Most people have what they think are busy lives, and most of us try to do as much during a given day as possible, to live up to expectations, either our own or someone else’s. That means we’ve figured out where we can cut a few corners and do more than one thing at once, like drive and hold a conversation on a cell phone. Some folks extend that to an extreme degree, adding feeding the kids, reading the paper, programming the nav, and more while driving, local laws and bans be damned – these folks are dangerous.
At work, most people I know try to be as efficient with their time as possible, to maximize productivity, keep the powers that be happy, secure their position and keep on track. Some take this to an extreme as well, and the ones who suffer are their direct reports and subordinates. If you’ve ever had a boss that was trying to do too much at once, you know how much it drives employees to distraction, and the higher up the chain the ADD boss is, the more chaos they leave in their wake.
I know of one boss that has reports clinging to every word, not out of extreme interest, but because he rarely ever finishes a sentence, and the object part of the sentence typically contains the “who” or the “what” of the directive at hand. Without it, no one knows what’s expected of them or who’s been assigned half the time. So they all have to listen to each directive to get the big picture, and then divvy up the work as they see fit since the “real” assignments are incomplete or incomprehensible. Ultimately everything gets done, but the time wasted figuring out what’s needed and who’s to do it is actually making the busy manager redundant. I know, there are lots of coping strategies and work-arounds that would work to curb, change or otherwise eliminate this problem. But the point is, the boss is so conflicted, consumed and otherwise easily distracted by new inputs, whether from other coworkers, colleagues, his boss or others, that he can’t stay on track long enough to function. Most of this comes as a response to a reactive culture. What I mean by that is the company culture is one of very high expectation in terms of level of service, both internal and external, to the point of mandated response times on e-mails and phone calls (ie, you must respond in some form to the sender of an e-mail within 2 hours of it’s origination). This type of thing typically evolves in response to a complaint at some point in the past, that people were not responding quickly enough to get their tasks completed in a timely fashion. The reason for the lack of response was never explored, but a policy was put in place to combat it, nonetheless.
Under those circumstances, the ADD boss has trained himself to let go of what’s in front of him (ie the meeting in progress), and to return to the inbox, lest he miss something or not respond in a timely fashion. Meanwhile, his staff flounders, the meeting gains no momentum and nothing gets accomplished, yet at review time, the boss can say, “we held a meeting, told everyone what’s happening . . .”
Sometimes, the ADD behavior is simply a response to media bombardment – the brain’s receptors get inundated with input from phones, e-mail, TV, the radio, music downloads, meeting reminders, other conversations, web pages and all the rest, and rebels by not lighting on any one media, including humans, for long enough to overload – it’s sort of like your computer skipping around from app to app to use the available processing power to best advantage, but slowing the entire machine down in the process. Small bites for limited amount of time, rather than longer, more focused attention to one thing at the expense of everything else. This makes the ADD boss “think” he’s getting things done, but it’s an illusion.
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