Fighting Fires Instead of Leading? You Might Be Suffering from Attention Deficit Trait

As a leader, do you sometimes feel like you're dashing from one emergency to the next?

If so, you’re like thousands of other leaders, struggling to stay on top of everything that’s coming at you, balancing multiple priorities, and unable to get ahead of the power curve.

Thinking about the future and your long-term strategy takes a back seat to just surviving the day and achieving short-term results.

Tough way to live as a leader, but it’s the increasing reality as more and more downward pressure is applied to achieve cost efficiencies and increase revenues.

As expectations have risen, so has the stress a leader must deal with.

When I was in the Air Force, I worked with a leader whose nickname was Jet. Jet’s Airmen loved him except that when you watched Jet work, you could never tell if he was coming or going. He’d tell you he didn’t know either because he was bouncing from one mini-crisis to the next.

Maybe your experience is similar to Jet’s: you’re constantly distracted, internally frenzied, and impatient. You struggle to set priorities, manage your time, and stay organized. You consider yourself a pretty darn good leader, but things just seem to be getting away from you and it’s frustrating the heck out of you.

Looking back, Jet may have been suffering from something Dr. Ned Hallowell calls Attention Deficit Trait (ADT), the third cousin of Attention Deficit Disorder.

How ADT Sends Your Brain Into a Tailspin

Whereas ADD is genetically determined, ADT is induced by your environment and your brain’s natural response to stress and fear. According to Dr. Hallowell, when your brain’s frontal lobes approach capacity and stress starts to affect you, your lower brain starts sending powerful signals to your higher brain to go into a survival state. This state translates into fear, anxiety, impatience, irritability, anger, or panic.

When ADT kicks in, the conversation in your brain goes something like this:

Frontal lobes to reptile brain, “Trying to deal with everything, but not having much success.”

Reptile brain to frontal lobes, “Run away! Abort! Abort! Abort!”

This cycle continues until your cognitive reasoning ability and your emotional intelligence start to erode and you regress back to cave-dweller mode.

When you are afflicted with ADT:

- You fall short of working at your full potential
- You know you’re capable of more, but you produce less
- You know your stuff but your decisions and actions don’t show it
- You find that you can’t concentrate on anything for very long or very deeply
- Your creativity goes down
- You work longer but don’t have much to show for it
- You start sacrificing your health and well-being to catch up

None of this is very good for your career OR your employees if they work in an environment that is conducive to ADT.

Remember, ADT is your “hardwired” response to stress. Although some stress is absolutely necessary for optimal human flourishing, running around in an ADT-induced survival state has deleterious effects on your ability to lead.

These negative effects hamper your ability to make good decisions, relate well to fellow workers, and deliver those all-important results.

Key Takeaway

The world of work is like living in a petri dish of ADT germs. You have responsibility as a leader to establish a working environment that mitigates against ADT. If you don’t figure out how to deal with ADT, you’re thrown into the fast lane of potential catastrophic leadership failure.

Some Things You Can Do To Avoid ADT

Dr. Hallowell recommends several straightforward techniques for leaders to ward off ADT:

- Stay connected with people at work and have a friendly conversation a couple times a day
- Reserve time to think and keep that time sacred
- Prioritize all your tasks including your email—some emails are more important than others
- Get good nutrition, enough sleep, and exercise
- Take micro breaks to clear your mind and relax a little
- Break larger tasks into smaller ones
- Set boundaries for interruptions for phone calls, pop-ins, etc.
- If you’re stuck, knock out something easy to give yourself a victory
- Take a walk to clear your head

Here’s the bottom line: make sure your brain’s jets are giving you optimal thrust instead of flaming out with ADT-driven behavior.

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