ADHD-Friendly Bosses… Do They Really Exist?

Businesspeople with resume

(Yes and don’t settle for anything less) As an ADHD adult and a veteran broadcasting professional of 25 years, the subject of bosses who are sensitive to the behaviors and needs of someone with ADHD (I will use ADD & ADHD interchangeably) is close to my heart. Whether you are ADD or not ADD, let's face it, millions of us are feeling out of control with the demands/data to handle in a day and stressed, overwhelmed and distracted by it all.

My bosses each had a profound impact on me. ADHD or not, anyone who has ever spent time in the workplace has good boss/bad boss stories. It wasn’t until well after I was diagnosed that I began to understand that I had as much of a responsibility to educate them as they had to "boss" me.

In the end, it is about a collaborative partnership (or not). In the workplace, we face predictable and complex challenges. Some of us are hypersensitive, some of us have issues around authority and for some, it might be our impulsiveness or disorganized tendencies. Realistically, we do have an opportunity today to educate those around us so that we can work more effectively together.

In television media sales, my job went something like this: I was selling commercial time for 20 television stations while simultaneously reporting to four levels of management. There were constant interrogations, demanding and often hostile media buyers working on unreasonably tight deadlines, phones ringing off the hook, people screaming at each other from their cubicles, 50 emails with threats and demands every two hours and on and on. Although this type of work and I were a “match made in ADD heaven," when my alignment with management was off, my job went from fun to excruciatingly unbearable.

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 us with our different way of processing and thinking, and those who don’t and won’t. The ADD-friendly bosses all had similar profiles and so did I when I worked for them.

On the other hand, there were others that I would call the non–ADD friendly or “bad” boss variety. Paul is a perfect example. He 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 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. 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). The constant negativity was draining and even I couldn’t stand to hear myself complaining anymore.

My next manager who I will call Christina was a great example of an ADD-friendly boss. She not only recognized my strengths but continuously supported me around my weaknesses, which was critical to my sense of well-being and steady job performance. She was consistent, patient and non-judgmental. She would often say “Come in. I’ll help you. Don’t worry.” When my assistant left, she made sure that I got a very experienced new assistant which was essential to my effectiveness. She respected me for the competent professional I was.

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.

The point is this: Even in the worst case scenario, I had to learn to intelligently advocate for myself until I could find another job. What we need to know is that we have a responsibility to find workplace situations that work for us… not the other way around. Living with ADHD, whether boss or being bossed, is no picnic for anyone.

Strategies For Success:

Survival 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 or her 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.

Hope this helps someone out there.

Have a productive day, and remember to take care of yourself! It is your responsibility to do so; no one else can really do it for you.

Coach Nancy