Attention Deficit Trait: Causing Executives to Underperform

ADT: Why Smart Executives Underperform


ADT: Why Smart Executives Underperformed

The term (Attention Deficit Trait) first coined by Dr. Ned Hallowell, Harvard graduate and adult-child psychiatrist in 2005 seems to be more relevant today than it was back then. The former Harvard Medical School faculty member began seeing smart executives, who would otherwise be expected to perform at peak levels, begin to exhibit symptoms of distraction, harried impatience, and quick decision making. 

 Dr. Hallowell’s findings first appeared in the Harvard Business Review on Jan 1, 2005 titled (Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform)
“It’s sort of like the normal version of attention deficit disorder. But it’s a condition induced by modern life, in which you’ve become so busy attending to so many inputs and outputs that you become increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless and, over the long term, underachieving.”


Akin to ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), an inability to stay focused, Attention Deficit Trait is related to the high degree of technology devices which executives use and interact with in communicating on a daily basis. While many of these executives are perfectionists, wanting to handle serial communication requests simultaneously, from multiple devices like Smartphones, IPAD’s, Laptops, and Desk Top computers; doing so both day and night can lead to information overload and low performance.

This phenomenon affects many smart people, including executives, managers and engineers who are dependent on anytime communication to make decisions and interact with their counterparts, whether it is superiors, direct reports, peers, customers, family; the list goes on. Think about the intrinsic communication demands leveled on a daily basis that distract executives from making well thought-out decisions and how this can dumb-down critical thinking.

Questioning such technology innovation which broadband, mobile, wireless and telecom have leveled upon us in recent years and the limitations it has put on face-to-face communications, it is no wonder executives feel distracted to the point of confusion when it relates to priorities and sound decision making expected and valued by their peers.

How can executives cope?

It seems that an orderly distraction and prioritization is needed to combat Attention Deficit Trait that is, taking a break from electronic communication on a regular basis. 

I know this seems hard when business expects constant communication at any hour of the day, or night for that matter. If you receive 300 communication requests per day, how do you filter and prioritize them? 

It depends on how much expectation each individual has on being personally involved in communicating. 

The overload is not going away, but how it is handled can mean the difference in effectively being smart or dumb when it comes to performance.

We need human interaction on a regular basis. 

Taking a break to converse with others at different times during the day, every 4 to 6 hours may help ease the intense feeling of anxiety and distraction associated with Attention Deficit Trait. 

Tackle easy tasks first therefore giving more confidence in handling the harder ones later. 

Think positively, and know when you are most (on) during the day. 

Delegate tasks to employee strengths helping morale and take care of your health. 

These are all important aspects of keeping ADT under control while keeping your long-term smarts.

Leonard Grace
Founder of Broadband Convergent, a Broadband-Mobile-Cable-Wireless-Telecom market website focused on highlighting industry news and strategic issues within technology arenas. Highly researched and experienced insights and trends both inform and enlighten readers on current industry convergence of Broadband-Cable-Mobile-Wireless and Telecom Sectors.


Attention Deficit Trait: Causing Executives to Underperform