How Knowing about ADHD Helps Us Understand the Value of Vertical Development

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Recently, my daughter was diagnosed as having ADHD-I. As my wife and I have been learning about ADHD-I, my wife has been wondering whether she has ADHD-I.

In my research, I have found that ADHD-I commonly goes undiagnosed, and this is particularly the case for adult women.

ADHD-I is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder-inattentive. It is one of the three subtypes of ADHD, with the other two being predominantly hyperactive/impulsive type (ADHD-HI) and combined type (ADHD-C).

All ADHD types involve executive functioning issues within one’s brain.

Hypothetical Situation

Let’s imagine you have a colleague/leader/subordinate that demonstrates the majority of the following behaviors:

  • Struggles with attention to detail
  • Struggles to complete tasks on time
  • Procrastinates on tasks that require extended focus
  • Struggles with goal setting or thinking ahead into the future
  • Is a talker and tends to draw out conversations or meetings longer than they need to be
  • Is an interrupter
  • Struggles to listen effectively
  • Doesn’t respond to emails in a timely manner

If you were to provide development opportunities for them, what would you likely do?

It is likely that you might have them attend time-management, communication, and/or emotional intelligence workshops (i.e., horizontal development).

While that makes sense at a surface level, what if this person has ADHD-I?

If this person has ADHD-I, it is likely that the workshops are not going to help much at all. This is because the issue is not a lack of skill or ability to learn. They can learn the time management techniques or the keys to effective communication/listening. But, they may not be able to engage in what they learned because the issues with their executive functioning prevent them from performing them.

Stated differently, those workshops were an attempt to download apps onto an iPad that is unable to utilize those apps.

Upgrading One’s Internal Operating System

It is estimated that over 5% of adults have ADHD, most of them undiagnosed. It is my guess that you know at least one colleague/leader/subordinate that demonstrates the symptoms identified above. Personally, I have worked with at least 5 executives within the last year that demonstrate these symptoms.

If we are working with such individuals, workshops focused on improving knowledge and skills (horizontal development), will only be incrementally helpful at best.

If we want to see transformational changes in these people, they need to engage in efforts and activities that focus on improving the executive functioning in their brain. The most common approaches for doing this with people with ADHD are medication and neurofeedback therapy. These are the approaches that get to the root of the issue and stand the chance to be the most transformational.

These would be examples of vertical development: They are a developmental approach focused on upgrading one’s internal operating system.

businesswoman looking distracted at her desk

Vertical Development

All people can grow and develop as people and leaders. And, when there are obvious areas for growth and development, it isn’t always because they have a neurological disorder like ADHD. In fact, in the majority of instances, they don’t have a neurological disorder.

My experience working with leaders is that most of them have the knowledge and skills to do their job effectively. But, most of them are not operating as a refined, mature, and sophisticated leader (e.g., they operate as a doer and not a facilitator). They don’t need horizontal development. They need vertical development.

I hope that the discussion above, using the extreme example about ADHD, helps you to see the value of focusing on vertical development.

Simple approaches to developing leaders never work. If we want to see transformative development of our leaders, we need to engage in vertical development efforts to upgrade their internal operating systems, which will always involve a rewiring of their minds (e.g., changing mindsets) and maturity of their nervous systems (e.g., widening their window of tolerance).

If you would like to employ vertical development efforts in your organization, connect with me here.

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