ADHD in the Workplace
“I think when you say ADHD, you automatically have a picture in your head of what that looks like, which is probably a random bee buzzing all over the place, but one of the things I absolutely love about ADHD is chemically wired,” said Fern.
ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD have been combined into the same term.
“ADHD is a chemical neurotransmitter disorder that affects the way your brain processes information,” explained Fern. “It’s not necessarily that some folks can think too much like myself – it’s not that I can’t pay attention; everything gets a lot of attention at the same time. It affects different executive functioning corners of your brain. If you don’t have access to certain chemicals or do have access to too many chemicals, it can cause what’s essentially a misfire. So when you think about being impulsive, your brain might walk you through Step A, B, C, and D. My brain just goes to D, which is great because it’s one of the reasons why I firmly believe that Multifamily needs more ADHD.”
Fern says not over-thinking consequences leads people with ADHD to be fearless. She views it as a superpower. But it’s important to know how to leverage that.
Of course, ADHD shows up differently in different people. For some people the “H” – the hyperactivity portion – shows up more than it does in others. Fern says for example, her daughter is less hyperactive, but is extremely disorganized, a symptom more associated with ADD than ADHD.
Fern says HSP is related.
“Being a Highly Sensitive Person does not mean that you are sitting in the dark crying after a hard day. A lot of it is just the reaction to your senses. Maybe your sense of taste, smell, hearing. For me, it’s intuition. It’s energy and how you’re impacted by things around you,” explained Fern.
Fern says she had an epiphany in the past year when coronavirus hit and a lot of the stimulus she would normally experience in her career with Multifamily came to a halt.
“I have a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes and eat chaos for breakfast,” Fern jokes. “But when you take away all of that stimulus and you are very much stripped down to, ‘Okay, I’m just here in my office and I’m doing the same thing, and while we’re at a high level and we’re functioning at a high level, there is still removal from the external elements that can sometimes mask the struggles and the challenges. Because when you don’t have that high urgency and you don’t have that sense of – almost stress, thriving under stress, you are like, ‘Okay, well, now what do I do?’”
Fern says it took her a while to take things seriously and accept that ADHD was a part of her life, 24/7. She had to come to understand what that meant for her and her children, who she sees struggle.
Fern says her son has been a distraction in class his whole life and has been punished by being sent to the back of the classroom. She realized recently that different does not necessarily mean difficult.
“COVID has forced a lot of us out of our comfort zones to actually ask for what we need. Whether you are learning, or whether you are a leader, it is extremely important to lead and teach the way that others follow or learn and to meet individuals where they’re at.”
Identify Different Ways People Can Learn
Fern says her company is working on identifying different ways people can learn. That might include anything from focusing on the pace at which you’re speaking, to ensuring the colors on your presentation slides are easily seen even by people with partial color blindness. Providing material ahead of a meeting is also extremely helpful.
“Little changes or shifts like that can make a world of difference,” said Fern. “I was almost upset with myself when I realized I had not done that for our own employees, and those are things I had just fought for and implemented in my own home. But we all have those epiphany moments, and I think it’s really important to figure out how humans are working.”
She says things aren’t the same as they used to be. For instance, we all know more about each other because of social media. So, you should support how others learn, feel, and grow on their terms, not just your own.
As far as new leadership is concerned, Fern says people should be authentic. She believes COVID separated managers and leaders, because it’s harder to lead by authority when you aren’t physically in the room with someone. It makes people’s choices become clearer.
“I think I get really spoiled because I work for an organization that really celebrates individuality and celebrates inclusion. I always feel like myself when I show up for work. I am fiercely organized, and I was showing the director my project tracker and was telling her, ‘This is just the way my brain needs to function, and all my spreadsheets talk to each other, and I have to have it this way because of my own struggles,’and she just paused and said, ‘Thank God, you have ADHD.’ For someone who feels different and operates to a different owner’s manual, those were wonderful things to hear.”
Living With Einstein
Patrick Antrim, the CEO of Multifamily Leadership, mentions a new podcast Fern is producing. He says the podcast had him and his wife in tears, listening to the heavy message surrounding children’s experience during the pandemic.
Fern says it was hard to start talking about things on the pandemic, but she wants to allow others to feel okay being human. She felt compelled to share her story, and originally wanted to write a book, but felt that would be difficult for her. Instead, she started the podcast, called Living with Einstein.
“My fiancé is the one who gave it the name, because I had posted something on Facebook about [my son] Jackson getting his diagnosis at 13. And while ADHD is something that I’m very comfortable with, still, as a parent, to not only go through the process of getting a diagnosis, but then to weigh the option of medication, because it’s not really – it’s definitely a choice you can take back, it’s still really difficult,” explained Fern.
She says her fiancé joked that he nearly commented back on that Facebook post to say that living with Fern and their children is like living with Einstein, because their brains all function at a very high level.
“It’s not really until somebody else comes into our environment that we think something is different, because all three of us have it – it’s not just me, it’s me and both of our kids.”
Fern says she’s always loved Einstein.
He has a quote that says, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it’s stupid.”
Fern feels that quote plays into how we’re missing the mark with leadership, development, relationships and more. She reiterates that you have to meet people where they are.
“We are sending people to training, expecting them to be the expert. We are saying one thing and expecting understanding. I think we have a responsibility to confirm in another person what it is we want to have been heard. I feel like we’re focusing more on what we want to say instead of what we want others to hear.”
Redefine a New Era
Fern says leaders should use this pandemic and this new era to redefine what they stand for.
“If you are not authentic, or competent, or confident, you’re a distraction. People know. People know when they’re following a leader that’s not authentic. That’s why not everybody is good at everything! Pick what you’re good at and run with it.”
Leaders should be looking for ways to amplify individuals’ gifts and talents, rather than trying to fit everyone into a mold.
Fern also touches on the phrase, “Leadership of self.”
“In order to be successful, whether you are managing ADHD or managing another – I like to call them abilities, because they really are strengths, they really are gifts. Whether it is you are managing those abilities or managing people or whatever, you have to be honest with yourself.”
That includes seeing what you’re good at, what you aren’t, how you can get better, and navigating your own fears. It’s also important to have the ability to ask for what you need.
“I think a lot of times we get really in our own way with failing and fears of failing. I know I do a lot of work around fearless failure – that’s the most recent podcast episode is foundation work around failing fearlessly. But acknowledging where we are able to grow in that fear, and not self-inflict and get in our own way.”
That means that as you walk into a task and get nervous, for instance ahead of a presentation, spend some time to mull over why you’re feeling that way. Think about what’s at stake and why, and how much is just a feeling rather than an actual fact. It’s important to figure out ways to break your own patterns.
Fern says we grow up in a “score” culture where we’re told we always need to achieve at the highest level, and we’re always compared to everyone else.
“It’s so one-size-fits-all. We really have an opportunity as leaders to create some individuality with how we move people from being willing to, to wanting to, then able to.”
Fern says some strategic ways to do that could include asking people where they need support or finding out how they learn and communicate best.
“Nobody likes an email that says, ‘Hey, can we talk?’” Fern pointed out. A lot of people will run through scenarios right away upon seeing that, thinking they’re about to be fired. A lot of people need to be communicated with in a different way.
“Really identifying what you need and what others need from you – I know it sounds so basic, but we have to go back to the basics right now,” said Fern.
The payoff will be people taking chances and sharing their ideas. Don’t create an environment where people are ridiculed for sharing ideas. Make people comfortable enough to innovate.
Fern also notes that there are many situations where people don’t know what to do with the information they’ve been given.
“I really did not come to terms with the fact that I’m someone who’s struggling with rejection for a long time. I worked with a counselor, I have almost a whole team of people that helped me work and do cognitive things and really work through some of these emotions. Number one, I was just at a point where I was just tired of feeling like I was holding my breath. And I don’t know any change that doesn’t start with somebody being tired of their own BS.”
Fern says that’s a major problem. People need to acknowledge the things that are getting in their own way, self-reflect, ask for feedback, and be willing to do something with the information you’re given about yourself.
“I try not to focus on being a leader. I try to focus on being an example, and let the leadership follow,” said Fern.
Fear of Failure
Fern says that if you’re scared to ask for what you need, think about why. A lot of it will come down to fear of failure. For people with ADHD, the thought process is, you don’t know that it won’t happen, so focus on the fact that it could.
Fern has three simple steps for how to fail at things as though you have ADHD.
The first step is to think about why you’re nervous and try to care less. Usually you’re nervous because you think you have something to lose, such as friends or family or your reputation.
“What’s at stake? Usually, that is directly related to a value – family, health, wellness, knowledge, competence – if something you care about is at risk of loss, you probably won’t try to do the thing that risks that loss because it’s too great of a thought,” said Fern. “But I challenge you to always ask yourself whether or not there’s any truth behind it, or are these stories that you have told yourself.”
If you are actually at risk of losing something, talk to the person about what your worries are.
“All we’re asking you to do to manage fear is to manage the unfamiliar.”
Secondly, get to know your fear. That’s another way to manage the unfamiliar, and thus manage your fear.
“Same thing with value loss,” said Fern. “If I value competence, and I’m scared to raise my hand in a room full of people because I’m scared of how they’re going to think of me and that could violate my competence, how do I manage that loss? How do I internally say, ‘What’s going to happen if I do? What’s going to happen if I don’t?”
Build failure into part of your plan. Fern says no one is bad at anything – they’re just out of practice or haven’t had practice in the first place. If you’re trying something new, don’t expect it to be perfect.
Step three is to remove unnecessary limits.
“I hear people say all the time, ‘Oh, I’m not that person, I could never do that.’ The word ‘capability’ by definition means you don’t know what’s going to happen yet. It means you could, but you’re not going to know until you actually try. So by definition, capability is inherently limitless. Because we don’t know what we’re capable of until we actually try, so why would we put a ceiling on what should be the floor? By telling yourself you can’t, you automatically take yourself out of the game. Because what if you could! What is that space of ‘what if’? That’s where you can leverage things.”
Antrim asks how Fern works through people’s limitations with them to help them overcome them.
“It’s really working through and talking out loud what the fears are,” Fern says.
As an example, if someone is thinking about making a position change. If the person is scared, consider what’s at stake that they aren’t willing to risk losing, which is holding you back. If someone honestly considers what’s at stake, it’s simply that people don’t want to get promoted and then fail. Fern says to remember that no one is ever great at anything when they first start out.
So, now you’ve identified your fear: it’s that you aren’t ready. So, go out of your way to get more ready ahead of time. If you’re worried about upsetting or disappointing someone, talk with them ahead of time about the possibility of failure, how you’re feeling, and how you should move forward if you do fail.
“The real kicker is a ladder of inference -it’s how we make assumptions based on our own morals and ethics and things we’ve grown up with. It’s basically a path to assumption and not a lot of fact is needed to get from Point A to Point B. You can completely fabricate a story, and that’s what I like to call self-inflicted failure.”
Instead, focus on the facts that support the fear. If Fern is working with someone who’s very afraid, she makes sure to spend a lot of time exploring why that is.
Fern also likes to make sure to involve people who are being quiet. She wants to make people feel comfortable enough to share their own feedback.
Another famous quote Fern loves is, “Your story could be someone else’s survival guide.” That’s what she’s hoping for in discussing her own vulnerabilities.
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