Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Managing Branson, Einstein, JFK and others with Attention Deficit Disorder

Dear Chief Energy Officer,
Do you have any advice on how I should motivate one of my most difficult employees? On one hand, she sometimes comes up with the most brilliant ideas. On the other hand, she seems unable to pay attention in staff meetings, and frequently interrupts. She also has trouble completing her assigned tasks, unless she’s really interested. When she’s interested, her work is exceptionally good. When she’s not interested she has me pulling my hair out!

Martha G, Marketing Director, Tacoma, Washington

Dear Martha,
It’s often the case that the “most brilliant” of employees are also the most challenging to manage. I am not a medical doctor, but based solely on the symptoms you describe, there’s a good possibility your employee has Adult ADD, i.e. Attention Deficit Disorder. While termed a “disorder” adults with ADD have many extraordinary gifts and are often:

This could explain her “brilliant” ideas. Famous brilliant people with ADD include Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, and President John F Kennedy.

Her challenges “paying attention in staff meetings” and “completing tasks in which she is not interested” are consistent with distractability which is one of the clinical symptoms of ADD. Ironically, when people with Attention Deficit are interested, they go into a state known as “Hyper-focus”, which is maybe why you are describing her work under such circumstances as “exceptionally good.”

The second clue it might be ADD is her frequent interruptions. This if often coursed by impulsivity, which is another symptom of ADD.

Fortunately there are many treatment options some medical and others behavioral. My advice is to encourage her to do her own research. Remember you can only lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink.

In the meantime, your best bet is to acknowledge her gifts, and look for ways to help her overcome her challenges, e.g. providing more admin support, more "air time" in staff meetings etc.

Finally, keep in mind that under the Americans with Disabilities Act you are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with ADD.  This does not mean giving her carte blanche to perform as she pleases; it does mean you have to make a reasonable effort to help her succeed in her current responsibilities.

Please stop pulling your hair out!