Jungle Creations’ CEO Melissa Chapman shares how her ADHD diagnosis has helped quiet her inner critic and given her a new perspective on leadership.
I never ‘planned’ to be a CEO, although if I’m honest, I was never much of a planner for anything in life. From school exams to engagements with friends, being useless at making plans (and even more useless at sticking to them) became a personality trait.
That may give off an air of composed nonchalance and a carefree ‘come what may’ attitude, but that wasn’t the reality. The truth was, I always desperately wanted to be able to add structure to my life: create to-do lists, have an A to B-plotted out ambition and mission.
I knew what I wanted to achieve in my head. Yet, I felt completely stressed out and frustrated by the accidental spontaneity that seemed to characterise my day-to-day. And it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with ADHD six months ago that I started to understand my internal and external stack of contradictions more.
A (different) box of tricks
I don’t tick many of the stereotypical CEO boxes. I’m a female, a lesbian and I turned 30 this year. Thankfully, many of these boxes are fast eroding away – which I’m all for.
Outside of these things, I always imagined a CEO to be everything I felt I wasn’t. Structured within an inch of their life, emotionally predictable, up at 4am for yoga, a health shake and the gym, never leaving a task undone or an email unread. Certainly not the ‘set 12 alarms four minutes apart to make sure I get up’ person I felt I was.
I used to believe these were just personality flaws I couldn’t shake. I always knew that I was capable: I had a great work ethic, a wealth of ideas and the drive to turn them into innovations. Where I struggled was in backing myself to maximise them on a consistent basis.
This is where I started to feel quite an organic and understandable level of imposter syndrome; if I were just better at all the other stuff, I could be what my team or business deserve. However, the more I learnt about my ADHD (and continue to learn – it’s still new) the more tolerant and kind I’ve learnt to be with myself, just as I would expect to treat someone in my team if they brought a similar thing to me.
More than just ‘coming to terms’
I’ve been hyper conscious from the moment I joined the professional working environment that my style didn’t necessarily align with others in the room.
This has presented several challenges throughout my career – whether at the early stages, when trying to get my foot in the door, or as I rose through the ranks and attained increased responsibility for representing and promoting Jungle Creations, having to rub along with really senior people who did business according to a certain code.
This meant that suppression of my neurodivergent traits became a familiar feature of my everyday life. And this is tiring: having to constantly filter how you might conduct yourself intuitively requires an enormous amount of energy.
Am I a rude person? Why am I so impatient all the time? Worrying that you’re ‘too much’ or ‘too emotional/hot-headed’. Must. Stop. Interrupting. People. The constant fight with yourself over feeling lazy. A head so full of ideas, plans and ambitions but without a planning system to support execution can mean you end up doing none of them and feeling completely unfulfilled. Paralysing over-stimulation. Paralysing under-stimulation.
My diagnosis allowed me to appreciate that my intuitions weren’t wrong; they were a product of my brain working slightly differently to everyone else in the room. The medication that my diagnosis has unlocked for me alleviates the stress of self-regulation, meaning to many I appear the same as I always have done.
But beyond that, my diagnosis has given me a new view of what makes a good leader or CEO. There isn’t one archetype. It completely depends on the business you’re leading, the phase of growth, or where that business is at in its journey – and what challenges and opportunities it is facing.
Turning over a new leadership leaf
It’s important to remember that a CEO isn’t a one-person band. You have a leadership team around you, and the composition of that team is critical. In my case, I needed to understand what my gaps were, or the bits that, frankly, someone else would do better, and hire that person. Playing in a position, accepting the strengths you can really add and accepting support in the areas it’s needed all promote the true betterment of your organisation, rather than a personal agenda to be the best at everything.
This greater understanding of myself and how who I am relates to work has allowed me to expand my horizons. How can I ensure our business offers this same space and consideration for anyone else that might need it? And how can we push this out into the broader industry landscape as well as education?
Today, I have new energy resources. I can focus on bringing the best of my ADHD to the room. From different enthusiasms to different ideas, it has unlocked a superpower that I’m excited, not scared, to see flourish.
Read the original article on Management Today