To Lead With Grace, Compassion, and Forgiveness

February 26, 2021 By Aaron Young

Melissa D Estep, M.S.By Melissa D Estep, M.S.
Program Director, Skyhope Recovery Program for Women (Recovery KY)

I was asked to write a “blog” and I have never written a blog. I have no idea what I am doing but Mike suggested to use what I had already on social media. I wrote a great “blog” this morning when my brain was on fire from my morning run and then it drifted as I drove to work by “a forgotten dentist appointment, phone calls, etc.” Now you get the best of what is left from my mental mess.

I listen to podcasts every morning about leadership and spirituality. Yes, they do go together like Peanut butter and Jelly! I never considered leadership as something I would be interested in until I started reading and shifting my perspective about what is true leadership and how it impacts our everyday existence. Based on my recovery from a poo-poo platter of addictions, including co-dependency, my heart and spirit shifted and a new perspective about leadership emerged.

As a young adult, completely driven by my ego, I competed silently with wanting to be better than my other family members who were “leaders in the community and their careers”. I wanted attention and recognition and I wanted it quickly because I was tired of being the underdog in the family. I wanted instant success. My family defined “success” with status, credentials, high salary, and powerful positions in the community and government. I chased credentials, status, salary, awards, accolades, and positions of power – the ladder of success. I failed miserably at my first promotion to a supervisor in Child Protective Services. I had no idea what I was doing, my goal was to run up the ladder to gain positional power. As I ran up the ladder, I broke the steps that should have supported me. The fall was hard and there was nothing anyone to catch me or help ease the pain of failure. There I stood full of shame, feeling unworthy, and doubting my career. I found myself at ground level, and resolved to restart my career from where I stood.

My career was also a spiritual journey for me and I learned from many lessons as they surfaced. I thought my biggest failure in my career was as a leader/boss/supervisor, but it was not. I went through hours of counseling eventually stumbling into Alcoholic’s Anonymous’ 12 steps to recovery. That is where I discovered my first opportunity to practice leadership and that was the day I gave birth to my daughter. I was 15 and I was parenting from a mental and spiritual cave filled with dark toxic moments. My daughter developed toxic behavior patterns based on my actions. Later, I moved out of the cave to start moving up that mountain to be more spiritual which lead me to digging deeper into leading in spirit not with my ego.

In the middle of our personal tsunami a shift occurred. My daughter was in active addiction and I was cleaning up my own spiritual mess. I was gifted another opportunity to lead a little child, Gabbi Grace, my granddaughter. I was determined not to be “that mom/nana”. A great mentor/friend (he does not even know he mentored me I am sneaky that way) gave the gift of direction that I was not that 15 year old mother. I can and will be a better influence on this small child – my granddaughter, if I start re-aligning my spiritual principles. I grabbed on to that new belief and started leading by actions, forgiving my old me, and learning to love people in their moment, and each day pray for the hurting.

In the beginning, I was miserable and lonely but everything I wanted and did not have existed outside my comfort zone. I pushed through the uncomfortable and painful moments and leaned more on prayer and faith. My favorite part of the long version of the serenity prayer, “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace”. I gained valuable influences of people who inspired me to allow new seeds of growth to be nourished.

My number one failure as a leader was not my first supervisor promotion, it was the opportunity to inspire a small child, our next generation. I was chasing my career, along with a few other toxic things to keep me moving. It was perceived as drive and ambition but it was driven by external validators and a toxic heart. I abandoned my child to chase the position of power. When God gave me a 2nd chance to change my motivation it shifted my entire world.

As a parent I was domineering and wanted my child to be compliant with MY vision for her. In my pursuit to move away from my ego driven life I discovered the power of influence. I learned to stop trying to fix and mold my child. Dr. Burns Brady once asked me in a fatherly tone, “So who made you? God?” – that painfully stuck in my head but created a mind shift. God is the creator and has the power to move us all towards our purpose. God’s vision for her is unique. A potter molds and shapes clay with a passion to create uniqueness by utilizing patience, time, pressure, and heat. In the end the Potter’s creation serves a greater purpose with a unique design and cannot be replicated.

I take my parenting leadership failure and apply it to my new life and I never forget that my first position of leadership starts upon my awakening with my family. As Craig Groschel teaches “when a leader gets better the whole organization gets better”. Since my daughter and I have grown in our recovery, our relationship has transformed and there is a generational shift in dismantling old belief systems. She has a career in the business world, but more importantly she has entered a new spiritual chapter to dig deep into her faith. She is now faced with breast cancer and instead of being a victim she leveled up her faith. She is stronger in her journey than I was at her age and I will transmit this to her daughter.

My eyes are now opened to the power of influence. I have dropped the “bossy flossy” attitude and latched on to being humble, to be in the spirit, and keep chasing the uncomfortable zone. I stopped talking and kept showing up every day trying to make sure my actions matched my words. Driven by a new heart, a new passion of leadership emerged. A new vision emerged in a podcast by Caroline Leaf and John Maxwell, “When fear of change is comforted and hugged tightly by FAITH, growth happens. We should never seek complacency, but chase the moments that will create discomfort and keep learning.

Domineering leaders (my way or the highway) produce “yes people who are compliance driven”. This type of leadership is less likely to produce commitment from people and create a desire in them to buy in to the leader’s vision.

Healthy leaders – produce committed followers who develop complete buy-in and commitment to their vision. Healthy leaders produce future leaders who assume ownership of the mission. This leader admits I am not always right, your opinion matters, YOU matter. In the long run the organization gets better!


  • Humans typically over exaggerate yesterday and over anticipate tomorrow, when the brain fights to remain in today (peace).

  • 21 days does not create a new habit, it is just enough time to feel the pain of the behavior needing to be changed. It takes an additional 42 days for the brain to create structural changes that gets sent to the hippocampus = new behavior works hard to become the strongest. The brain does not forget the old…it can sneak up on you.

  • When fear of change is comforted and hugged tightly by FAITH, growth happens. We should never seek complacency, but chase the moments that will create discomfort and keep learning.


When Caroline Leaf collides with John Maxwell – Everything you want but do not have lies outside your comfort zone. Push through discomfort with faithfulness and you will gain valuable influence and new fruits for future seeds to grow. John Maxwell + Michael Todd, influential leaders in different arenas

I was parenting from a place where my psychological cave was filled with dark toxic moments… and my daughter developed patterns based on my actions. Later I moved out of the cave to start moving up that mountain and my granddaughter will never know that person. Children are a reflection of our behavior, we should not confuse them with the phrase “don’t do as I do as I say”. My step dad said this and it equaled mass confusion for me. Kids will do as you do, not as you say. Lead by example and walk the walk, less talk and more action. I am proof!

A few weeks ago Gabbi shut her thumb up in the car door and it is healing with the nail starting to peel off. Yesterday she was picking at it and I stopped her by explaining that she needs to allow it to heal on its own so it will grow a new nail back. If she tries to help it come off too quickly she will alter its shape and hinder the growing process. Then it hit me the same is true for those of us who have loved ones suffering from substance abuse or other addictions. Many times I tried to push/force my daughter’s recovery because of my impatience with her growth and wanting to see her evolve on “my time” and not God’s time. It occurred to me that like Gabbi’s new nail, if I pick and force the natural healing process I will do more damage and for her to evolve into her new purpose I must stop “picking” at her process and let God heal her. I am still learning every day and my lessons come at random moments ♡

To motivate is to push towards something; inspire = in spirit – find your passion and you lead with spirit. If your heart is in the mission others will be inspired to follow. Leadership podcast take away

Domineering leaders (my way or the highway) produce “yes people and compliance driven”. Less likely to produce commitment and buy in to the vision.
Healthy leaders – produce committed followers who develop complete buy in and commitment to the vision. They produce future leaders who assume ownership of the mission. This leaders admits I am not always right, your opinion matters, YOU matter. In the long run the organization gets better!

To lead with grace, compassion, and forgiveness creates a petri dish where the next leader is born and molded. To lead with fear creates a robot where creative ideas and people die in the junk yard. Whether it be your family, work, or recovery create a safe compassionate environment where everyone feels safe to make mistakes. That is where learning to lead begins.



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Providing hope to homeless women suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. Our program promotes overall wellness and recovery for the individual, family, and community. The facility is located in Somerset, Ky. and is a non-profit organization.

For more information on Skyhope Recovery Program for Women please visit their Facebook page at


Melissa D Estep, M.S.


Melissa D Estep, M.S. is employed at Adanta as the program director for one of the Recovery KY Programs, Skyhope Recovery Program for Women. She obtained her Bachelors and Masters degree at EKU. After obtaining her Masters of Science in Criminology she began her career in Child Protection Services in 1994. Her career path has has always been in the substance abuse field. She left CPS to gain a deeper insight into the clinical aspect of working with the SUD population by accepting a position as a clinician with the Dept. Of Corrections. When faced with assuming guardianship of her 3 year old granddaughter she left the prison system and began working as a clinician with Probation and Parole. This is where she met Mike Townsend, who helped develop Recovery KY Programs. This set the stage for her to learn more about the Recovery Ky programs where she would eventually join the team as program director at Hickory Hill. In 2017 she accepted a new position with Adanta to help open SKYHope Recovery Program in Somerset, KY. Melissa now resides in Somerset with her blended family who all remain in long term recovery. They remain committed to advocate for the recovery movement by speaking their story, helping with Casey’s Law, helping develop new 12 step recovery meetings, activities in PAR/YPR, and partnering with employers to engage in second chance employment.



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