Exploiting Strength by Admitting Weakness

Instead of feeling jealous of others’ professional successes, I’ve learned that acknowledging my own weaknesses and relying on other people’s strengths can help me get ahead at work -- and in life.
ADHD CEO Blog | posted by Michael Laskoff

If you don’t have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), you probably think that the hallmarks of the condition are lateness, inattention, and impulsiveness. But if you live with the condition, you probably focus more on the frustration. In my case, it was always a seething sense of impotence and rage arising from a simple reality: I could never seem to actualize my intentions. And because I could never get anything done, I got angry at and was critical of those who could. This is not the sort of disposition that wins you friends or gets you promoted at work.

And so being diagnosed with and treated for ADD/ADHD was more than a breath of fresh air; it was a professional rebirth. For the first time, I understood my brain’s unique neurology, possessed medication to help with the chemical issues, and knew appropriate ways respond to difficult situations. I believed that I had everything necessary to succeed in all situations. I was wrong.

Sure, all of the above helped immensely. Suddenly, I could manage many challenges that would have previously left me inert. But I had also become more ambitious. What would have once been unthinkable suddenly became tangible and desirable but once again frustrating. I was using my new capabilities to good effect but also coming up against new limitations imposed by the ADD/ADHD.

I didn’t realize this right away. I worried that I was slacking, that the medication had stopped helping, or that I wasn’t effectively employing my compensatory strategies. In fact, the real issue was that I still had (and have) an ADD/ADHD brain, and that brain has limits. I am better when it comes to organization, mastery of time, and proportional response than I used to be, but I am not normal in those regards. As a result, I must still work much harder to achieve an acceptable result in many areas than most other people. And like it or not, this is a constant constraint.

Fortunately, I can have practical limitations while still having -- and achieving -- extraordinary ambitions. Doing so requires that I admit that I am not unique in having both strengths and weaknesses. Other people do as well. In my case, that meant acknowledging that I am better at creating opportunity than managing the day-to-day implementation. That’s not to say that I’m incapable of organizing, but there are others who are better at it than I am.

In the past, this would have been a problem. I would have been too jealous of someone else’s superior capabilities to allow him or her to be effective -- even when that envy negatively impacted me. Today, by contrast, I go out of my way to identify, secure, and reward the talents of people who excel in areas where I am merely average. I understand this is a luxury being the head of my company offers me, but no matter your position, if you can surround yourself with peers, mentors, direct reports, and bosses who can set a good example and provide a structured work environment for you, I imagine you could reap the same rewards I do. I benefit directly from their efforts and am genuinely impressed watching them succeed where I would likely fail. That’s not to say that jealously does not occasionally rear its ugly head, but it’s not overwhelming.

In short, success with ADD/ADHD isn’t always about overcoming weaknesses. Sometimes, it’s about acknowledging them as a means of delegating them to others. The result is more opportunity to focus on those areas where you can really shine.

 
 
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