The Hidden Edge: How ADHD-inclusive management builds stronger teams

Apr 30, 2024

In the latest episode of The High-Performance Leader podcast, I sat down with productivity coach and industrial organizational psychologist Juli Shulem, M.S., PCC, CPC to explore the intricacies of productivity and performance in the workplace, focusing on those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Juli brings a wealth of experience in helping clients with ADHD develop effective systems and strategies to manage their time, prioritize tasks, and reduce stress.

ADHD is often misunderstood in the workplace, leading to unfair assumptions about those who have it. The truth is, employees with ADHD are some of the hardest-working people around, often putting in extra hours just to meet the same expectations as their peers. This effort doesn't come from laziness or lack of focus—it’s because they often struggle with effective systems, organization, and the structure needed to succeed.

Having spent a good amount of time with Juli, and also having ADHD myself, I can truly attest to the fact that much of what we talk about in this blog isn't just for people with ADHD. It works for the new generations entering the workforce (millenials, gen Z and beyond). Therefore being conscious of your practices will make you a higher performing leader all around. 

I therefore challenge you to read this blog twice - once as it's written, and then again with every other member of your team under the age of 35 in mind. The principles still apply. 

Reexamining What ADHD Means

One of the most common misconceptions about ADHD is that it equates to laziness or "scatterbrainism". This couldn't be further from the truth. People with ADHD often work harder than others, not because they want to, but because they have to. They might have a harder time with tasks that require structure, forward planning, and timely completion, causing them to put in extra time and effort to meet basic expectations. This results in them often feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and misunderstood.

How Leaders Can Support Employees with ADHD

To create a supportive environment, leaders need to understand that ADHD is a legitimate condition that can affect productivity and work habits if not managed effectively. It’s crucial to acknowledge rather than dismissing it as an excuse. An understanding and inclusive workplace culture is the first step in helping those with ADHD succeed.

Avoid Overloading Their Senses

One practical way to support employees with ADHD is by breaking down complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps. This approach reduces the risk of overwhelm, which often leads to procrastination. Providing clear instructions and creating step-by-step processes can be highly effective in helping them stay on track.

It's also crucial to consider how people with ADHD process information. Some people with ADHD struggle with sensory overload, which can affect their ability to focus. One common challenge is expecting them to read and listen simultaneously during meetings or projects. For example, you might hand them a document and start explaining it at the same time, which can be too much to process.

Instead, give them a moment to read through the document first, then discuss it. This simple adjustment can make a big difference in their ability to focus and absorb information. It's about allowing them to engage with information at their own pace without overwhelming their senses.

Regular Check-ins and Constructive Feedback

Regular check-ins with employees can also be beneficial. Rather than waiting for a deadline to discover if there's an issue, leaders should establish regular touchpoints to guide progress. This proactive approach reduces anxiety and helps employees feel supported throughout the process. It's essential to give feedback in a constructive manner, focusing on solutions rather than criticising in a way that might cause embarrassment or withdrawal.

Embracing the Strengths of ADHD

When you think about high-performance teams, you might not immediately consider ADHD as a hidden advantage. Yet, employees with ADHD often bring unique skills and perspectives that can give teams a competitive edge. Rather than viewing ADHD as an issue, leaders can leverage the talents of these team members to build a more dynamic and innovative environment when they understand them.

Unleashing Creativity and Problem-Solving

ADHD team members are known for their ability to think creatively and approach problems from different angles. They often excel in environments that require rapid adaptation and innovative solutions. This kind of thinking can be invaluable to leaders looking to drive performance and find new ways to overcome challenges.

In a fast-paced business landscape, the capacity to pivot quickly and adapt is crucial. Employees with ADHD are often adept at switching gears and thriving in environments where others might struggle with the unpredictability. This flexibility can be a significant asset to a team, enabling them to stay ahead of the curve and embrace change.

Energising the Team

Team members with ADHD can also bring a sense of energy and enthusiasm that can be contagious. Their high energy levels and enthusiasm for new ideas can invigorate the entire team, leading to increased morale and a more positive work environment. This energy can be harnessed to inspire others, driving productivity and encouraging a sense of unity.

Innovative Risk-Taking

Employees with ADHD are often more willing to take risks and experiment with new approaches. This willingness to explore uncharted territory can lead to groundbreaking ideas and innovative solutions. For leaders seeking a performance edge, encouraging calculated risk-taking and embracing out-of-the-box thinking can result in transformative outcomes.

Harnessing the Advantage

To capitalise on the hidden advantages of ADHD team members, leaders must create an environment that allows these individuals to thrive. This involves understanding their unique needs and providing them with the right tools and support. Regular check-ins, clear communication, and a focus on individual strengths can help them reach their full potential.

Leaders who embrace the creativity, energy, and innovative thinking of ADHD team members can create a high-performance culture that values diverse perspectives. By leveraging the unique talents of these individuals, leaders can turn what might be perceived as an issue into a valuable asset that drives success and creates a dynamic and high-performing team.

Unlocking High Performance

Understanding and empathy are critical in creating a workplace where people with ADHD can thrive. By focusing on the strengths they bring and providing the right support, leaders can build a culture of high performance and innovation. This benefits everyone in the organisation and contributes to a more inclusive and productive workplace.

By acknowledging the unique talents of employees with ADHD and providing them with the tools and support they need to succeed, leaders can tap into a wellspring of creativity and potential that might otherwise go unnoticed. The key lies in creating an environment where everyone has the opportunity to shine.

Looking for even more top tips to help you build a high-performance culture? 

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