ADHD and the Business Owner: Is It a Gift?

ADHD and the Business Owner: Is It a Gift?

Thinking Entrepreneur

Is it the gift that keeps on giving? Or the gift that keeps on taking?

That is the question I was asking myself after a recent conversation with a woman named Nancy Snell. She approached me and introduced herself after I participated in a panel discussion in New York. She said she coaches businesspeople who have ADHD, the shorthand for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The condition is frequently mentioned in reference to kids, but people don’t necessarily outgrow it when they become adults. My first thought was, Who sent you? Is this is an intervention?

It has been recognized that many successful people have ADHD. In many cases, it is a critical ingredient to their success. A lesser known fact is that it can also be a cause of stress, self-loathing, embarrassment, and lack of productivity. Like many things, ADHD takes many forms. It can be mild to crippling. It can be a great source of energy, or a great source of grief. I asked Ms. Snell what questions business owners should ask themselves to determine whether they have some form of ADHD. Here are her five questions:

1. Do you struggle with day-to-day planning, project management, and follow-up?
2. Do you lack the systems, discipline and focus to manage your workload?
3. Do you procrastinate too much and fail to accomplish things that need to get done?
4. Do you feel you’re not as effective and productive as you would like to be?
5. Are you easily distracted?

Interesting. While I would say that I can relate (to some degree) to all five of those issues, I have concluded that Ms. Snell was not sent on a mission to save me. I was, however, intrigued that someone could make a living being an ADHD coach. I wanted to know more, for two reasons. I realized that if I could improve on any of the five issues, it could be very helpful. I was also intrigued to learn that ADHD is a serious problem in business — that she has clients who are really in pain. I asked her to give me examples and to give us a primer on how she coaches people for better performance. Here are her examples:

1. A vice president of an advertising agency who was having a hard time focusing. The stress from being chronically late to meetings, from procrastinating and from constantly having to make excuses was getting to him. He didn’t like his job but couldn’t get organized to look around. Ms. Snell helped him put systems in place and identify habits that were counter-productive. She found he frequently forgot to return phone calls because he called his voicemail from his car where he couldn’t write down a message. She worked with him to find a different approach. My reaction? Part of me thinks a grown man shouldn’t need to be told how to take phone messages, but another part of me understands that we all do things that we know aren’t smart, including me. According to Ms. Snell, he applied what he learned to every aspect of his working life and has greatly reduced his stress. He also found a better job.

2. A chief executive of a 70-person hedge fund who was bothered that he was constantly getting distracted in meetings — even meetings that he was running. Ms. Snell found that these “distractions” were often, in fact, very important ideas or revelations that could be valuable but needed to be managed. She developed a system where he would have two pads of paper with him at every meeting: one for meeting notes and one for everything else that came to mind. This simple solution allowed him to be more focused and productive without worrying about what he might miss.

3. A chief executive of a $25 million company who felt challenged in his abilities to execute consistently and to communicate productively. The company was in financial distress, he knew that he was the problem, and the stress was taking a toll. One issue Ms. Snell observed was that he was constantly checking e-mails. He tried to commit to checking them only at specific times every day but found that discipline impossible to maintain. She suggested that he commit to checking his e-mail everyday before leaving the office, a solution that was both specific and flexible. It worked, and with the help of some other planning devices he became more effective and his stress declined.

There is obviously far more to each story than I can include in these short examples. To me, the point is this: When most people think of ADHD, they think of school-age boys jumping on sofas. For adults, the reality is that ADHD is about having more ideas than you can process or manage. Having a lot of ideas is the gift; having them distract you from what needs to get done causes stress. The opportunity is to manage the ADHD so that it is an asset instead of a liability. Whether you hire someone to help with this process or make some adjustments on your own, I think it is a topic that has been largely ignored. But then again, I wasn’t paying that much attention.

Jay Goltz owns five small businesses in Chicago.



The seven Cs of business success for 2011

The seven Cs of business success for 2011

Posted by Jon Baker in Business trends on Fri, 03/12/2010 – 09:49

  • Seven observations of how successful entrepreneurs continue to grow their businesses in difficult times
  • How directors can modify their own natural behaviours to help them meet business goals
  • What directors should look out for and avoid when growing a business

The business community is buzzing with concerns of how firms will perform next year after many experts have forecast a second financial dip. Jon Baker applies 25 years of training, coaching and observing behaviours to respond to the cloud of doubt.

Everybody has a choice. They can minimise risk and take a leaf out of the book of successful entrepreneurs or worry themselves back into start-up mode. It’s a bit like circumnavigating the globe, you can decide to sail the seven Cs: cash, concentration, control, cooperation, collaboration, culture and coaching, or give up, miss a few out and never accomplish your aspirations.


Cash is all about risk and the value or cost of potential outcomes. Successful entrepreneurs know they are never short of ideas, which exposes them to making 20 decisions in the hope one of them will yield a good result. This is not spreading risk. Lowering risk is about lowering the probability of something going wrong. You will notice that Lord Sugar for example, surrounds himself by conservative advisors, who appear to have an innate talent for ‘grilling’ ideas.


Write down your top 20 ideas, shortlist and refine them until you have three strong ones. Why make 20 bad decisions when you can make three good ones?



Concentration is the second C. Good entrepreneurs will have definite one, two and three year goals. Those who started setting clear goals a few years ago are far more likely to have reached their target size, revenue and/or customer base than those who have not set such objectives.


These entrepreneurs will manage their natural tendency to juggle too much and discipline themselves to concentrate on delivering or completing one thing well at a time. The most accomplished business people only take on companies or new offerings that are strategically linked, i.e. where one enterprise feeds another. If this involves risk taking, they will focus on the activities required to fill their sales funnel rather than focusing on the sales themselves.



The third C is control. It plays a vital role in successfully navigating a company through economically uncertain times and often means controlling a natural appetite for adventure. In practice this means balancing risk and reward, so the approach to new opportunities and the ability to scale to accommodate increasing sales are of fundamental importance.


Those who have mastered the art of such a balance will be extremely sales margin conscious. Out-of-the-box thinking and flexibility will pave the way to more secure margins and customer longevity. Quieter business periods will be used to systemise business processes designed to make commercial headway. Watch out for self-acclaimed entrepreneurs who have not stopped to address systems weaknesses which can result in instabilities that are evident to customers and onlookers.


Cooperation is the fourth C. The proverb ‘birds of a feather flock together’ dates back to ancient Greek philosophy and has stood the test of time. Successful entrepreneurs will not be serial networkers, they will select the communities in which they build relationships very carefully to avoid those who could potentially let their business down. They will look for others who do not display panicked behaviour and innovate to help ensure high-quality service and product delivery. When an appropriate network has been established the fifth C comes into play – collaboration.



Although creating collaborations can be low cost, the consequences of getting them wrong can be astronomical. If all business owners were surrounded by commercially strong, honest and highly effective peers this would not be a problem. Unfortunately this is not the case, particularly towards the end of recession or if going into the proverbial second dip. This is why the fourth C (cooperation) is crucial to the fifth C (collaboration).


The combination of the following two facts have generated disproportionally high risks to entrepreneurs looking to collaborate. Fact one: wave after wave of redundancies have fuelled the set-up of many consultancies. Fact two: entrepreneurial directors generally outsource the things that they are disinterested in or take too long.


Although there is enormous strength in understanding your own weaknesses and mitigating them through collaborating with consultants and other companies, getting answers to difficult questions before anything progresses has become pivotal to success. More importantly, getting it wrong reduces revenue while damaging your reputation and brand.


Those who used to work within larger organisations are not necessarily the best small business advisors. Ask about their achievements within your type of SME environment and where are the results? A recent change of career or accreditations without long-standing experience should ring alarm bells if you are about to collaborate with another business or entrust a consultant with your company’s direction.



The sixth C is all about culture. The most successful directors of 2011 will be those who have recruited well and optimised all employees. They will have involved staff in quarterly milestones, explained how various achievements link together and each employee will have bought into the company direction. When things go well, this approach delivers a sense of achievement across the workforce. The days of restricting the objectives within your business plans to a few board members are over.



The final C is the importance of coaching. Think back to those who supported the progress you have made in your own career and business. Who has taught and guided you well? Regardless of if they are a passive mentor or professional business coach, think about how they have or can help you attract and retain the right people, customers and suppliers. If they enthuse about the direction you set, people power will propel your company forward.


Jon Baker is director of venture-Now and a business coach.