A week ago, I decided to write what I would call a passion project talking about how I cope with ADHD in IT. Honestly, I was amazed by how much support and appreciation I got from many people who struggle with ADHD. My plan was for that to be a one-time thing, but since it was so well received I wanted to write one last time about it. Additionally, at the end of June I will host my first ADHD support group for people in IT as a way of giving back. Let’s shift our focus to trying to find that unicorn in the wild, known as a supportive manager that can handle my ADHD. This is based on my ADHD symptoms and may not apply to everyone, but I think the overall sentiment translates. Let’s get started!
Recapping My Symptoms
Quickly, as you may recall some of the ADHD struggles that I have include:
- Focusing Issues
- Social Challenges
- Issues with Retaining Information
- Abudance of Energy
Let’s be clear, there are SO many symptoms of ADHD, which can vary. You can read the CDC details about that here. Simply, I think it’s important to look at your symptoms realistically. Once you have a good idea of your symptoms, you can start to mind map it and think about how you address it. The whole situation has a real yin and yang about it, which you “can” address with the right people.
Why Does My Manager Matter?
We all know the old adage: “You don’t quit your job you quit your manager.” I believe this has never rung truer than for someone with ADHD. The reality is that people say they “understand” but they really don’t. I know that we aren’t disabled or dealing with a life-threatening disease, but it can be crippling for many of us.
Our manager matters more than most types of people because we are going to rely on them to be a “buffer” of sorts who will help filter down and make our jobs manageable. I implore you to not take that lightly. There are many people with ADHD who can’t even work in IT or with other people, depending on the severity of their symptoms. We’re going to talk about my symptoms and the managerial traits that you need to support you.
How the Right Manager Can Help with Focusing Issues
Like I talked about last week, focusing issues come down to your mind working in hyperdrive. My mind moves so fast and down so many tangents/rabbit holes that it’s stupid. As I have told many people, I haven’t read a book for fun since I was about 10 years old. There will be times where I am laser-sharp focused on the issue at hand, but I’m still probably thinking about 2-3 other things. My brain connects the dots and makes links that normal people don’t usually because they can filter out the noise.
Traits I Look for to Support Focusing Issues
When it comes to problems with focusing, I look for some very specific traits that a manager must have or it just isn’t a good fit. The ones that I directly correlate focusing support with are:
- Strong Awareness
- Good Listener
Let’s talk about these items a little bit so I can provide context.
How Patience and Listening Helps
We’ve all worked for managers who are short on patience and bandwidth. It’s a difficult situation. Some people just aren’t wired to be overly patient. With myself, I am usually running on rocket fuel 24-7. For me to be successful, I need someone who is patient enough to understand how my mind works and can just go with it.
People who are impatient can often get frustrated or irritated with someone with ADHD. Someone who is patient enough to listen and go with the flow is crucial. I’m looking for someone who can listen and understand I will shift to other tangents. It’s not something that can be helped 100% of the time so that great patience is so huge. I’ve had ONE manager who could support that journey. I didn’t think it was possible before I worked with him.
How Strong Awareness Helps
People with ADHD are often self-aware of their challenges, but we don’t always realize it in the moment. A manager who is aware and can support us is a huge benefit. One of the examples that I point to is how a good manager will pass you hints/tips during a meeting when you’re veering off the side of the road.
One manager that I had would ping me during meetings whenever I was getting too far off-topic. It can really help because those of us with ADHD aren’t always great at picking up on body language and reading people’s responses. I definitely think it can be a huge help.
How the Right Manager Can Help with Social Challenges
Social challenges are by far the biggest area where we need help. I mean seriously how many things about myself and people like me can cause problems?
- No filter
- Don’t realize when people stop talking
- Excessive talking, etc.
This does not set us up for success by any means. There is no doubt that our social “skills” will be used against us at least once if not multiple times over the course of our career. The best way to handle that is through a manager who can support you.
Some of the Ways a Manager Mitigates Social Challenges in ADHD
Working through social challenges is more so the intangibles than specific traits of a manager. I need my manager to act as a firewall when possible. Some of the things a good manager will do:
- Only send me to meetings that I ACTUALLY NEED to be at.
- Helping to validate written communications/provide insight.
- Handles as much of the politics as possible to keep me focused.
- Helps to steer conversations back to their intended target.
- Acts as an advocate for my work and ensures I’m put into situations where I can succeed instead of failing.
I’m sure some of this stuff is a no-brainer. I think the gist is that people with ADHD are not toxic. I think you can easily confuse a toxic employee with someone with ADHD if you don’t factor in their intent. Toxic people cause trouble and create an unhealthy work environment because they choose to do so. People like myself may do certain things, but our intent is good. Sometimes the head and the mouth just are a little too connected to each other. A true advocate that isn’t more focused on their survivability will be an invaluable asset to people with ADHD.
How the Right Manager Can Help with Information Retention
More often than not, information retention will come down to helping people learn in a way that is conducive to their make-up. Companies sometimes have a very canned approach of “everyone will train or learn in this way.”
Managers can support this journey by letting their people work from home part-time (e.g. 2-3 days a week), which isn’t a huge deal now, but it was pre-COVID for some organizations. That change can make a HUGE difference for people like myself. Additionally, getting in-person/online classroom training that includes Labs and Q&A are a HUGE difference-maker also. People need to understand the “LinkedIN Learning” approach doesn’t work for us. We love to engage, ask questions, talk stuff out, etc. This is WHY we can be such weapons to the right organization.
People need to really understand that if you foster an environment where we can learn and develop then we can be your top performers period. Once people with ADHD build confidence and are provided with the tools, we will often outperform everyone. I get that we’re “extra” and I embrace that, but by helping us with an environment that supports and embraces how we learn, we will pay that back tenfold.
How the Right Manager Can Help us Expend Energy
I spoke about last week what our energy does to us. Sometimes we get ourselves into trouble. That’s the best way to keep it simple. I think personally that sometimes people underestimate us. We tell them, “we just get shit done!” and they’re like yeah yeah sure you do.
It’s a literal fact that despite some of our perceived weaknesses that if we harness that energy we can be unstoppable. I would challenge every manager who has people working for them with ADHD (the signs are pretty easy to pick-up on) to challenge your people. The best way to harness that energy is to see what else they can do.
In my career, people always just said “he’s just a mobile guy”, but eventually someone decided to see if I can do other things. Not every person with ADHD can harness the characteristics to ADHD to deliver a competitive advantage. It starts with that person believing in themselves and owning their ADHD. Once you start to believe and realize that your ADHD is not a weakness but something that makes you incredibly powerful. You’ll be able to show people that you’re playing chess and they’re just playing checkers.
I wanted to first thank everyone again for their kind words last week. It makes me so sad that most people don’t tell others about their ADHD because of how judgmental others can be. If anything I say resonates, let it be that our energy and mind are huge assets. Anyone can look at our make-up and presume that we are too much of a hassle and not a great fit. Someone more evolved realizes that any person with any disease, ailment, short-coming, etc. if used in the right way is unstoppable.
When people fail, this is a management problem. You need to set people up for success. If you don’t know your people and you put them into situations that do not match their talents, then that’s a YOU problem. I believe with every fiber of my being that everyone is valuable from a contractor on your help desk to a principal architect. It entirely comes down to how you use them because everyone can play a part in your success.