Tag Archives: ADHD Success

ADHD at Work: Hunter or Farmer…What are You?

Adventure. Risk. Creativity. Novelty. Intensity.

I am a hunter – at least, I am according to Thom Hartmann. In his 1994 book, How to Succeed as a Hunter in a Farmer’s World, Hartmann created the perfect metaphor for those with ADHD. Those of us with ADHD come from the tribe of hunters; the rest of the world is dominated by farmers.

Farmers are in full control of their executive faculties. They are comfortable with systems, routines and organization. They make sure schedules are maintained; they’re experts in logistics; they crave surety and security – they don’t like unnecessary deviation. When they take a risk, it is calculated, with every pro and con weighed, analyzed and thoroughly vetted. Farmers run the world – the world doesn’t run without them. Roughly 90% of the people roaming the earth are Farmers.

The hunter is driven to explore, with highly evolved instincts – especially as he or she moves stealthily through a jungle filled with traps, snares and challenge. That’s an environment  in which the hunter thrives and feels most alive.

Those with ADHD possess these traits. With a need to experience frequent hits of dopamine, hunters have a constant need to experience novelty. They do this by taking risks that are fueled by intense curiosity, the desire to create, the need to tread into the unknown. Uncertainty isn’t something to be feared, but to be savored.

Unfortunately, as mankind evolves in this technology and data driven world, there is less and less need of the hunter. This is a farmer’s world.

Think about it – there are very few professions in which the hunter’s skills are needed. Take a look at any job board – business values stability, predictability, management. A guy sitting at a desk fidgeting with algorithms will pull down six-figures while a woman out cold calling prospects will be phased out in favor of automated sales funnels. The job fields are awash in the need for data shepherds, spreadsheet wranglers, system architects.  Farmers.

However…

Hartmann’s book, along with research that has been done since its publishing in 1994, has identified an area of business life that tends to be dominated by hunters: the world of entrepreneurship. A preponderance of entrepreneurs possess ADHD. In fact, one such entrepreneur – Jeff Neeleman, CEO for JetBlue – says that ADHD is an indispensible factor in his success.

This backs up what Syracuse University researcher, Johan Wiklund, has discovered as he delves into the connection between ADHD and entrepreneurship.

“Those with ADHD tend to spur themselves into action regardless of uncertainty,” Wiklund told Jonah Sachs in a story he wrote for Fast Company (June 29, 2017). “An impulsive inability to wait comes with a willingness to take risk. The ADHD entrepreneurs I studied struggle. But if they had a chance to be like everyone else, none of them would take it.”

He makes the point that quite often the attributes that make people comfortable with being an entrepreneur, are the exact reasons why they are edged out of traditional positions or roles within an existing organization. These attributes make them far more competent in striking out on their own.

I can relate.  In the last job I had my supervisor often labeled me a “cowboy”. I liked to go against the mold, break out of the routine. She wanted a more systematic, predictable mode of operating. I don’t blame her. That’s what managers want most – predictability.

So, wanting very much to keep my job, I reigned in experimentation and risk-taking. What happened is we traded big wins for smaller, more consistent wins. I would argue that those smaller, more consistent wins were opened up because we had some big wins first. Either way, while the smaller, more consistent wins were more palatable, the systems bored me. Systems are for farmers.

I am a hunter.

Perhaps the saddest thing I see in business today are the number of people who have a proclivity for traipsing through the forest with a spear in their hand, trying to fit in by trading the sword for a plowshare, the spear for a hoe. Hunters have the blood of thoroughbreds, built to race, to feel the wind in their faces. Now, because they live in a farmer’s world, they’ve hitched themselves to plows, tilling a field methodically.

As a manager – someone charged with producing results, utilizing all your assets to meet or exceed goals and expectations – why would you ever strap a harness and plow to a thoroughbred?

The problem is that most managers today are farmers who either don’t know what do with, or how to value what a hunter brings to the team. How will you use a hunter’s innate need to roam free when you expect a certain amount of discipline from your other team members?

First, understand what your people bring to the table. Is there an entrepreneurial role within your universe? Do you need someone who is willing to take risks, possibly fail? Will you give them the freedom to risk and fail?

Second, one way to get the most out of a team member with ADHD is to pair them with a farmer who is tolerant of the hunter’s idiosyncratic ways.  To a certain extent your farmer will manage the hunter’s results, track progress, complete the paperwork and make stuff is filed properly.  This can work.

So, is there a need for hunters in a farmers’ world?

Absolutely. In fact, while our culture honors and rewards farming activity on a day-to-day basis, it is the hunter who moves the culture forward. There are effective hunters in every industry, every walk of life, who contribute mightily. The key is to allow hunters to be hunters. Invest in them. Tolerate a degree of uncertainty, value novelty and exploration. You don’t have to give up your systems. To the contrary, simply because of demographics, if you have a workforce of 100 people, only 4-6 will be true hunters.

Some researchers have called ADHD the “entrepreneurial gene”, a sort of missing link. So, what happens when you have someone with ADHD as a manager? The key is support. That manager must have people around her who can manage the details. This allows her to employ her best skills – maybe as a dreamer, an inventor, a visionary, someone who inspires others to greatness. Just make sure someone is there to keep her calendar and remind her of appointments.

If you have ADHD and you have battled fitting into a farmers world without much success…break free and claim your place among the hunters!

That’s easier said than done, I know. But, it’s worth exploring. You’ll be happier. You’ll contribute more in every way. And, you’ll be more in alignment with your true path.

You are a hunter. Pick up your spear!

How to Lead Employees with ADHD to Success

ADHD in the workplace is a big deal. According to a report done by the World Health Organization in 2006, approximately 8 million adults have ADHD (4-6% of the adult population). These 8 million individuals are 18-times more likely to be disciplined for a behavioral issue, on average have 22 days of lost productivity each year (to the tune of up to a cost of $266 billion to the U.S. economy) , and are 60% more likely to lose their job. What’s more, of this population, 85-90% don’t know they have ADHD!

Yikes! What is a manager to do? Unless someone self-identifies, how do you know if someone is wrangling with ADHD? What can you do to help those people succeed?

A pile of papers and unfinished tasks

So, what does ADHD look like in the workplace? Frankly, it can manifest differently for everyone – they’re not all going to look like Dennis the Menace. And it may present differently in women than in men (girls are far less likely to be diagnosed in childhood because more often than not females have inattentive ADHD). If you’ve looked into ADHD at all, you know there is a laundry list of symptoms. To make things simple, here are the five most common manifestations that sap productivity.

Disorganization/Details. Have an employee with stacks of papers and files on their desk? Maybe they’re apt to lose or misplace things? Paperwork is sloppy and incomplete? Those with ADHD are notoriously disorganized, especially those who haven’t been diagnosed.

Distraction/Inattention/Boredom. Do you catch your employee daydreaming? Giving half-hearted effort on certain tasks? These will be common outcomes if someone with ADHD is assigned work duties that tend to be monotonous and highly systematized. ADHD is fed by novelty and deep interest.

Procrastination/Time Management. Is your employee constantly showing up late for work? Missing deadlines or scrambling to get things done consistently? An ADHD coach once said that it takes someone with ADHD twice as long to get things done versus a “normie”. Strange as it might sound, this rule is true almost 100% of the time. Time management is definitely an issue.

Managing Complex/Long-Term Projects. There are a lot of details to manage and keep straight within a long-term project. There is plenty of opportunity to combine disorganization, procrastination, and forgetfulness. Not a good recipe.

Impulsivity/Emotionalism. Impulsivity is a key characteristic of ADHD that is fueled by emotion. Generally, people with ADHD are prone to unedited outbursts, become frustrated easily, and otherwise speaking bluntly in a way that can create division and hurt feelings.

Certainly an employee can display one of these behaviors and not have ADHD – but, most ADHDers will display a combination of these (and others). While it is not your job to diagnose, being aware of how ADHD presents and connecting the dots can help you turn a person who is an unproductive liability into a star performer.

What can you do? Be aware and strategic!

So, here’s the truth – an employee with ADHD will challenge you. If you want your employee to succeed you’ll need to get out of your comfort zone. If you make that decision, you’ll be glad you did. While a person with ADHD presents many difficulties, they also are capable of amazing accomplishment.

Studies have shown that people with ADHD tend to be highly intelligent and highly creative (White and Shah, University of Memphis). With business titans  like Sir Richard Branson, Ingvar Kamprad (Ikea founder), and David Neeleman (Jet Blue founder) all having ADHD or Dyslexia (related to ADHD), researchers are studying the linkages between ADHD and entrepreneurship. For good measure, throw in journalist Lisa Ling, and entertainers like Justin Timberlake and Adam Levine, you can see that ADHD doesn’t have to be a detriment – but can be an essential ingredient to success.

Imagine, the same trait that would make someone a really lousy administrative assistant, is also the same trait that could make them a billionaire creator of businesses. Isn’t that something you, as a manager, would want to harness? You’d be negligent if you didn’t!

So, if you can identify (through your observations or the employee self-identification) an employee with ADHD, here are some ways you can help them be all they can be (and produce great results for you).

Align their duties with their strengths and interests.  What you don’t want is an employee with ADHD super-powers to become bored. ADHDers thrive on novelty – and will be relentless in pursuing to the nth degree the details of subjects for which they have passion.

 

Working together, set realistic, attainable goals with clear expectations. The more specific the goal, the better. Tangibility is important – and concrete goals your employee can “see” will create a better results. Set a few boundaries – expectations that you both can agree upon. This gives you leverage if you need to modify their behavior

Keep their To-Do list short. The best strategy to undertake to help an ADHDer stay on target is to break their goal-path into smaller objectives. Not doing so could become overwhelming. Keep the To-Do list to no more than 3-4 items. Also, ADHDers will get distracted by shiny objects. Keeping the list short reduces the chances of being distracted and running down rabbit trails to nowhere.

Pair them with a non-ADHDer who is highly organized. Free the ADHDer from as much administrative detail as possible. Quite often teaming them with someone who is a linear thinker and doer will yield great results. You’ll receive the benefit of more creative, innovative output – and have someone who’ll keep your speeding bullet moving straight ahead (and have the paperwork done correctly)!

Do not micro-manage! If the employee feels your leash, they’ll lay down. ADHDers value freedom and, to a certain degree, autonomy (keep in mind that many ADHDers are resistant to authority – so, be their partner not the “boss”). If you get too much into their details you’ll stifle productivity. If you’ve paired them with the right person you won’t need to go micro.

Check in weekly. So, you are the boss. Have weekly team meetings to monitor progress, discuss challenges, give insights, etc. This creates accountability and provides necessary direction.

Celebrate success. Think about this: throughout their lives, a person with ADHD typically did not get great grades, may have faced disciplinary issues growing up, was labeled as being lazy and/or stupid. Typically their self-esteem will be lower than others (even those who are far less talented than themselves). Celebrating their success in small and large ways is like providing sunshine to a flower – they’ll bloom brighter the more they receive.

Yep, it’s a little more work. And worth it. Think about this – if you have a team of 10 people, 1 or 2 of them will have ADHD. If you don’t invest in them, chances are they may disrupt the rest of your team. But, if you take the time to set them up for success, you’ll make the entire team successful.

That’s a big deal.