Last year I was getting peppered with inquiries from readers and listeners on this particular topic: “My boss has ADD. How can I better manage and support her or him?” After doing a bit of crowd sourcing and gathering some best practices I’ve encountered over the years, I published an article in an effort to help not only those team members, but ultimately better support their leader. Thinking I had solved this workplace dilemma, I proceeded to call it a success and move onto the next challenge. “Not so fast, Brandon,” was the response I got from my readers. “What about the responsibility the boss has to manage her or himself? It can’t be all on our shoulders.” Touché, dear readers. Touché. Yep, the last thing I want to encourage is a co-dependent relationship where a boss exhibits very little personal responsibility and self-management leaving it up to her or his team to run behind them cleaning up the mess.
So, this article is my attempt to speak directly to the leader that at any point in their career has felt like their energy, ideas and pace have been too much or too fast for their team (a common outcome of an ADD-style of leadership). More specifically, if your team has said any of these to you, it’s time to pay attention:
“We love your great ideas, but it is hard to keep up with your pace and energy.”
“Sometimes we notice you’ll bring up an idea that we already discussed in a prior meeting and thought we had resolved. We aren’t sure if this is because you’ve forgotten that conversation or if you think it needs to be brought back to the forefront.”
“I/we are unclear on your priorities (for the week, month, year, etc.). It seems like the target is constantly changing.”
“It is hard to predict what you might want to review in our 1:1’s. When I think you are going to want to discuss high-level progress, you dive into the details. If I prepare all of the details, you might simply take a left turn and talk about something completely unexpected.”
If you’ve heard any of the above, the steps below will help you be an even better leader for your team while preserving your creativity, energy, drive and passion.
This is not about changing what makes you a great leader; it’s about giving your team what they need to more effectively keep up with you.
1. Take Ownership – If you’re a leader with ADD tendencies, you likely bring tremendous creativity, energy, drive and passion to your team. And my guess is that they truly value all of those wonderful things about you. The downside is that most folks can only handle so much of those high-energy attributes at a time. If creativity, energy, drive and passion are hallmarks of your leadership style, think of your leadership style as a juicy flavorful steak from a world-class steakhouse. Your style is like that amazing steak, full of rich notes bursting with every bite. Who wouldn’t love that? However, if every meal served to you for the next year was a 12oz. filet mignon complete with a compliment of decadent sides, you’d need a break. My family and I recently returned from a vacation to Charleston, S.C. where we ate really well. I’m talking legendarily well. Rich delicious southern cooking capped off with some world class fine dining. When we returned home my wife turned to me and said, “After all that, I feel like an anaconda after a big meal. I don’t think I need to eat for a week.” Take ownership of your “rich” style of leadership and acknowledge that it needs to be measured and balanced in order to achieve the intended effects with your team. Not all meetings have to be full of new ideas, projects and initiatives. Sometimes what your team needs is a good old fashioned project update without anything new added to the conversation. Boring? Perhaps. Effective? Definitely.
2. Communicate Your 3-5 Priorities – The best organizations and teams execute off of a focused set of priorities. Period. More specifically, they know the 3-5 priorities that are critical for success in any given week, month or year. A leader with ADD tendencies has the beautiful strength of bringing creativity, openness to new ideas and flexibility to the team. The downside is that if you aren’t careful, priorities will get lost in the journey. To use another analogy, priorities serve as the destination(s) that you intend to reach on a road trip. Sure, you may decide to take some detours along the way, but the destinations shouldn’t change (at least not without some discussion). If you aren’t communicating priorities to your team, it’s like they’ve hopped in the car with you and you say to them, “Get ready for an exciting ride! I don’t know where we are going and how long this will take, but it sure will be a lot of fun!” Talk about anxiety producing! Priorities create focus, and more importantly, stability. You need focus and stability if you intend to layer on creativity, openness to new ideas and flexibility. Healthy teams have both.
3. Communicate Your Expectations for 1:1 Meetings – Perhaps the biggest complaint I receive from team members who are working with an ADD prone leader is their frustration with 1:1 meetings. Despite their best efforts, they just can’t seem to guess what their leaders want to discuss in those meetings. The good news is that there isn’t a rigid solution to this dilemma. Many can work, you just have to clearly state your expectations and stick to them. For example, you might decide that you want to review status of projects in 1:1 meetings. Or you might decide you want your team members to set the agenda of 1:1 meetings and send it to you prior to the meeting. Regardless, stating your expectations for those meetings will not only help your team members properly prepare, but will also set your expectations for those conversations. Just remember, you are your worst enemy in these meetings. You must be disciplined to stick to the expectations that you lay out and not sabotage your own efforts. For example, if you say that you want your team members to set the agenda but before they can get through the first bullet point, you grab the steering wheel and promptly derail the meeting to talk about what is on your mind at that moment, you’ve defeated the purpose of setting expectations. Be clear and disciplined, and your team will thank you for it.
4. Appoint a “Chief of Staff” – Probably the best way to ensure that you can keep all the changes outlined above AND provide your team with a constant go-to person who is primarily focused on important topics like priorities, deadlines and accountability is to appoint someone on your team to be the informal “Chief of Staff.” I’m not talking about someone with a formal title. This is a person on your team who has a passion and interest for much of the items that you know your team values, but less of an interest in how you want to spend your time. In other words, topics like status updates, upcoming deadlines, providing team members with reminders on deliverables, regular reminders of key priorities, etc. This person also can serve as the voice of the team when issues, questions or inconsistencies come up. If you are a boss with ADD tendencies, you probably don’t receive a lot of feedback from your team. It isn’t because your team is afraid of you. Rather, it is because they can never identify the right time or place to provide you with constructive feedback. A Chief of Staff can help you with that. In many ways, they are like a translator that helps give the team what they need and also communicate with the team what matters to you most.
In summary, none of the items above are rocket science. Nor are they difficult to implement. But what I can promise you is if you put the above concepts into action with your team, not only will your team thank you, but it will give them even more bandwidth for your incredible drive, passion and creativity to take hold.