Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is an ailment that can have a silver lining for a CFO — and for their staff.
Many of the 2.5% of adults who suffer from it experience impulsiveness and inattention that can make a strenuous job even harder.
But for high-level executives, the condition can come with productivity benefits because of the energy it gives them and the way it arms them with a sense that something is going to happen — something good, bad or ugly, according to recruiter Jessica Glazer, who’s researched the condition.
Far from a career-killer, she says, ADHD can help people achieve greater lifetime creative achievement than they otherwise would and produce successful executives in the mold of Bill Gates, Richard Branson, IKEA founder and chairman Ingvar Kamprad and CISCO Systems CEO John Chambers are said to have the condition.
The same goes for finance and accounting staff who have the condition. If handled appropriately, they, too, can overcome the drawbacks to do better work than they might otherwise do.
Get the facts
Even so, it’s not a condition to be taken lightly and executives should take steps to have it diagnosed if they think their attention isn’t what it should be.
“Many adults with ADHD do not realize they have the disorder,” says the American Psychiatric Association. “A comprehensive evaluation typically includes a review of past and current symptoms, a medical exam and history, and use of adult rating scales or checklists.”
Getting a diagnosis and treatment is critical for a CFO who thinks they might be affected, says David Goodman, a psychiatrist who serves on the board of the American Professional Society for ADHD and Related Disorders.
“The untreated ADHD leads to inconsistency in daily execution and completion of tasks,” Goodman told CFO Dive. “If untreated, a person is likely to make careless oversights, run late to meetings, frequently interrupt people, lose track in conversations, and ask people to repeat themselves. They can be forgetful during the day, misplacing paperwork and reports and asking for organizational assistance from their secretaries or staff. In addition they become easily frustrated.”
Treated with medication and taught organizational skills, says Goodman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a professional with ADHD can find substantial improvements in attention, focus, concentration, initiative, memory, social engagement and emotions.
Let others know
If you’ve been diagnosed with it, Goodman says, it can be helpful to tell people you work with regularly because it can help inform how you interact together — for example, using written communication as much as possible rather than verbal.
Ari Tuckman, a psychologist and former board member of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), says if you tell coworkers you have ADHD, start by bringing up symptoms rather than the disorder itself.
“If you tend to be forgetful when people ask you to do things in passing, then acknowledge that,” he said. “Most likely this won't be a surprise to the person that you are telling, so it's no secret. Then, tell them what they can do about this symptom such as emailing or texting you, since you want to remember it. They’ll be happier with the outcome.”
This focus on individual symptoms lets you and the co-worker work together better and, by avoiding the diagnosis of ADHD, you can avoid inaccurate ideas about ADHD that could negatively affect your interactions.
Coming out and telling people at work you have the problem can trigger in some people negative, erroneous beliefs about the condition, Tuckman says.
“Some people may believe that ADHD isn't real and that it's just an excuse for poor performance,” he said. “Or they think that prescribed ADHD medication is addictive and dangerous. Or they may assume that ADHD is just about difficulty paying attention and not realizing all the other ways it can affect how someone performs and therefore why it explains the employee's difficulties prioritizing tasks and getting long-term projects done, for example.”
ADHD in staff
For CFOs with finance or accounting staff who have, or appear to have, the condition, there are small steps available to get the best performance from them.
One coping strategy Tuckman mentions is setting interim deadlines on a big project, which can help staff get going when a deadline is far away.
Another measure is to reduce external distractions, like moving staff from an open format office or at least not positioning staff near doors that get heavy use. The pandemic might have already solved this problem now that many people are working from home.
Other ways of reducing distractions, he suggests, include having white noise running in the background, turning off unnecessary alerts and removing visual distractions.
Of course, easily distracted CFOs can apply those same tips to themselves, says Tuckman.