to control can lead to micromanaging. If you want to be sure that millennials low-key hate working for you, micromanage them. I’m not saying that you should completely give up control, but you should definitely learn how to give some of it up. You’ll eventually drive yourself and the people you work with crazy if you don’t.

Anyone who’s taken psychedelics can tell you about the necessity to relinquish control. The only way to nearly ensure a “bad trip” is to fight it, to try and control it. This will be your first instinct, but you can’t give in to it. If you want the positives out of the experience, you have to accept what’s happening and relinquish control. Think of it as a roller coaster. You’re sitting at the top of that first rise after the incessant click-click-click-click. You’re probably a little nervous, maybe even scared. At this point, you’re riding the roller coaster whether you like it or not. You could give into your fear, struggle with your restraints, scream for them to stop the ride, etc. The ride’s not stopping. In that mental state, you’ll hate the ride. However, if you embrace the fear, face it, and decide you’re going to enjoy the ride, you’ll probably have an amazing $37 photo of you and your friends with your hands up going around loop 4. That’s how this works, and I think it’s a valuable lesson in leadership. Sometimes you have to give up control to let the people you work with truly flourish.

I’d love to hear you guys’ thoughts on this. Agree or disagree, I find this a fascinating subject and would really enjoy starting a dialog. Tweet us at @GetSpared!