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Do all high tech CEOs have attention deficit disorder?

[This is a repost of an article I did before I started my blog.] My last boss

Ever wonder why your CEO is so unfocused? Mercurial? Unaware of how their actions will affect other people? Ever wonder why they even wanted to be a CEO?

I’ve spent my career in startups and early-stage companies – software, publishing, Internet, Location Based Services. Once I had a full head of hair, but it’s thin on top now from years of scratching my head wondering how my CEO I could possibly have decided to do what he’s doing (I’ve never worked for a female CEO, but I hope they are better).

You can see another side of this question in another article I wrote.

Well, my friends, if it looks bad and smells bad, it probably tastes bad. It’s probably your CEO who’s nuts, not you.

I think getting to the top ranks of companies is a Darwinian process. Most people don’t even want to be the CEO. Too many headaches, too much responsibility. And some people may even feel that they don’t want to tell others what to do. This is what we sometimes call normal.

Now people with ADD tend to have certain characteristics that make them sublimely eligible for leadership positions:

  1. They can’t see the risk in what they’re doing. A normal person, when asked to start up a risky enterprise, might say: “Oh no, there’s way too much risk involved. I’d rather do something else.” Somebody with ADD would be more likely to say: “That sounds exciting, I’m sure I can do it. When do we start?”
  2. They don’t see how their actions affect other people. Ever wonder how a person could be so dumb that they can’t see that a small action could provoke a huge reaction? Just look at some of our politicians, and you’ll see this behavior in spades: President Clinton’s sexual adventures. Elliot Spitzer’s sexual adventures. Let’s stop the list there before we all get depressed…  The common thread here is that a normal person wouldn’t transgress in these ways because they would predict trouble. But I bet you’ve seen your own CEO fall into this trap many times.
  3. ADD personalities tend to be creative (in my opinion). Creative people tend to be leaders. A creative person can see an opportunity where a non-creative person could only see problems. Of course, the flip side of this is that the opportunities may be similar what you’d expect from drug-induced euphoria.
  4. Lacking empathy, this personality type can easily take draconian measures in a company – doing things that would make most people cringe. You’ve seen this: firing somebody just before Christmas, or when they’re just short of their pension. Good for the business? Maybe. Bad for the soul, though. And therefore, also bad for the business. Remember what I said: if it looks bad and smells bad, it probably tastes bad.

So don’t be too hard on your CEO. Your CEO is missing some important neural wiring. That’s probably why he or she got to be your CEO.

Most of these people are undiagnosed. Most are not especially introspective (it’s part of being impulsive, which is a signal part of ADD). Most have absolutely no idea that they are objects of ridicule by others – and if they do, they will almost never know the true reasons. Most don’t want to improve.

But people can learn to live and be even more productive, even if they have ADD. Try sensitizing your CEO without being threatening. If they look like they could catch on, keep training them. If not, then be prepared for a bumpy ride.

PS: A friend and associate read this article and said it sounded hostile. I didn’t mean it that way – but I can see that point of view. Here’s another view of this subject, one that I also believe in. Its essential point is that ADD breeds creativity. Society and business would be very dull without it’s ADD visionaries.

Posted in Management thoughts.

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