Leadership and Management Tips for Dealing with ADHD

Those of us who have ADHD know it can be a superpower when managed properly.  However, while there are incredible benefits to ADHD, there are also challenges that others will never face or fully understand. These are no better or worse than anyone else’s challenges, they are just different. Whether you have ADHD, or are managing an individual who has ADHD, you need to develop unique skills to manage yourself and the team. 

ADHD can actually offer a unique set of advantages that can propel people to success in any role. While the challenges of ADHD should not be overlooked, it is essential to recognize its potential benefits as well. Among them, ADHD provides unique insights and skills that can be used to help anyone become be strong and effective leader. 

One of the most significant advantages of ADHD in executive leadership is the ability to think creatively and generate innovative ideas. Individuals with ADHD have a knack for connecting seemingly unrelated concepts, allowing them to approach problems from unconventional angles, which gives companies a competitive advantage. 

Another benefit of ADHD in executive leadership is the ability to thrive in high-pressure situations. Many individuals with ADHD find that they perform best when faced with tight deadlines, fluid situations, and challenging circumstances. This is likely because the adrenaline rush that accompanies stressful situations helps people with ADHD stay engaged and productive. The ability to perform under pressure is invaluable in situations where quick decisions and adaptability are essential for success. Conversely, less urgent decisions can be delayed as the ADHD leader is more comfortable feeding their innate curiosity as they seek additional information to reach data-driven decisions that confirm their strong sense of intuition. 

Leaders with ADHD usually possess exceptional communication skills, which they use to be natural storytellers, captivating and engaging their audience with their enthusiasm and passion. Their ability to communicate effectively is a powerful tool in leadership and allows executives to inspire and motivate their teams, build stronger relationships with stakeholders, and communicate a clear vision for the company.

The story-telling skills of an individual with ADHD are often heightened by their strong sense of empathy and emotional intelligence in executive leaders. For many executives, their ability to empathize helps them build strong, supportive relationships with coworkers and staff, fostering a more positive work environment and promoting collaboration and teamwork.

Lastly, executive leaders with ADHD often have a resilient and persistent nature. This may be because we faced numerous unique challenges throughout our lives due to our iconoclastic and unorthodox approach to challenges. While innovation comes across as comparatively simple, we often struggle with, and sometimes even fail, at tasks that others seem to complete effortlessly. As a result, we learned to develop a strong sense of determination and grit in the process. We are accustomed to finding different ways to succeed, once we are convinced that we are on the right path! The resilience we were forced to develop can be a significant asset in the business world, where setbacks and obstacles are inevitable. It can also make us appear to be more pig-headed and stubborn in certain circumstances! 

People with ADHD are generally acknowledged to be more big-picture / strategic thinkers. While fully capable of executing plans whose tactics are well-defined and which may sometimes even feel pedantic to us, our preference is always to focus on the big picture. This strategic perspective comes in handy when facing a roadblock, as we quickly find options to finish the project efficiently (and move on to more interesting activities).

Obviously, we also have unique challenges that we need to overcome. For many years, I didn’t know I had “ADHD.” I simply presumed I looked at things with a unique perspective because I was different. I had learned to compensate for my weaker skills in certain areas without diminishing my strengths in others.

In fact, this goes back to an interesting point about people management from an earlier article. Too often, people identify a ‘weakness’ – “you have ADHD” – and try to focus on improving away the weaknesses. However, that’s the wrong approach, but it’s one adopted by weaker managers who are limited in their abilities! It’s your strengths that set you apart and make you valuable; don’t allow anyone to push to change those or minimize their potential contribution by subjugating them! 

I’ve found that a highly effective strategy for executing my own deliverables and managing team members with ADHD is to pair myself and others with people who have complementary skills. In my case, detail-oriented, process-focused colleagues such as engineers are ideal. Depending on the individual and their role, finding the right ‘partner’ will be crucial to both parties’ success.  

I’m very open about how I manage my own superpower. I share my experiences to help others understand how I operate and think, and to help them recognize our environment is a safe space for each of us to operate freely and transparently. We all face challenges, and for many, talking openly about our challenges will initially be stressful. Especially if we are conditioned to presume that we are in any way ‘less’ effective or complete as a result of our differences. But we can only manage and leverage their benefits if we have open discussions about the differences in how we operate and if we develop strategies for success.

Pairing people together can be incredibly beneficial to everyone affected. The right collaboration can lead to powerful synergies and accomplishments for both parties. The individual with ADHD brings creativity, innovation, and big-picture thinking to the table, while the detail-oriented team member ensures that all the finer points are addressed and nothing falls through the cracks.

Here’s how this pairing can work in practice:

  1. The team member with ADHD generates ideas and solutions, while the detail-oriented colleague helps refine and structure these ideas into actionable plans.
  2. The more detail-oriented team member will help create checklists, timelines, and other organizational tools to keep projects on track, allowing the individual with ADHD to focus on the innovative and creative aspects of the work. This creates a structure within which both can flourish without impeding anyone from utilizing their skills.  More often than not, the detail-oriented partner will break steps into bite-sized tasks. This helps tremendously, as once implementation begins, large projects can be overwhelming for individuals with ADHD. 
  3. Both team members contribute solutions to each task, and their balanced perspective enables stronger problem-solving at each stage.
  4. During meetings and discussions, the detail-oriented colleague can ensure that all action items from prior meetings are reported on and that all important points are captured and addressed in follow-up reporting.

By recognizing and leveraging the unique strengths of each team member, you create a more balanced and effective team dynamic. This approach not only helps compensate for the challenges associated with ADHD but also fosters a collaborative and supportive work environment where everyone’s skills are valued and utilized to their fullest potential.

By implementing these types of strategies and promoting a culture of collaboration and understanding, you can successfully navigate the challenges of managing a team while also harnessing the unique strengths and talents that individuals bring to the workplace.