The Gift of ADHD: How My Son Taught Me To Be a Better Leader and Coach

user Andrew Blum

I have a 15-year-old son who is a wonderful, intelligent, sensitive being who, in many ways, is the light of my life – and he has ADHD. With that, many “tasks” are hard to manage. Sometimes, just getting out of the house is a complicated affair. Going skiing involves many loops back for forgotten gloves, helmets, etc. and seems to take hours. Homework is often half completed or sometimes done, but not turned in because something distracted him along the way. In all of this, I’ve learned to be patient and not lose my temper because I realized that this confusion is not his fault and is a function of his wiring, and I too have a bit of ADHD. 

Instead, I’ve had to learn how communicate in ways that get and hold his attention. If I’m at all unskillful or unclear or angry, things devolve quickly and nothing gets done. This led me to a striking insight – his behavior is a lot like the behavior of many of our clients and their teams and organizations. We all have ADHD at some level. Most people are sensitive, intelligent, and well-intentioned, but difficult to move from point A to point B, are easily distracted, and react negatively to anger or force. In comparing those two realties, I noticed that the same things that work with my son will work for any leader who wants to move their organization forward.  

  1. Focus on tone and volume: It is as much about a tone and volume as it is about message. If it’s too loud, it causes upset. If it’s too soft, it doesn’t get heard or is ignored. This is the same in leadership communication.
  2. Stay connectedthroughout the process: I notice with my son that if I don’t keep my attention focused on him as I’m hoping to guide him through various tasks, he then also loses his focus. Attention is a bit of a mirror. The more you’re focused on someone, the more they’re focused on you, and as soon as you take your energy and attention away from them, they may do the same. Again, the same dynamic is true in leadership. Issuing edicts and then walking away is a recipe for disaster – but giving clear direction and staying connected to what ensues is a great way to support focused and consistent execution. 
  3. Manage your own ADHD. Many leaders want things done for their teams and organization, but they lose focus and move onto other items before checking that the items they’ve outlined are completed or connected. In fact, the “new shiny object” syndrome that many leaders suffer from is really just a form of organizational ADHD – sometimes disguised as innovation. 

There is a line from the Grateful Dead that says, “Once in a while you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right”, and in this case, my son’s ADHD is a gift that helped me to see the world differently and to communicate more effectively. 

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