Career Advice from Powerful ADHD and LD Executives

Career advice from 5 top executives who transformed their attention deficit disorder or learning disability into an asset in the workplace.

ADD in the Corner Office, Part 3

At Jupitermedia, Meckler is famous for short meetings. He insists that if you can't describe something succinctly, then it isn't a good idea. "I believe in 'keep it simple, stupid,'" says Meckler. His skill at digesting very complex issues, to "listen to them, not read about them," enabled him to spot business trends and to take advantage of those opportunies before the competition did.

"I spotted the Internet as a business opportunity three or four years before anyone else," he says. "I started a newsletter and reporting service that covered the development of the Internet, then turned it into a magazine, then into a trade show. Internet World became the fastest-growing trade show in history, and was very big from 1994 to 1999." Meckler has since turned his attention to search engines and has launched a new trade show, Search Engine Strategies.

While the information industry generates reams of data, diagrams, graphs, and charts, Meckler depends on colleagues to interpret them for him. "I can understand very simple bar graphs," he says. "Once the chart has multiple lines, I can't follow it." When it comes to interpreting economic data, "I'll go to my chief financial officer and say 'take me through this.' I'll digest it instantly if I know the topic, but I can't follow it otherwise." Balancing his checkbook is also left to others.

This takes him back to his youth, his passion for baseball, and his learning disabilities. New York in the 1950s had three baseball teams, so there were plenty of statistics for young Meckler to keep track of. He overcame his math block through those stats. " I would devour the statistics," he recalls. "I memorized baseball averages, taught myself thirds, averaging out, and how to compute earned run averages." Then he confesses: "I still have problems if you tell me to divide - I can't figure out the numerator or the denominator - I have to go back and think of baseball averages to help me."

So that's the secret behind running a $47 million business.

Investing Wisely

Charles Schwab
Founder and chairman, Charles Schwab & Co.

Growing up in a family of modest means in a small town outside of Sacramento, Schwab had to struggle through Stanford before landing a job in a small brokerage house. It was a modest beginning for the man who would start the nation's fourth-largest brokerage firm.

As a child, he didn't know he had dyslexia - it was identified when the disability was spotted in his son 16 years ago. But he did know that he had to work much harder than other kids in school. He was good in math and science, but weak in reading and writing. "I eventually overcame dyslexia because I was a reasonably competent kid and had a pretty outgoing personality," said Schwab in Fortune Small Business. "I could communicate with my teachers, and I asked lots of questions in class. I think that's why I became favored among teachers. They'd say, 'Gee, Chuck really works hard at it. We gotta give him the B instead of the C minus.' "

His struggle with his learning disability shaped him as an entrepreneur. It taught him humility. "You're never quite certain you've accomplished what you wanted to do. It's wonderful fuel for motivation." It has helped him accomplish some things in his career that he wouldn't have believed possible.

"I was always aware of the fact that I excelled with numbers, even though I struggled with reading," he says. "I focused on my strengths and used my natural affinity for numbers and economics as the focus of my career."

Like economist Diane Swonk, he says, "I found something I was good at and became passionate about it. I also discovered that many skills and talents, in addition to reading ability, are as important in the making of a top executive. Character, ethics, communication skills, consistency, analytical and relationship skills. Those are important for leaders. I have some of those skills, and I work with a lot of great people who bring other strengths and talents to the table."

Add to that list of his assets, a spirit of generosity. After Schwab's son was diagnosed with dyslexia, the entrepreneur and his wife, Helen, decided to help other families who had learning-disabled children. They started schwablearning.org to give parents the answers to the million-and-one questions they have when their child has learning problems. They also began sparktop.org, a Web site for learning-disabled children.

Like most executives, Schwab values teamwork. "I have strong people around me who focus on day-to-day planning and organization," he says. "They know how to streamline my paperwork and to minimize my reading. It's really no different from most people who run companies or large departments. It takes a team to make things work well."

What advice would Schwab give to others with ADHD or dyslexia or another learning disability? "Find out what you can do well, focus on it, and work doubly hard," he says. "We all aspire to do the best we can with what we're dealt. Focus on your strengths. Don't be afraid to ask for help and to admit you need it." Look where that advice got Schwab.



This article comes from the December/January 2005 issue of ADDitude.

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