The Potential of an ADHD Leader

6 Learnings from an ADHD Leader

by Liam Glover

[4 minute read]

 

As some of you may know, living with a child who has ADHD brings with it a unique set of challenges and opportunities (depending upon your perspective). Whenever I meet someone who I sense may have ADHD, I am reminded of the character Hammy from “Over the Hedge.” Full of boundless energy, bouncing from one activity to the next with unending hyperactivity and always quick to see the funny side, Hammy adds life to an eclectic group of animals committed to stealing food off others in order to placate a cranky and powerful insecure authoritarian bear (which is probably another reflection on leadership for another time). That all said, an ADHD team member is one thing, an ADHD leader of the team, department or organisation is a whole other reality.

As a leader with ADHD I know the challenges and opportunities associated with focus and attention when leading. Here are a few things I’ve discovered leading in light of my ADHD:

Call it early for what it Is: Early in the relationship bring voice to what nearly everyone else in your team / organisation suspects. “Yes, I have ADHD and have a tendency to speak quickly, bounce from topic to topic, give 110% and am always involved in 1000 things at once.” This helps others with whom you work to understand the reality of the leader with whom they are working, and can explain some potentially erratic behaviour (but doesn’t necessarily excuse it).

Distraction does not equate to Disinterest: People who meet me fairly quickly diagnose me with some sort of condition. When in conversation or in a meeting, I can be highly engaged for the first 20 minutes, sufficiently focussed in the next 20 and in the last 20 I apply all my resources to maintain some semblance of attention. I am hugely interested in the topic at hand, but am also hugely interested in not spending too long on that topic. Lots of topics with short time allocation is my sweet spot. (I particularly enjoy Open Space Technology as a way of engaging with topics in a short and focussed manner.) Therefore, in longer meetings, leaders with ADHD may be distracted but this isn’t necessarily a reflection of their interest.

ADHD leaders need Finishers around them: I often find myself initiating new projects, doing some “heavy lifting” (my sons would argue vehemently with me using this phrase) to move things forward and bring some movement and momentum (“movementum”) to projects. However, once the matter / challenge / project is about 80% done, I’ve moved to the next thing. Having people around me who can bring to conclusion things that have started is a huge blessing. (My wife is one of those amazing people. She literally completes me.)

Allow your ADHD leader to Explore Ideas: I recognised early in my leadership life that people thought that all the ideas that I shared were serious, well thought through and readily executable projects. That was far from the case. With 100s of ideas per minute, I know that not all are viable or even useful personally or organisationally. Giving permission to the team to only focus on those ideas that continually get air time, rather than prioritising ideas that are here today and gone tomorrow, ensures a sense of calmness amongst the team.

Facilitate Focus: When it is all said and done, particular and intentional outcomes still need to be achieved personally, at a team and organisational level. I find it incredibly helpful having team whom I trust to call me back to the most important elements in the current season of our organisation. This ensures that strategic priorities receive the lion’s share of organisational resources, enabling outcome to be accomplished.

Release ADHD Leaders to do Their Thing: At Arrow Leadership we encourage all Arrow Leaders to lead from their strengths, knowing their work style preferences. I know that I am the sharpest and most fruitful when I am involved in multiple projects, not only at work, but in life. My capacity to do a large number of things at the same time, combined with the extra energy available for allocation across the number of hours in a day, results in many new projects being initiated, loads of ideas being conceptualised and multiple conversations taking place throughout the day. All of which seek to recognise and increase value. When I’m feeling the stretch, I feel the most alive.

I know I make my best contribution when leading others with complementary strengths and abilities. As I lead in my ADHD way, they contribute through a non-ADHD filter, resulting in the whole being greater than the sum of the individual contributions. I still have ADHD, but have found ways to lead well despite this reality.