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Unlocking Entrepreneurial Success with ADHD Using Systems & Support
Episode 14728th February 2023 • The Driven Woman Entrepreneur • Diann Wingert
00:00:00 00:36:00

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If you have heard that ADHD is the “entrepreneur’s superpower” you might be more than a little confused.  Let’s face it, ADHD is a diagnosable neurobiological disorder that can create countless struggles in life.  So, which is it: superpower or disability? In this episode, I will unpack some of the myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes regarding ADHA and entrepreneurship, share the three subtypes of ADHD and which one I see more often in successful female entrepreneurs, the need for support in business and life for those with ADHD, the importance of taking risks, developing resilience and leveraging hyperfocus and your zone of genius.  I will also clarify the difference between having ADHD traits and having an ADHD diagnosis. 

"If you suspect that you have ADHD, you have experienced failure. And at the very least, you've had tons of experience with adapting to your circumstances, circumstances that were not designed for you."

In this episode, you will learn the following:

1. What is the connection between entrepreneurship and ADHD?

2. What does it take to be successful as an entrepreneur with ADHD?

3. How do entrepreneurs with ADHD leverage their strengths and neutralize their struggles?

Mentioned in this episode:

Some of my interviews on this topic on other podcasts: 

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Chapter Summaries:


Not all entrepreneurs have ADHD, period. And not all people with ADHD become entrepreneurs. There are three different types of ADHD. Knowing what you're good at? Knowing what is in your zone of genius and what comes naturally to you is probably the best way to become successful as an entrepreneur with ADHD.


If you suspect that you have ADHD, you have experienced failure. That experience is one of the most important things that we need to learn how to do better as entrepreneurs. It develops resiliency. It does not mean you are not destined to succeed and succeed big time as an entrepreneur.


Another trait I see very often in entrepreneurs with ADHD is a very strong need to make a difference and to have an impact. Not everybody who has ADHD is ready to have a business, especially if they're just learning about their ADHD. To be diagnosed with ADHD, you have to have enough of the traits.


When it comes to the ADHD brain, there's a hierarchy of drivers. The top tier is interest. When we put our minds to something that is fascinating, we are able to tap into the power of hyper-focus. The third is novelty. The fourth is urgency.  When all else fails, and we are up against a deadline, urgency gets the job done, but it’s not our best work. 


Well, hey there, driven woman entrepreneur, and welcome back. This is your host, Diann Wingert for another hard-hitting No BS-ing solo episode. And today's topic is gonna be a juicy one because we're here today to talk about the connection between entrepreneurship and ADHD. Now, unless you have been living under a rock for the last decade, you've never even heard of TikTok, and you don't even know what those four little letters stand for, chances are you have asked yourself, do I have ADHD? Because these days it seems like just about everyone thinks they do or thinks someone they know has ADHD. So let me just say right from the top, not all entrepreneurs have ADHD. Period. And not all people with ADHD become entrepreneurs. There are many similarities and there's some really important distinctions as well. But let me just take you on a short walk down memory lane, because when I first started learning about ADHD in the nineties, at that time, just about the only people who were crazy enough to become entrepreneurs were men, and most of those men grew up as hyperactive little boys who did not do well in school. So going to college was just not an option for them, what did they decide to do instead?

Well, many of them started a business because the idea of having to answer to someone else when they weren't able to do that in school was simply out of the question. Now a handful of these guys went on to become wildly successful, and the more hyperactive they were, the more like they were serial entrepreneurs. We are talking about the CEOs of big, big companies like Kinkos and JetBlue. Even the famous Sir Richard Branson has spoken very publicly about his ADHD. But here's the thing, back in those days, just a few decades ago, if you had ADHD and knew it, you were a man. You had probably been identified as a boy, your parents got called from school because you couldn't sit still, keep your hands to yourself and keep your damn mouth shut. So clearly that was a problem with your education, but oftentimes these were the smartest boys in the room, even if they were almost impossible to manage. So what did they do when they decided to go out on their own and start their own company?

Most of the time they had a wife, girlfriend, assistant, or maybe all of the above to help them manage the back of the store stuff they just weren't good at. And therein lies one of the secrets to being successful with ADHD, you don't do stuff you suck at. Now I don't happen to have a wife or a girlfriend, I do have an assistant, and I will tell you one of the secrets to managing my ADHD. And by the way, since I'm sharing it on the podcast, it's not a secret is, know what you're good at, knowing what you're good at, knowing what is in your zone of genius, what comes naturally to you, and finding a way to make money on that while getting other people to do the rest is probably the best way I know to become successful as an entrepreneur with ADHD. But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself because if you are wondering, well wait a minute. If ADHD is allegedly the entrepreneur's superpower, because there are plenty of folks out there who say it is, I've had people say to me, oh, I'm really sorry, but I'm pretty sure I don't have ADHD. Wow, that's an interesting twist of fate.

It used to be we were the ones who were apologizing, but now there's so many people talking about ADHD as a superpower and as a gift and something that really makes you very possibly successful as an entrepreneur. It's almost like, wow, how do I get me some of that, it's much more complicated than that. Okay, so let's tease out some of these things. First of all, the likelihood that you started a business because you were a boy who didn't do well in school was because you were hyperactive and impulsive. Now, if you don't already know this, there are three different types, subtypes, if you will, of ADHD. In my former life I was a licensed psychotherapist with a licensed to diagnose people with all of these different types of ADHD and since all three types are present in my immediate family, I know a thing or two about 'em. The predominantly inattentive distractible that is the person who is most likely to be female, most likely to be anxious and may have difficulty with emotional eating, but they're not going to be the ones who are calling out to the teacher in the classroom. They're not gonna be pushing and shoving other kids on the playground. They are not gonna be wiggling and giggling and refusing to be quiet and turn in their work on time.

So they're probably not going to be diagnosed in childhood, which is one of the reasons why we are seeing such a dramatic increase in the ADHD diagnoses among adult women. But let's go on, the other two types are the predominantly hyperactive impulsive type tends to be male, most likely to be an entrepreneur or in jail or on drugs, seriously. That's one of the reasons why it really frustrates the hell out of me to hear so many people talk about ADHD is the entrepreneur superpower. It can be, however you need to have support in your business and in your life to manage the things you don't do well. Whether that is household help, a really patient intolerant personal assistant or a loving spouse because if you are really hyperactive and impulsive, chances are you're gonna do things that probably if you had thought through, you would've thought better of. So having somebody who watches your back and maybe holds onto your credit cards is not a bad idea.

Now the combined type is both hyperactive and impulsive and inattentive and distractable, and oddly enough, you would think that would be the worst of both worlds. But the combined type is what I see most often in successful female entrepreneurs and let me tell you why. I happen to be combined type ADHD, and many of my clients are as well. We have enough inattentiveness and distractability to struggle, which means we will probably seek out help either in the form of ADHD medication or therapy or coaching or all of the above because distractability is very frustrating and really interferes with your success. But without also having the features of impulsivity and hyperactivity, we're not as likely to take the kind of action that really moves the needle. So in my not so humble opinion, the female entrepreneurs that I see being most successful tend to be the combined type.

So we have features of inattentiveness and distractability, so we know we need those systems and supports, but we're just hyperactive and impulsive enough to be able to be fast thinking, fast acting, risk taking, and able to bounce back from failures. Now, if ADHD is a superpower for entrepreneurs, this is the reason why, you gotta take risks, right? You've gotta be able to take risks or someone else will, and they'll be eating your lunch. Risk-taking and sensation seeking are what I call a low boredom threshold and a low tolerance for boredom. Meaning when you have ADHD and you have a lot of drive and you really love the business world, you will do just about anything to avoid feeling bored and what does that mean? Well, if you don't get yourself into trouble with alcohol, drugs, affairs, social media obsession, whatever it is, chances are you are going to be taking risks in your business, and it can even feel like a game that you want to win. You have to be hyperactive enough and impulsive enough to get yourself to take risks.

Like who starts a company in a field where they have no connections, no money, and no previous experience? Well, a person with ADHD will because they will think something's possible simply because they have so much passion for the idea. People with ADHD that become successful entrepreneurs often do so because they're able to make decisions based on intuition rather than logic. Now, intuition can certainly steer you in the wrong direction, and I have plenty of cringeworthy and regrettable moments in my own life to prove it. But passion and determination combined with intuition and high energy can really make a difference in whether you go after an idea or you sit on the sidelines and watch someone else do it. Entrepreneurs with ADHD also tend to work really well under pressure, which is one of the reasons why we tend to be fond of multitasking.

Now, I think a certain amount of what we would call multitasking is necessary because all the entrepreneurs I know are hella busy and are dealing with tons of moving parts on a daily basis but we also have to know ourselves well enough and understand the way our brains work well enough to know when we need to eliminate interruptions and distractions, where multitasking would actually cause us to make mistakes. And if we simply can't get ourselves to do that well, that's where the really well trained and empowered executive assistant can. Now as for that high energy, you know, starting a business oftentimes requires really long days and a lot of them, but you know what else it requires something that I think, unfortunately, women do not have as much experience with. I've talked about this previously on the podcast, it's failure. And the reason for this is, well, just imagine if you're a little boy and you can't sit still and you can't shut up and you can't keep your hands to yourself, you're gonna get in a lot of trouble. You're gonna get a lot of attention but if you've had good parenting, and you've had the opportunity to participate in sports, whether they be individual sports, even better, team sports, you will also have the experience of taking in both positive and negative feedback.

You will have the experience of trying your hardest and failing anyway. You will have the experience of walking home with a fail that wasn't your fault. But it was the fault of other people that you're part of a team with. So learning to do your best on the field or on the court or on the track and failing and getting up and trying again, and maybe failing again and trying and failing and trying and failing, that experience which is more common to boys, at least in the previous decades is one of the most important things that we need to learn how to do better as entrepreneurs. You know why, because it develops resiliency. I think even without experience in competitive sports, people who have a pretty good sense of self, who have fairly healthy self-esteem, can acquire that resiliency in childhood as a kid with ADHD of any gender, simply because we grow up and attempt to succeed in a world that was not made for us.

The whole school system, and most corporations as well as government law, all the systems that we are surrounded by were made by and for neurotypicals, in other words, people who don't have ADHD. So struggling to fit, struggling to make sense of struggling to succeed, struggling to make friends, struggling to stay outta trouble. All those struggles growing up, struggling to understand yourself. All of those struggles, unless you give up, give in to helplessness and hopelessness and overwhelm will make you stronger and more resilient. So don't despair if you didn't have the experience of competitive sports growing up. It does not mean you are not destined to succeed and succeed big time as an entrepreneur, because I promise you, whether you found out you had ADHD as a kid, you just found out five minutes ago, or you've never even been officially identified. If you suspect that you have ADHD, you have experienced failure, and at the very least, you've had tons of experience with adapting to your circumstances. Circumstances that were not designed for you.

I was thinking about this recently, one of my three kids is left-handed, and I don't think I really appreciated when he was growing up, just how difficult many things were for him, simply because he was a lefty. Well, I think that's kind of a good metaphor or analogy. I never know which is which for someone who grows up with ADHD, you learn how to work with challenges. And that develops a certain resiliency, but also a certain determination that no matter what, I'm going to keep going. Another trait I see very often in entrepreneurs with ADHD is very strong need to make a difference, to have an impact, something that the StrengthFinder assessment calls significance. It happens to be my number four in my top five StrengthFinder themes, the need to make a difference, and entrepreneurs I mean, if you wanna take the basic definition that we've probably all read, entrepreneurs identify a problem and create a new solution. How's that for making a difference? How's that for having an impact and making something significant?

So, I don't believe that every entrepreneur has ADHD. I also don't believe that every person with ADHD can or should be an entrepreneur. But I do think if you are an entrepreneur and you suspect or know you have ADHD, there's something else that you really need to understand about it. How we deal with our identity is really, really important. If you've been listening to me for a while, that means over two years, you probably remember that when I first launched this podcast, I talked about women with ADHD a lot, and if you've continued to follow me over the last year, you'll notice that I rarely, if ever mention it. You might have wondered why that is, and I've never really publicly explained it. Let me tell you now exactly why, initially I called out to women with ADHD who were entrepreneurs or wanted to start a business, and what I learned is that many of the women who reached out to me, and some of them worked with me were brand new in their ADHD journey. Many of them were also brand new in their business journey.

It was thrilling and very satisfying to me to be able to mentor them both as business owners and as women with this unique kind of brain, but not everybody who has ADHD is ready to have a business, especially if they're just learning about their ADHD. Finding out that you have ADHD as a grown ass woman is kind of a thing to deal with in and of itself. Now, if you already have a business, you've been dealing with these traits already in your life, in your relationships and in your business. Sometimes the ADHD diagnosis comes as almost a relief because you realize I'm not lazy, I'm not crazy, I'm not broken, I'm not self sabotaging, my brain works differently. And you can efficiently and quickly go about figuring out what do you need to do to leverage your strengths and neutralize your struggle. But if you're starting a brand new business at the same time that you have a brand new diagnosis, that can be very, very challenging.

So what I'm finding over time is that I enjoy working with people with or without ADHD, who are a little bit further along in their business journey. Many entrepreneurs have ADHD traits but actually don't have the diagnosis, which is one of the other things that I think a lot of people don't understand. I mean, there are plenty of people who don't even think ADHD is a real thing. There are plenty of people think it is something that's been made up by the pharmaceutical companies to sell pills or drug children to make them more compliant. That is beyond the scope of this podcast for me to comment on in any way, shape, or form. But simply having these traits does not mean you qualify for the diagnosis. The main reason, and I think the reason why so many entrepreneurs didn't even have a clue that they had ADHD until well into their adult life and into their entrepreneurial journey, because when you understand what you're really, really good at and you were able to work in that genius zone.

You were able to get the support structure and systems in place that eliminate or minimize the areas where you struggle. You wouldn't even qualify for a diagnosis, even though you have these traits and the reason is this. In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, and this is for everyone listening, whether you're an entrepreneur or not, in order to be diagnosed, you have to have enough of the traits and you have to have impairment as a result of these traits. I know several very successful entrepreneurs who never bothered to get diagnosed with ADHD, in fact, they never even stopped to consider whether they might have it. Most of the time they didn't even get the four letters in the right order in conversations with me and they said, well, I just know that I'm different. I know that I'm passionate. I know that I'm very determined. I know that I go about solving problems differently. I know that I need a lot of structure and systems, or I'm all over the place. I know that I work well under pressure. I know that I'm really curious. I know that I'm a risk taker. I know that I do things other people think are crazy. I know that I treat boredom like a life-threatening condition.

I know that I can be impulsive, but frankly, all of my friends are entrepreneurs and they're exactly like me, this is probably true. If you know what you're good at, you know what you struggle with, you have no shame whatsoever about putting systems and structures in place and hiring support to help you deal with those struggles. You wouldn't even qualify for a diagnosis if you went to a trained psychiatrist because you would be lacking the impairment. Now take away the systems, take away the structures, take away the support, take away the wife and the executive assistant, chances are you would struggle, in fact, I'm almost certain that you would. One of the reasons why women entrepreneurs with ADHD struggle more is because we simply have more roles that we fill in our life. We are still the primary caregivers of children even if we have a male spouse, we are still the ones who do the majority of the household labor, even if we have a spouse. So women will tend to struggle more because we have less social approval for simply delegating, offloading, or outsourcing everything that we don't enjoy and we're not good at.

Now, this, I believe, is slowly changing, but this is where we are right now. There are a growing number of people who are very interested in the topic of entrepreneurship and mental health, and specifically entrepreneurship and ADHD. One person who I think is quite noteworthy is Dr. Johan Wiklund, I will link to him in the show notes. He is a professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University and he has been speaking and researching and publishing on this topic for quite some time. But a growing number of people are taking interest in this because you know, and I know that entrepreneurs think differently. People with ADHD think differently. You don't have to have ADHD to be an entrepreneur and you do not need to be an entrepreneur if you have ADHD, but if you do, the things that you need to know are you do not need to go get a diagnosis, you really don't. The only reason why anyone would wanna get a diagnosis, there's two reasons.

One, if it would set your mind at ease because you're just curious and you wanna know. The main reason though would be because you believe you might benefit from a trial of stimulant medication, which you can only obtain with an official diagnosis. If that is you, I strongly recommend if you are able to access a child psychiatrist, they are the best trained to make the diagnosis. Now, I know this podcast is global and there are people listening in the United States, Canada, Europe, and other countries and continents, so you may not have the same access and frankly, it's not even always easy to find a child psychiatrist in the States. But I hope because the diagnosis is on the rise, the fastest growing group of people being identified as ADHD are adult women, specifically women over forty and I believe that, you know, it's like supply and demand. The more people who need something, hopefully the supply chains around this will open up and maybe we will have more people trained to be able to make the diagnosis.

But if you have no interest in the diagnosis, you have no need of the diagnosis this is something you do need to know. I'm gonna recommend one book to you. Don't do a deep dive and start going down the rabbit hole of everything that's ever been written about ADHD, totally not necessary, you got better things to do with your time. I still think, even though this book has been around for a very long time, and I have read dozens of others, Delivered from Distraction by Dr. Ned Hallowell is still the Bible. It really is extremely helpful book and because ADHD is genetic, chances are you have a kid or grandkid or brother or sister or mom or dad who also have ADHD. The book is really user friendly and really talks about this diagnosis across the lifespan, and I'm gonna guess that probably others in your family may also be entrepreneurs. The other thing I want you to know, is this something I talk about a lot with my clients, many of whom have ADHD, some officially identified, some not, these traits are also true of many people who are gifted.

You need to know what drives and specifically when it comes to the ADHD brain, there's a hierarchy of drivers. If you have a hard time getting yourself going, it might be because the thing you need to do just isn't interesting enough to you. So the top tier of drivers, and that means the things that'll get you outta bed, get your feet on the floor, get you moving, get you shaken, and get you making a difference in the world, number one category at the top tier is interest. Interest, something that's interesting to you, something that's intellectually fascinating to you, a problem that you can't wait to dig into and solve something you're curious about, something that is naturally engaging to you. You know why, because when we put our mind to something that is fascinating, we are able to tap into something that I do think comes pretty damn close to being an ADHD superpower.

What am I talking about? Hyperfocus. When you are engaged by something that you are doing or learning about, it can grab a hold of your mind so powerfully you won't remember to eat, you won't remember to sleep, you won't remember to use the bathroom. I recall a very specific incident where I was learning something that was so captivating to me, I got a call from my kids' school because I forgot to pick them up from after school daycare. I literally forgot I had kids. That is the power of hyperfocus and there are ways to manage that because of course if you can't turn your focus off, all kinds of problems could be encountered but we need to do things that interest us.

Driver number two, challenge. Now, I have learned through my own life and through the lives of my clients that the challenge needs to be within a certain fly zone. If it's not quite challenging enough, it's not gonna flip that switch in your mind that says it's go time. So it has to be challenging enough that means stimulating enough, competitive enough. It might be challenging because someone else doesn't think you can do it. It might be challenging because you happen to know of a competitor who is neck and neck with you on getting a product to market. You might be challenging yourself to do something in less time than you think it takes. Whatever that specific challenge button or switches for you, that is the second tier that gets you going and keeps your drive engaged.

Third is novelty. We get a lot of shade for this one because people who talk about squirrel or shiny object syndrome or fomo. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about, that is our distractability. Something new, something different, something shiny, sparkly, glittery or just different. It could be no better than what we have now, but the fact that it's different than what we have now makes us wanna go racing after it with both hands. I have encountered this countless times, wanting to change software platforms. Every time something new comes along and my team has to talk me out of it because that's not efficient. Every time something new comes along, I wanna hop on that bandwagon, then I have to learn a new system, they have to learn a new system. Chances are it's no better than what we're already using so I kind of need to be smacked down from that but novelty is definitely a driver for us. And if you really, really struggle in that department because of fomo, because of shiny object syndrome, because of your squirrel tendencies, whatever you call it, build systems and support into your business to keep you from going off the rails with that otherwise, you're gonna be like a bowling ball that's always going down the gutter.

Last driver in the stack and unfortunately, when we don't understand ourselves well and we don't manage ourselves well, we will default to this one more often than we'd like, and that is urgency. This is why people with ADHD and specifically entrepreneurs with ADHD say, I work well under pressure or I need a deadline to get the job done. Yes, that is because urgency is a driver and when coupled with a very common tendency of entrepreneurs with ADHD, which is procrastination, will procrastinate on the stuff we're not interested in. Going back to driver number one, if we're not interested, it's not that challenging, it isn't new anymore, we will default to urgency. These are the people who are driving through the line in the post office on tax day at five minutes to midnight cuz they literally just got their taxes done.

So we owe it to ourselves as entrepreneurs with ADHD brains to leverage the top two drivers to leverage our interest and to leverage what's challenging to us, and then to manage the novelty and the urgency. That's how you stay out of trouble. That's how you succeed. That's how your ADHD can actually become a superpower. So what about me? I am no longer calling myself an ADHD coach, and the reason why is that I learned that there's a ton of people jumping into the ADHD coaching space that have personal experience with ADHD. Maybe they're married to someone with ADHD, maybe they've got a kid with ADHD, but they do not have decades of experience as a professional and a business owner who is managing their own ADHD. So I'm not calling out to ADHD, I'm calling out to entrepreneurs because I know, many, if not, most of them have these traits and I really don't care about the diagnosis anymore.

I am no longer a licensed psychotherapist. I put my license on inactive status. I am no longer in the business of handing out diagnoses. I am in the business of helping people understand their strengths and their struggles so they can leverage the first and manage the latter. So ADHD or not, if you're an entrepreneur, I welcome you to listen to this podcast. I may not necessarily refer to ADHD nearly as often as I used to, but I will frequently talk about the things that are challenging for us, like procrastination, perfectionism, people pleasing impulsivity, time blindness, and so on. If you'd like to know more, you can click on the links in the show notes. I will be personally in touch with you. I hope this has been helpful, and if you have been waiting for me to say something about this publicly, I'm sorry it took me so long. Maybe that's my ADHD procrastination. Anyway, I hope this was helpful. We will be back next week with another fabulous guest interview. Stay driven.