What a 15-year-old meth addict taught me about leadership | Brian Fretwell | TEDxBoise


Translator: Lisa Rodriguez
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs When I was 22 years old, I took a job in
the chemical addictions unit of the juvenile corrections facility. I was a teacher. My students had various
criminal backgrounds, often drug addicts,
drug dealers, and gang members. Now, I knew this job would be a challenge. Matter of fact, that’s why I took it. See, like many of you, I wanted to make a difference
in my community. I saw an opportunity to lead
these kids to a better life. And for the first few months, that’s exactly what
it felt like I was doing, like, they were listening to me. They were interested in what I had to say. They were progressing
through their programs. They were getting out. Until I met Nathan. Nathan was a 15-year-old
methamphetamine addict. You could see the life he had lived through the gang tattoos, the scars from fights before, his emaciated body and issues
with his teeth from the meth. Was the first kid I’d seen like this. But there was something
unique about Nathan. Nathan was one of the most
honest kids I’d ever met. He had this, like, incessant capacity
to always tell you the truth. Now, don’t get me wrong,
he tried to lie a few times. But all you had to do was stare at him
for just a couple of seconds, and he’d spill his guts
about whatever it is he was trying to hide. It made him super easy to work with, but also made him real easy to like. Now, for most of these kids, part of their program,
when they get to this certain point, they have to come up with a plan
for what they’re going to do when they leave juvenile corrections. And as you can imagine,
this was a pretty simple process. I mean, they knew
what we wanted them to say, they knew what they were supposed to do. All they had to do was write it down
and say it out loud. Only, when we asked Nathan
what his plan was, he looked me right in the eye and said, “Mr. Fretwell, when I get back
in the community, I’m gonna continue using meth.” He hadn’t even tried
to come up with a plan. And as I told you, I liked Nathan,
so this was frustrating, and so I went to hard work
for the next two or three weeks of trying to convince him, like charts and graphs,
and showing him all of this, like telling him, like, you know
that you have family members that are dead or in jail from this. I would work all day
trying to get him to see the light, but the more I tried to convince him, the less it seemed to matter to him. As teachers, one of the best
parts of the job is those “aha” moments, right? It’s the time when you see
the glimmer in a kid’s eye, when they get all excited,
like their whole world can open up by just understanding
an algebraic equation or something as complex as maybe
the electoral college, yeah? (Laughter) For Nathan, however,
when it came to his future, there was nothing for him to learn, nothing he thought he needed to discover, nothing he didn’t – that I could tell him
that he didn’t already know. See, he understood the plan
he was supposed to create. He just knew he wasn’t
going to follow through. Whatever leadership position
you’ve found yourself in, whether that’s a manager,
or a teacher, or a parent, or just a friend, you’ve likely been in this situation. It’s that time when you’ve told
somebody a thousand times what to do. When you’ve begged and pleaded with them, when you’ve come up
with a hundred solutions, but you both know they’re
not going to follow through. It’s like you do all the work
coming up with a solution, but they’re not going to do
any solving the problem. When you come to these times, it’s interesting to think about, like, it’s sort of naive that we actually think an answer
is going to change a behavior. Because if it was simply
about having a solution to the problem, we could get
everybody to quit smoking by – and brace yourselves – smoking is bad for you. (Laughter) That doesn’t work. I can’t get you to start saving by just having you read
a pamphlet about compounding interest. I can’t get you to go work out
just by telling you, “Hey, your body burns calories,
and if you move around a little bit, you can burn those calories.” (Laughter) Now, as a leadership consultant
for the last 15 years, I’ve seen this week in
and week out all over the world. It’s this point we come to when
the convincing no longer works. When we’ve come up with the answer, but we know there’s going to be
no follow through. It’s when we get to these points
that it’s important to take a step back, to maybe reevaluate
our perspective of leadership, like the underlying definition. In Latin, they didn’t have
a word for leadership. It was a limited language,
so they co-opted other words, and one of the words
that scholars believe they use in place of leadership was adduco. Adduco means to extract from, to draw out, or to grow from within. And it’s this understanding
that I didn’t have at the time. I didn’t know adduco 20 years ago, but I was just about to get a crash course
on what it meant in application. See, I continue to struggle with Nathan. And this guy I was working with,
his name was Sal, he noticed I wasn’t doing very well, and to this day, I don’t know
if he felt sorry for me, or if he was just tired of me
making more work for him with these other kids, but he decided to intervene. And what he did was so simple. He asked me, “Hey, Brian, when’s the last time
you asked Nathan what he wants?” And I said, “Thank you, Sal,
but I think what he wants is what’s getting us
in this problem in the first place.” I said, “I asked him what he wants.
He said he wants to do meth. I’m pretty sure we’ve run that road
as far as we need to.” (Laughter) He patiently waited for me, and he said, “If there was an easier way, would you be interested in following?” And if I’m honest with you,
I wasn’t interested. I was 22. I knew what to do. (Laughter) But I was, however, out of strategies, and so I decided, hey,
I’ll follow this along until I can come up with
a new approach to convince Nathan. And Sal’s instructions were simple: start with a question. Every time you interact with Nathan,
start with a question. Every time you talk to Nathan,
I want you to start with a question. Every time you and Nathan
are in the same room, I want you to ask a question. And I wasn’t used to this. See, I was used to kids
asking me questions. I was the one that had the answers. And to make it worse,
Sal would approach me sometimes and say, “Brian, did you really ask
a question there or were ya kinda just
giving him the answers?” And as you can probably guess,
I got frustrated real quick. Like, my patience started to wear out; like, I felt insecure as a teacher; like I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was just about to give up. Within a couple of weeks
of trying this out, I was just about to throw it away except I started to notice something. See, as uncomfortable as I was, Nathan was worse. Sal was giving me a PhD level understanding
of what adduco really means. Sal was a master at the process because of his dogged commitment
to asking questions. See, questions are the simplest
yet most powerful tool for extracting from. Your brain is biologically
hardwired to answer a question. It kind of can’t not do it. See, all I have to ask you is, like, what was your first car growing up? Or, what state were you born in? And while you didn’t say it out loud, there probably was
a little picture that popped up. For some of you, the car wasn’t as cool. Now, we understand
the importance of questions; that’s not new to us. Like, we’ve probably read,
we’ve probably heard something about, like, even as a teacher,
I had heard about the Socratic method. But most of us,
and certainly me at the time, we stop asking way too soon. See, we stop asking questions
when it becomes uncomfortable. We stop asking questions
when we get a little bit of a pushback. And luckily for me, Sal was there
to keep me on the process. I would ask Nathan questions like, “Hey, Nathan, what do you want
for your future?” And Nathan would respond
back sarcastically, “I want a million dollars. I want to be the president of the world.” And that sarcastic response
was a defensive mechanism that was hiding something. I would ask him even more
pointed questions like, “Nathan, what is it that
really matters to you? What do you really want with your life?” And he would start saying,
“Mr. Fretwell, leave me alone. Stop asking me questions. Just get off of my back.” Now, he was becoming frustrated and angry. And again, he was protecting something. And it didn’t take me long to realize that what he was protecting was hopes and dreams
that had likely been battered before. Behind that defensive curtain was a part of himself
that still believed in himself, yet he’d had experiences
that showed otherwise. And as I thought of this, I remember thinking
about an old quote that says, “It’s not our darkness that we fear, it’s our light that we’re most afraid of.” And I realized he did not
need me to lead him, he had everything
he needed to lead himself. And I suddenly became
more committed than I had before. I’d suddenly decided I wasn’t
going to give up on him this time. I went and found him with an intensity
that I didn’t know where it came from, and I just found him in the room,
and I said something to the effect of, “Nathan, Nathan,
this can’t be all you want. You’ve got to want something
more in your life than this right here.” And I noticed in that moment,
I had him cornered, and that’s a really bad place to be
in a correctional facility because it takes out the –
any choices for that person, and it takes out the choices for me,
but I didn’t care, and I kept asking him questions, and I said, “Nathan,
why are you lying to me? Nathan, why won’t you be honest
with me for one moment and tell me what you really want?” And there was a pause, and I looked at him, and he looked back at me. I wasn’t sure what
was going to happen next. And as I looked down,
I saw his fists clenching and his shoulders getting tight, and his chin started
to quiver a little bit. And he looked up, and he said, “Mr. Fretwell, I don’t want this! I don’t want this life! (Crying) I want to have a family. I want to be the first in my family
to make something of this!” (Breath cracking) (Sniffs) And I remember when he told me that, that in that moment, I wasn’t looking at a drug addict. I didn’t see the drug dealer
or the gang member in front of me. What I saw was a little kid
Nathan had likely been hiding his whole life. When I discuss leadership with people,
we talk about confidence, we talk about courage, we talk about vulnerability. In that moment, Nathan taught me
what leadership really was. See, the answers he had given me before
were what he honestly believed. Yet somewhere in this process,
he found the confidence to set a new vision. He had the courage to believe
something different, even just for only that moment, and he was vulnerable enough
to say it out loud. It’s certainly the type
of leader I want to be. Sal had opened me up
to a completely new way of looking at leadership. That’s affected me
for the rest of my life, and what’s interesting to note is he didn’t try to convince me. He simply asked me a few questions. Now, whatever leadership
position you find yourself in, whether that’s CEO of a company,
leading a team, or just a buddy at a bar trying to convince your friend
to make some better choices. (Laughter) We do best to take a step back
and remember: leadership isn’t a “me” thing, it’s a “we” thing, yeah? Most of the time people
don’t need our answers, they need our participation. They need us to believe something is there
that we can help grow from within. I have no idea where Nathan is today. What I do know
is the kid I set out to lead has been one of
the most influential leaders of my entire life. And when we look at it that way, we see opportunity
for leadership all around us. We simply have to have
the courage to draw it out. Thank you. (Applause)

96 thoughts on “What a 15-year-old meth addict taught me about leadership | Brian Fretwell | TEDxBoise

  1. This video is amazing since you can ask yourself these questions and move forward.
    A person can be amazing at helping themselves, many people are good at managing like themselves or like reflecting on themselves/pondering about stuff… Some have the ability to be their own therapist sort of since a person can help themselves that much, but it requires a lot from a person. But there is the problem that the person can push it, push the time and leave these things for a later time. I would say that this video helps a person right now.

    This video is really motivating, a good guidance and helps or at least helped me to reflect on things right now and make moves which will put the gears spinning.
    What I mean by putting gears spinning that there are things which you can only move with effort, only by effort. But then there are
    things which require time more and effort only over time. So I recommend to do those things which put the gears spinning even if you won't do anything else, since
    when you get the motivation you can't do them any faster..

    The things that only progress with effort like let's say courses, school etc. those are things which are better left for a proper time for them.
    But I always recommend and tell people to put the gears in motion with the things you can, since I have learned to do that myself
    when trying to manage time when I have been too sick to live life.

    So I have been doing nothing for 2 years at least and finally I have started to move on.
    What helped was putting gears into motion back in time and now those
    things have started to get somewhere =D

  2. This is a video worthy of putting to a playlist to be watched later in life or to link someone this video. I recommend making such a playlist on YouTube, for the videos that are worth seeing again.

  3. Guys….I am 16 and um …it's not like my family is a problem…if. You understand what I'm trying to say…….it's like…I live my life thinking that everyday might be the last day with my parents…for no reason I think that…..and I always fail to show my love for them……all I want to say is don't be like me….I never made my parents proud period.Just go and love them

  4. Beautiful.
    I have a troubled brother in law, maybe not quite as bad as Nathan, but definitely with some demons. I'm the only one with enough human intelligence to see that he's hiding a lot of pain under a tough boy exterior but I never knew how to approach it and try and help him through these harsh times. Everyone always told me not to worry about him, that he's happy with how he is right now, that it was none of my business, and they got me to just let it go even though it hurt me turning my back on him. This just gave me the inspiration I needed to try helping him.
    My husband said he thinks the kid is going to grow up to be a drug dealer. I'm going to change that. Wish me luck.

  5. When you're open to learn from someone you thought you could never learn from that's when you being to grow as a person. Thankyou for sharing this. I hope Nathan finally found what he was looking for and achieved what he wanted.

  6. Amazing.. you discovered that drug addicts are people too! With hopes and dreams! Just like the rest of us!

    Wow, suddenly my eyes are open! From here on, I will use BOTH my hands to pat you on the back

  7. You can still do a good, powerful & emotional TedTalk without forced drama and lame acting. Besides, we all know Nathan is imaginary and this guy lost his teaching license like 4yrs ago for selling meth to students.
    In fact, the arresting officers name was….Nathan.

  8. This is a beautiful video. Im a drug addict that i decided to come clean to my now ex girlfriend who i lied to about not doing drugs. I have a different story but it relates to this one. I am ready to come clean to myself. Ive endured too much pain. Im ready to let go of this pain as i am vrying right now and cant go on this way. Ive lost too much in my life, my families, my one girlfriend i loved now. But i am ready. Cause i now know that it was losing love that brought me to go to drugs. But in this event that i have decided i realized i need love for myself and that nathan too is my greatest teacher and leader of my life.

  9. '' Our deepest fear is not we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure ''

  10. Brian Fretwell..,of course Nathans story matters even if he isn't a real person because as a LEADER and TEACHER you care about the outcome of your students rite?? I mean, really care… And as you are teaching other people tools and ways to provide good and successful leadership, the outcome of your lessons matters be a use otherwise how do we know it worked? And as for "Nathan", he let his guard down and opened up to you because maybe he trusted that you actually cared about what happened to him in the future and trusted your LEADERSHIP!!! Obviously it took alot for him to do that, and if he is real and was to hear or see any of this do you think your response to what happened to him mite just have an impact on his present situation?!?!? Your only telling half the story, teaching half the lesson,so if I were a student of yours and didn't know any better I mite be asking myself "so it doesn't matter if I really care about the outcome and believe in the lessons I am teaching? Doesn't that kinda defeat the whole purpose of LEADERSHIP?"As a leader I would need to know that I am leading one down the correct path to sucess. I am going to assume if he was real he is doing good because that completes the whole story and makes more sense to you to be using this as an example of your first real lesson of what it takes to be a good teacher

  11. This was very good and well described . Not a lot of people that I know who are out the box like this . 👐🏽💪🙏

  12. Wow this man speaks with so mich emotion that you can feel what he went through and what the kid went through. Bravo very well spoken

  13. I wonder if the illegal status of and stress of acquiring the drug of addiction is to blame for almost all the damage it does. No? I switched from the Adderall they put me on as a teenager to meth a few years ago and all the downsides are exactly the same, and all the upsides are the same, I really cannot tell the difference other the fact that I get less anxiety on meth.

  14. The saddest memories I have due to my addiction

    The worst memory I have from my alcohol addiction is when I would hurt my mother. I would hurt her by my words nothing physical but that doesn’t take away the fact that I would hurt her, which lead to me and Ollie (stepdad) getting into a fight. My behaviour that night really hurt myself, the way acted, I couldn’t believe I did what I did.

    Another memory is when I was so drunk, I think I had a bottle of Jack Daniels to myself and after that, I had about 375ml of vodka. I was with my cousins and we were at the gas station, I began to argue with two of my cousins and it escalated to the point where I fought them both. I was always stronger than both of them and had a lot of experience in getting into fights, so I beat them both up. At the time I didn’t care but the next day I couldn’t believe I beat two of my younger cousins/brothers up due to my alcohol addiction.

    These were turning points into realising that my addiction was not only hurting myself but I was hurting everyone that would be around me. Both these memories are 4 years apart. Nothing good comes out of abusing any sort of drug. I bless people who have suffered or dealing with addiction because it is a dark place especially around eastern Europe where bad actions aren't as recognised as much as western countries address certain issues.

  15. I can't explain how much i relate to nathan, not to his story but him As a person. Listening to this was like looking into a Mirror

  16. call me coldhearted if you like, but sometimes these talks feel a bit too overdramatic making me wonder if they are just practiced theater plays

  17. so he learned about leadership.. but what did Nathan get from all that? what he actually said is leadership means to pretend its a “we” thing, while you still care only about yourself…

  18. Please prayers, good vibes! I’m helping my best friend get off meth and he is 21. He started at age 12!!!! So please he is on day 3 and yes he needs help but right now he is just sleeping, he is having paranoia, he is freaking out when woken up but still the sweetest person ever. It’s Almost as if he is 3 different people. If anyone has advice on how to help him. We are on day 3

  19. What I don’t get is, around minute 13:30, he says that Nathan simply asked him a few questions. Which questions though? The hole point of the story was the idea of leadership by him – asking questions and sparking imagination instead of forcing Nathan into believing something he’s not. I gotta miss something here, as he later says Nathan left as one of the greatest leaders he’s ever met. I could explain that like this: he is honest and says what he believes yet not so stubborn that he won’t change that. But I don’t feel like that hits his points. Help please ^^’

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