10 Traits of a Great Manager: The ADHD Challenge

As I’ve noted in previous posts, management does not come naturally to me. I think great managers often had parents who taught them many of these managerial skills from day one, or other parental figures who did the same. Evolving as a manager I am also going through the process of determining whether management is for me. I am hoping I can sort it out and make it work as management is where the money is, but ultimately I may be better suited as an individual contributor. How many of these 10 Management Traits do you have?

1. Multi-Tasking Genius: The ability to multi-task is the requirement of a good manager. She needs to be on top of the goals of her direct reports, not only designing goals that map directly to upper management objectives, but also helping those who report to her achieve these goals. While great managers know that the best way to win is to step aside, there will always be times when their guidance is sought and they need to have a good answer or be able to quickly find it, all while working on numerous other projects and priorities.

2. Great Liars: While some may not call this trait “liars” the reality is the best managers are able to hide information from others, even when they’re asked directly about that information. The best managers are very cautious about what they say and when. If something is going wrong up above it’s up to the manager not to flip out and share their concern with their team but instead to pause, figure out the best way their team can solve the issue, if they can, and then communicate this pivot in priority to the team without causing any alarm. They certainly cannot say the first thing that comes to mind.

3. Patience: Managers must be patient, but not too patient. They must provide ample time for junior hires to learn their craft, and provide just the right amount of guidance so the employee feels supported without having inherited a new micromanaging parent. This is easy if the employee is already intelligent and motivated, but at times a manager receives hires that are not their first draft pick, and thus must determine how much they can help nurture an employee versus take on whatever gaps their are in that employee’s abilities and what needs to be done. Figuring out the right balance of this, with multiple direct reports, and many pressing goals, is a huge challenge.

4. People People: Great managers don’t need to be extroverts, but they do need to be engaging and well-liked by people. It’s extremely important for a successful manager to be able to manage up and down, both inside and outside of their organization. The best manager is able to win people over with ease, develop strategic partnerships, and orchestrate the world around them because everyone has great admiration and respect for the individual.

5. Organization Skills: Back to multi-tasking, the great manager must be hyper organized. Being an effective project manager at the top means less headaches from everyone involved all around you. That means constantly defining clear objectives, assuring upper management agrees on these objectives, breaking the objectives down into bite-sized tasks that your team can help deliver on, and creating a realistic yet aggressive schedule to deliver results. Success of this over and over again largely comes down to organizational skills.

6. Charisma:  The ability to hire well ties largely into how well the manager convinces the potential hire that he will be happy in their job. It’s said that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. I think that’s largely true. The best managers have charisma. They can have quiet charisma – the type where you always wonder what they are thinking – or loud charisma – the type that wins over an audience from the stage with humor. There are many different ways to be charismatic, but leaders must have some form of it.  The ability to hold a room captive – by choice – during a presentation is a must.

7. Prioritization & Time Management Perfectionist: In order to accomplish the thousands of competing tasks and goals at hand, a great manager must be a prioritization perfectionist. She must be able to quickly determine what tasks and goals are more important than the others. This is imperative because there will always be more goals and things to do then there is time to do it. Ultimately then she must figure out if this is a regular occurrence, if she should request a new hire to fill that gap. This all must be carefully determined before it’s too late and her organization is flooded with work without the bodies to do that work.

8. Imperfectionist: While it’s important to be a perfectionist in prioritization, the great manager knows when enough is enough. The 80/20 rule applies. Never get to 100% unless it’s on a product that will never be changed. Most tasks at work can be successfully accomplished and closed out at 80%. If you seek perfection you will fall further and further behind and be extremely stressed. It’s important for the great manager to know when to say “good enough.” Of course, this comes back to setting clear goals at the beginning so that everyone knows when 80% (not 79%) has been achieved. This is a huge challenge for me personally.

9. Good Listener: A great manager listens more than she talks. She asks the right questions and gets answers every single day that help her determine what to do next. She listens to the challenges faced by her direct reports and if they are reasonable works to help solve them.

10. Big Picture Thinker: While most of the manager’s life, especially at a startup, is in the weeds working on day-to-day fires, the great manager must also spend a significant amount of time above the clouds, or at least near them, figuring out how to best achieve future goals. If future goals are not clear, she must estimate what those future goals will be (using data, research and intuition) and figure out how the work being done today effects the work that will need to be done in the future.

Managing with ADHD

All 10 of these traits that make a great manager are areas that people with ADHD/ADD struggle with. I am curious if there are any other managers with ADHD out there who have figured out how to be effective (enough) in each of these areas to be successful. Or — do people with ADHD need to seek out careers outside of management in order to be successful (and remain sane)? 

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2 comments

  1. scott says:

    I have serve adhd and I am a technical project manager. I started off as a web developer but found the detail level and tediousness of coding all the time didnt work for me. After about 18 years of coding I transitioned into project management and so far it seems to work better for me. I have a number of clients who are happy with my work. Yet, I know it wont last forever and finding new projects as a freelancer is a huge challenge.

  2. It seems to me that people with ADHD could certainly be managers. I suspect they would need a lot of Charisma to possibly make up for other challenges or deficits they may have. I’m also inclined to think they may be better multi-taskers, but may have a different method than other individuals. Also perhaps a very different organizational scheme

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