As an adult living with ADHD and a veteran broadcasting professional of twenty plus years, the subject of bosses who are sensitive to the behaviors and needs of someone with ADHD is close to my heart. ADHD or not, anyone who has ever spent time in the workplace has good boss / bad boss stories. My bosses each had a profound impact on me. It wasn’t until well after I was diagnosed that I began to understand that they were all "good" even if it didn’t always feel that way. Looking back, I realize that they each taught me something I needed to learn. In the end, it is about a collaborative partnership (or not). As overwhelmed adults, we face predictable and complex challenges in the workplace. Some of us are hypersensitive, some of us have time management issues and for some, it might be impulsivity or our distractible nature. Realistically, however, we have an opportunity and responsibility to speak up and educate those around us so that they are better able to support us.
What I didn’t know until well into a very successful career was that there actually were work environments and bosses who could be responsive to my needs. Even more importantly, I became aware that I deserved to find them versus trying to adapt to situations and people who were just not healthy for me!
In television media sales, my job went something like this: I was selling commercial time for 18-20 television stations and had to report to four levels of management at once. There were constant interrogations from someone or other, twenty five or more demanding, often hostile media buyers working on unreasonably tight deadlines with lots of money to spend, phones ringing off the hook all day, people screaming at each other from their desks, 50 emails with more threats and demands (such as if I don’t have what I need from you within the next 15 minutes, you are shut out of the buy) every two hours and on and on. Talk about learning how to manage distraction! Over time, what I came to realize was that, although this type of work and I were a "match made in ADD heaven," when my alignment with management was off, it went from bearable and often fun to excruciatingly unbearable. Since by nature I am overly sensitive, when I am not in an environment that is supportive, I have real challenges around sustaining ongoing success and fulfillment.
When it comes to bosses, it’s pretty simple. There are two distinct types; those who get it, are open minded and willing to understand and accommodate those of us who may be struggling and those who don’t and won’t. My ADHD friendly bosses all had similar profiles and so did I when I worked for them.
Christina, one of my sales managers, was a great example of the "good" boss. She was very consistent - even tempered, patient, non judgmental, and supportive. She would often say "Come in. I’ll help you. Don’t worry." She didn’t judge or dismiss me when I ran into her office all excited about this or that even when I was overreacting (who me??) . We laughed about it. She was kind, communicative, tolerant and interested. When my assistant left, she made sure that I got a very experienced new assistant. It wasn’t a casual decision as I had often expressed how essential my assistant was to my job effectiveness. She respected me for the competent professional I was (sometimes more than I respected myself). I felt empowered, safe and connected. I was a part of rather than apart from.
As a result, I was highly productive, engaged and very happy. Sales increased and I eventually developed a Mentoring Program at that company which became an integral part of their training platform.
On the other hand, there were others that I would call the non -ADD or the "bad" boss variety. Take Paul, for example. Paul and I inherited each other. It was soon clear that our styles and values were not aligned. My personality and highly verbal, non linear approach to problem solving drove him nuts and he in turn drove me nuts by micromanaging, criticizing me publicly and questioning and dismissing every single move I made. You can only imagine how effective that strategy was! Most of my efforts to communicate with him fell on deaf ears and that alone was pretty scary and humiliating. He looked for shortcomings and believe me ... he found them! The more he looked, the more he found!
As a result, I found myself beginning to gossip as a way of feeling connected and belonging. I became paranoid. It was like Murphy’s law; anything that could go wrong did. I spent more time trying to cover my tracks than selling (not a great strategy for ROI). The constant negativity was draining and even I couldn’t stand to hear myself complaining anymore. Although it was never what I would call a satisfying working relationship, we were able to tolerate one another until I found another job.
The point is this. I learned that I too have a responsibility to educate and communicate effectively with those around me in order to eliminate the "bad boss" situations. Living with ADHD, whether boss or being bossed, is not a "picnic" for anyone. We have a great opportunity in the workplace today to help ourselves by helping others. It is a win-win on all fronts and even more importantly, the return on investment is guaranteed to be substantial!
7 Strategies For Success: Tips from a pro that survived!
- Identify and write down what you need to maximize your effectiveness at your job and be willing to articulate it clearly to your boss so you can develop strategies together
- Don’t be afraid to ask for small accommodations that might enable you to make big changes
- Advocate for yourself: If you are suddenly flooded with too much information, don’t hesitate to ask the person to please repeat what they said. I learned to say "Would you please repeat that. I’m a slow thinker." No one has ever refused or laughed at me for asking!
- Follow through: If you say you are going to do something, do it or let your boss know why you aren’t doing it. This minimizes frustration on his part and paranoia on yours.
- Write everything down 24/7 and review it incessantly. Some might call it compulsive…for me it is freedom! Fall in love with your calendar and refer to it constantly.
- Clarify, clarify, clarify when you feel confused at all. Take the risk even if you think that you "already asked once." You’ll be glad you did.
- Accept yourself – Become willing to put away the old hammer and replace it with a beautiful feather. It’s time.
Well ... now I have said it! My hope is that by my sharing part of my personal story, you will identify and be empowered to advocate for yourself as well. If I could do it, so can you.
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Have a very productive day! Coach Nancy