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Dealing with ADHD boss?

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Question: My boss, I believe, has a problem with ADHD. Sometimes, he bounces off the walls and is very difficult to keep up with. I try to keep up with him, but lately, I am exhausted by mid-afternoon. I am at the point that I am so frustrated because I am running in circles most of the time.

My boss will tell me he needs to schedule a meeting or various meetings throughout the day. Then, two minutes after we have met regarding his files/meeting requests, etc., he asks me if I have set up the meeting regarding a topic that he never asked me to schedule. So, I continually have to check and re-check my notes for who the invitees are for meeting A or B; then, I have to ask him if his question relates to scheduling meeting A or B. His normal reply: "Oh, no. This is another meeting I am talking about."

Many times, he forgets to give me all of the details.

Are you aware of any books that would help administrative assistants who work with bosses with ADHD? I would like to know how to set up boundaries with my boss, who cannot seem to focus.

I have set up color-coded files; I print meetings from his calendar and attach to the top of a folder for each and every meeting; I arrange files on his credenza; I keep a large, orange "Please sign" file for signatures; and we meet daily to plan meetings, plan projects and to follow up regarding unfinished projects.

I need some help as to how I can become a more efficient assistant to my boss. Any suggestions?  -- Frustrated in Michigan


Comments

Let your Human Resources Department know how your supervisor is behaving and have them talk to him, suggesting that he may have ADHD, and suggesting that he get medication to help him stay focused. You can tell HR that he's driving you crazy; and they should take it from there.

Continue to document everything, so you don't feel you have lost your mind! Going to HR works if your boss is not the owner, but be careful how you phrase things so you don't get labeled a complainer.

Keep a list of likely questions you will need to ask when confronted with a request. Never let a request go by without either a question or confirmation, provided you sound extremely sure of yourself when asking. Don't sound forgetful so you don't sabotage your career, even if you can't possibly forget something you haven't heard in the first place.

Example: change a flight - what airline, what time, origin, destination, project or progress on meeting - which meeting, what day, project involved, what time, who with. If two out of the five are answered, you can track down what you need 80% of the time. Keep a list of secondary questions - Do you need a car reservation modified? Hotel? Anyone informed? - to ask next.

Also, if you can find a way to do it, have him make as many of his requests as possible done through email. This will help if the request is changed.

Some good suggestions, but I would NEVER tell HR or anyone at the firm about your idea he has ADHD. Even if he does, you are not qualified to diagnose him, nor is it a professional thing to do. HR would likely not do much, anyway, since they are not in the business of correcting managers' habits or suggesting medical intervention to their employees!! Instead, be as organized as you can (you sound very competent!), ask lots of questions when he introduces a new topic, and write everything down for him and for you. Getting info from him via email is a VERY good idea. If you're correct, you are essentially dealing with someone with childlike habits of inattention and disorganization, and a skittery mind, and you should treat him that way - not patronizing, but speaking slowly and repeating everything he says to not only make sure YOU have the info right, but so he hears it back from you, and can clarify in his mind that that is what he wants. A calm, confident, almost maternal manner will have a good effect on him, I think. Then, you have to let go of the frustration, and know you've done the best you can. Don't take it home with you, and if mistakes are made or crises happen, make sure that you repeat the instructions you were given, and in a nice way make sure he and everyone knows you only did as you were instructed. Good luck!

My office manager mentioned that maybe have 2 shorter meetings instead of one since attention is an issue.

Email I think would be wonderful too! You can also print those so sometimes you will have your instructions in black and white to not reflect on you. Email would also be a short attention span needed.

I would never go to HR either. I don't know what they could really do if anything. Could possibly affect his review but then your boss may wonder where that came from.

Good Luck!

I agree that you shouldn't mention your "diagnosis" to HR. It sounds like you are doing a great job. I think the big thing is to continue documenting your conversations for your sanity and then let it go. Don't take responsibility for his errors. Just keep good documentation to cover your behind.

I would not go to HR about this. You sound as if you are more than capable of handling your boss and I feel you could probably speak to him and maybe between the both of you can come up with solutions on this matter.

I would first ask him if he would have a problem with you using a voice recorder during your daily meetings with follow-up by email. I would also have an outline ready of everything you spoke about the day before, if you are not already doing so this will also refresh his memory and may help him stay more focus on the tasks he needs you to do. If you have an exchange server at your job then you both can view the schedules etc and each of you can make notes of any changes also.

One of the bosses I work for carries a small recorder with him so during the day he can make his notes. They are then downloaded into my voice editing software where I can type an outline from the recordings. From the outline I can go to him the next morning and confirm, clarify or add anything else he did not remember.

if your boss does have ADHD keep in mind that they are intelligent but need assistants that can give them structure so they can shine in the best light possible.

By keeping a list of questions ready when you go into your meetings you will have less stress on your self also. if you are like me I know about the different projects yet to come, etc. I would go ahead and when I go into my meetings ask about them also even though he did not bring them up especially if you know of things that may be coming up in the near future.

I have a son who is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and a daughter who is ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I have read multiple books about these conditions.

What I have found with my kids is they both have times in their day in which they are more focused than others. This is the time I try to talk to them about the things that are going on with them i.e. school functions. I suggest you figure out what is the best time for your boss.

I have also noticed that after consumption of sugar and caffeine - they bounce of the walls. While I can control this (somewhat), you probably don't have that luxury. I say this because if your boss is a coffee drinker, late afternoon may be the time to discuss upcoming events etc.

The book that I would suggest is "ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life" by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau, PH.D. While this book is written for the ADD person, I think you would find it very valuable and insightful.

I admire you for taking this approach! Good luck!!!!

When I read your posting I thought that you were someone that worked in my office. We have the same exact problem here and it sounds like you are doing the same thing that we are with the colored folders, meeting once a day, etc. We also cannot go to HR with this problem so I just wanted to say that it sounds like you are doing a very good job with this and that you are not the only person with this problem. Hang in there.

You are doing a marvelous job! There are all kinds of people in the world. Your boss is lucky to have you. Just being understanding of the situation is the answer. And keep your notes to keep you covered!

DO NOT GO TO HR with this problem. You are not qualified to diagnose and they will not want to hear your complaint. I would suggest using checklists to help both you & the boss keep on track. You could even make him an e-mail form. Also, you should repeat everything he tells you about his requests/requirements because he may not always know what he has said to you (with his lack of focus). Do not let his problems upset you. Keep on doing the best job you can and keep extensive documentation. You never know when you might need it.

i had that problem recently yeah the distracted and disorganized boss. until i asked for a transfer because i could not take it any more -yeah four years-of the screaming, waiting in front of me until i finish what he asked for, blaming me for stuff not done-because he never told me, making mettings and not telling me about it,and what i got was reception, well what can you expect of a small company- not to worry i am receiving the same pay.
what i suggest is exactly that keep a journal of anything and everything you hear, see, calls, info from meetings with dates and times, then organize it by project in some type of binder so you always know the last thing done or said and of course by whom.
this will cover your back if he makes an evaluation, then you will have writen back up on your side.
hope this helps

First, I want to say that I have one son that is ADHD and one son that is ADD. My oldest will turn 18 in two months and it is apparent that he will take his disorder into his adult life. There are many adults that are ADD or ADHD. Many do not even know it. By the way, persons do not HAVE ADD or ADHD (like it is a disease); they are ADD or ADHD. The majority of persons with ADHD or ADD are extremely intelligent. If you truly feel that your boss could be ADD or ADHD, educate yourself on the disorder. Having this ensight will help you. It will help you help him. I think you have already received some very good suggestions. I agree that you should not disclose to ANYONE (stay professional) especially the HR dept. that you feel he may be ADD or ADHD. Handle all aspects of your job with as much organization as possible (even if it seems anal). In the end, it will benefit both of you. Use everything at your disposal to organize. Having him email you is an excellent suggestion, using a recorder for your meetings is also an excellent suggestion. (You can initiate that practice by stating that it is for your benefit) He doesn't have to know that is because of him. I don't know how open your boss is, but you could suggest that BOTH of you attend a seminar on becoming better organized. Then you can take that information and help him apply it to his needs and practices as well as yourself. You know how most people are fired up about implementing changes right after a seminar. You sound like you are more than capable of seeing this through. You just need to discover every resource there is and utilize as many as possible. Again, read up on the disorders so you can have a better understanding. It will also help to keep you from feeling resentful or overwhelmed on those tough days that come along. Your boss is very blessed to have such an observant and caring assistant. Many employees would just get frustrated, resentful and allow the situation to deteriorate. Hang in there and keep up the good work!

I have not one but two bosses w ADHD and each night I come home I want to inject lye in my veins, that's how they make me feel all day. They assign me dozens and dozens of frontal cortex tasks they can't handle and can't manage any of them as projects. I get conflicting answers from each on the same topic by e-mail, then no action. They are ruining my reputation and my career. Nothing is being done to address this in the workplace; all sympathy and support seems to be with the person w/ ADD. Years ago they would have been told to straighten up and fly right. I'm bitter. Very bitter.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Diana February 16, 2012 at 6:49 am

I agree with the poster above, I do not see why we are constantly given advice on how to help our bosses do their jobs. They are supposed to help us do our jobs! If they can not do their job, they should not have it.
I also ask myself what good having a HR department is if HR does not support employees. I guess HR departments are there to protect the company, and to pretend to the employees that the company cares about them.
If somebody has ADD, he or she should not be a boss. It’s a simple as that. Bosses are there to organize work and make sure things get done. If they have employees, they should support their employees- that’s what managing is! If they can’t do any of those things. they are not doing their jobs and should be fired. Nobody should be asked to cover for another person’s inability to do their job.

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Norman Silva February 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Exactly.

The unfortunate thing is that there are so many bosses with ADHD. How does this happen? I suppose because they are always in a flat spin of disorganization and are seen to be energetic.

I had a fat Italian boss with ADHD so that was a double whammy! Being Italian was bad enough – temperamental continental – (I can say that, I’m Spanish) but he couldn’t organize a party in a brewery.

Everything was always last minute and urgent.

I think when one interviews they should ask HR or the interviewer if the supervisor/boss for the position has ADHD – most probably won’t get the job but you’ll have peace of mind.

These people are a pain in the butt. As Diana says – nobody with ADHD should be a boss – it should be an instant disqualification.

It’ll never happen and if you have a boss with ADHD, find another job.

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Bruce June 11, 2014 at 3:44 pm

I’m not going to straight out say you have no idea what you’re talking about, but it’s close.

It all depends on the position and it’s requirements. A manager or director responsible primarily for innovation or strategy could do quite well with ADHD, even be better at their job because of it. In this case a personal assistant’s job IS to organize their bosses work, and if you don’t want to do that you should find another job.

As for a manager whose primary task is organizing and keeping track of the details of work, a PA for that person will end up doing their entire job and that’s not a good fit. If you find yourself in this situation, get out!

summary: ADHD = bad/disastrous for mid-level managers and a superpower for strategic or creative executives as long as they surround themselves with people whose strengths complement their own.

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Norman Silva June 13, 2014 at 12:02 am

Bruce,

I don’t know if you are replying to my post but if you are, it doesn’t make sense.

How can you say I don’t know what I’m talking about when I am relaying my time with an ADHD boss. I was there.

ADHD people have very often grown up without any discipline and structure in their lives. It’s like “hyperactive” children – the parents are normally wimps – look around.

I’m the other side of sixty and when I grew up there were no hyperactive kids or kids with ADHD or ADD.

As a business owner, I will never employ a person with ADHD. He can look elsewhere for a job.

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Norman Silva June 27, 2014 at 3:51 pm

To follow on with my last post about bosses with ADHD – they are often liars. All of them embellished a story and would lie without even thinking about it – it was second nature. This is the sad part about it because they go from lying part of the time to be downright dishonest – all because of the same underlying problem.

Just Google “ADHD liars” and see all the hits.

If they were asked a question they didn’t know the answer to, you could see the “cogs” turning, thinking of something to say.

These people should NEVER be bosses and need to go and work in an environment where they don’t make other people’s lives hell.

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ADDMouse October 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I have ADD and I suspect that my boss does too (although, I’ve worked for him for a little over 1.5 years and would not dare to suggest that he has it). Surprisingly, I am assistant number eight (or nine?) since he started at this company. From day one, I knew that he was a tough customer and told myself that if he pissed me off or pushed my buttons, I would give it to him straight up. We’ve had and will continue to have our moments, but we’re more like two elks locking horns. Five minutes later he’s forgotten about it and I’ve learned to just let go, as I can bear a grudge in other circumstances. He’s actually quite focused and organized in certain areas, so my services are more like the icing on top of the cake. I would say that if your boss has ADD, and is NOT ORGANIZED than you really will need to provide the structure. In my role, if I were the sole source of structure – the partnership would fail. But like many jobs as an executive assistant, despite having the skills required, you just may not be a good fit and may need to get serious about finding another position. I second all the posters who mention keeping thorough documentation and doing everything by email. I call this “data-driven ” CYA. Since I have ADD, I will have moments where I personally rely heavily on the electronic traffic to determine what I should do next.

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anonymous July 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm

I had a boss who TOLD me he had ADHD and working with him was extremely difficult. He even showed me his daily medication. He was abusive and moody to the entire staff. He could never keep his directives straight and acted as though he was never responsible for any miscommunication. My heart goes out to all the parents out there but please be aware that to work with such an individual can be a nightmare. (That is documented as well) This person was an adult, who has never kept a long time job and has primarily consulted throughout his career.
HR is not a good choice for employees to go to. HR is there for the company, not the employees. To be a good corporate employee requires people to not come to HR’s attention.
I would wait it out and see if you can transfer to another position. There is not win win in this kind of situation.

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JJpanella November 6, 2009 at 3:15 am

I was hired by a small company owner who has ADHD. He never had an Executive Assistant and his wife convinced him that he needed one. He seemed a bit scattered when we met and admitted that he needed help getting organized and focused. I thought I could handle the challenge. On day one he gave me a list of what he hoped to accomplish and we discussed how to best address his disorganization. He seemed pleased with my suggestions but spent almost no time with me to accomplish any of them. He had all his phone calls transferred to me and sat me at a desk in the middle of the office entry area. He stressed the importance of confidentiality but anyone walking by could read my computer screen or hear my phone calls and voice messages. I did not have a place to lock up private information or documents. He stressed his need to keep his personal files confidential so I asked for a headset. I explained that I was worried about keeping his information confidential in such a highly visible location. He thought I was complaining. On day two he asked me to drive his wife to the airport. She spent an hour telling me about her husband’s difficulties and how to best help him. While I was gone he didn’t address the critical office issues that prompted my driving to the airport instead of him. Instead, he gave me an 8 page typed spreadsheet of random thoughts and ideas and asked me to put them into categories on another spreadsheet. I worked on this the rest of the day while he closed himself in his office and claimed to be handeling company problems. I left at the end of the day without any contact from him. On day 3 I came in a little earlt to finish his spreadsheet so we could review the contents when he arrived. He came in and fired me! He said we were incompatible. My skills and work style didn’t match his clearly defined needs in the Exec Asst role. He had nothing clearly defined. He was scattered, fractured, egocentric, paranoid and non productive. I left a job to take this one and I am now unemployed. My advise – don’t take a job where you think you can make someone “better”. Run for the hills and don’t look back!

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