Entrepreneurs and ADHD: is it a help or a hindrance?
With an ever-growing understanding of mental health issues and their impact on a person’s life and well-being, attention has naturally been placed on how mental health issues affect people’s employability and productivity as well. Yet how does mental health affect entrepreneurs?
Mental health issues are known to impair an individual’s daily functioning. As a result, the effects of mental health have previously been studied as either being a detriment to entrepreneurship or the entrepreneurial process overall. However, how mental health impacts on entrepreneurial performance remains a conundrum, especially when specific disorders are taken into consideration.
One of these disorders is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, characterised by symptoms such as impulsiveness, inattentiveness, being unorganised and an inability to stay still. With more than a quarter of entrepreneurs reportedly exhibiting higher levels of ADHD, a discussion of how this mental condition is affecting entrepreneurial propensity and performance is long overdue.
Professor Vasiliki Bamiatzi has been researching the effect of key ADHD symptoms, namely inattention and impulsivity, to bridge this gap in the literature. By monitoring those diagnosed with ADHD-like symptoms at age 10 and examining the employment implications of their symptoms in adulthood, the study aims at better understanding the long-term effects of childhood ADHD symptoms, while further examining the underlying causes of the ADHD-entrepreneurship relationship.
The study draws from the theory of person-environment (PE) fit, which states that individuals are attracted to vocations perceived to fit the same characteristics as their personality. In line with PE theory, it could be argued that ADHD individuals are drawn to entrepreneurship due to their impulsive nature. After all, a key component of being an entrepreneur is seeking the novelty of a new enterprise and taking a risk to start a new business venture.
It has been found that individuals -particularly males- diagnosed with symptoms of ADHD in childhood are drawn to an entrepreneurial lifestyle. However, by examining the different components of ADHD - impulsivity vs. inattention - it becomes clear that it is not the inherent impulsive nature of ADHD individuals that drives them to entrepreneurship, but rather their inattention. Inattention causes an inability to maintain interest with a particular task or venture for long periods of time. The perceptions of the entrepreneurial lifestyle enabling more flexibility and higher control, along with avoidance of anything competitive or mundane, may be the reason many individuals characterized with ADHD symptoms strive for this life choice.
It is further observed that, whereas childhood ADHD symptoms predict a positive propensity towards entrepreneurship, the same traits may also be the culprits for long-term under-performance. While starting a business can be new and exciting, growing a business is very competitive and demanding. This change can be difficult to handle while seeking new thrills and suspense. As Professor Bamiatzi points out, “resilience, resourcefulness and patience are pertinent attributes when growing a business, attributes that ADHD individuals may find hard to maintain for long.”
In addition to a greater understanding of mental health and psychological interventions, Professor Bamiatzi’s research aims to raise awareness of the variety of needs that people with mental health conditions face, specifically the often overlooked but highly influential symptoms of ADHD.
Self-employment can be a largely beneficial option for many ‘non-typical’ individuals, however the diverse symptoms of ADHD may make it hard to fit into these environments, as well as within organisations. Therefore, a greater understanding of the needs of people with ADHD may lead to ways of adapting the workplace environment to cater for their needs and lead to greater success within their careers.
The lack of understanding surrounding ADHD in female business owners is also something that needs greater exploration. Women diagnosed with ADHD have been shown to have severe impairment within their day to day lives, which holds them back from pursuing the entrepreneurial lifestyle in the first place.
It starts at school
A final interesting and unexpected finding from the study is that education is pivotal in the relationship between entrepreneurship and ADHD. The role of educational settings in identifying ADHD-like symptoms in youth may have significant benefits in their adult lives.
Much is said about the negative impacts of ADHD within schools, such as a link to levels of rule-breaking behaviours, often leading to suspension and detention. This could lead to long-term maladaptive behaviour, potentially even driving them towards criminality. Early diagnosis of ADHD individuals, followed by career advice tailored to their needs, may have an instrumental effect in helping these people to reach their full potential and lead them to more successful careers in the future.
About the researcher
Vasiliki Bamiatzi is Professor of Strategy and International Business in the Department of Strategy and Marketing. She is currently acting as Director of Research for the International Business group, and Director of the International Business and Development research hub.
Read the paper
Rajah, Nasir, Bamiatzi, Vasiliki and Williams, Nick (2021) How childhood ADHD-like symptoms predict selection into entrepreneurship and implications on entrepreneurial performance. Journal of Business Venturing, 36(3), 106091.