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Ready for the Next Leadership Challenge

Ready for the Next Leadership Challenge?

As a business leader, your role is to create a strong team that collectively delivers the desired outcomes. This relies on your skills to discover and channel talent. It’s relatively straightforward when you have a team that thinks and works similarly to you. However, we know that the best teams consist of individuals with different skills.

So, what if some of your team operate in a very distinctive way? They have the potential to drive productivity, problem-solving and profitability, but to do so, specific needs have to be understood and met. Many leading organisations are beginning to embrace this concept and it could be your next leadership challenge.

Embracing Neurodiversity

What do IBM, Deloitte, Microsoft, Dell, Hewlett Packard and Salesforce have in common? Firstly, they are world-leading organisations. Secondly, their innovations drive workplace efficiencies. Thirdly, each one of these corporations actively recruits employees with autism. This third point isn’t an act of philanthropy, it is part of their drive for excellence and success.

(SAP) managers say they (autism programmes) are already paying off in ways far beyond reputational enhancement. Those ways include productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in employee engagement. Nick Wilson, the managing director of HPE South Pacific—an organization with one of the largest such programs—says that no other initiative in his company delivers benefits at so many levels.(Source: hbr.org)

Whilst neurodiverse people have long been misunderstood and judged for their differences, it is now recognised that variations in the wiring of the human brain can be a strength. Rather than focusing on trying to cure or alter the behaviours of neurodivergent individuals, we need to adjust our approach. When organisations accommodate and embrace neurodiversity, the results can be outstanding.

Recruiting Talent

The challenge for leaders is to assess talent, accept differences and manage individuals who operate in different ways from other team members.

In my recent article Training for Inclusive Workplaces, I focused on recruitment. I shared how assessments and tasks can be more effective than traditional application and interview processes in uncovering hidden talents.

Building on this, companies including Microsoft are actively working with specialist organisations and universities to help identify individuals with the desired skill sets. These partners inform potential candidates about opportunities and support them through the application process. Does your company collaborate with a local university as a recruitment strategy?

Rethinking Leadership to Harness Talent

Attracting neurodiverse candidates to your organisation is the first step, yet, it is only worthwhile if you harness that talent. This is the next leadership challenge; deviating from the norm to provide the training, work environment and support where neurodiverse employees can excel.

Every employee is unique and one of the key roles of leadership is to gain an understanding of an individual’s skills, motivations and aspirations. It’s relatively easy when people are natural team players, but less so when individuals prefer to avoid social situations.

Communication is another challenge. Get a neurodivergent person onto a subject they want to talk about and you could be there for quite some time. Equally, force a conversation on them and you may get abrupt responses or no response at all. This doesn’t mean they aren’t listening or are disinterested, it is just not where their mind is focused at that moment.

It can be insightful to read the research published by Berkshire Healthcare NHS* on workplace neurodiversity. The challenges for neurodiverse employees included:

  • Asking for help when it was needed
  • Working memory – retaining short-term information and acting on it
  • Understanding the intentions of others
  • Self-care – remembering to eat, drink or take a break

However, they demonstrated excellent strengths in:

  • Hyperfocus – full absorption in a task
  • Creativity
  • Detail processing – able to pick out tiny elements from a mass of data or objects
  • Innovation

If leaders provide suitable support to help neurodivergent employees, they benefit from skills that other employees lack.

A Shift in Leadership Thinking

This leadership challenge requires patience, understanding and adaption. It will take time to work out which management practices and employee processes are essential and which can be flexible.

Five years ago, most organisations’ policies didn’t support remote working. There was some flexibility, but in-person meetings and team collaboration were seen as the ‘normal’ way of running a business. To operate through social distancing, things had to adapt. It worked well in some industries, less so in others, but lasting changes were made. Remote or hybrid working is now commonplace.

This type of shift in leadership thinking is required if we are to reap the rewards of diverse and inclusive teams. Let’s learn from the successes of global corporations and see this as an opportunity for innovation and growth. Neurodiverse employees have often been the missing piece in the puzzle. By accommodating their needs, we get the whole picture.

Neurodiversity in the Workplace Training

Embracing neurodiversity is an opportunity that requires a fresh leadership style. Rather than avoiding or shunning those who think differently, I want to encourage businesses of all sizes to better understand neurodiversity. Workplace training can inform and equip your team with the knowledge and understanding to draw on a broader range of strengths. This could give your business a competitive advantage.

* https://www.berkshirehealthcare.nhs.uk/media/109514758/neurodiversity-in-business-birkbeck-university-of-london.pdf

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Contact me to find out more about my neurodiversity training and reserve your place., at info@suegarner.co.uk or 07775 624724.

people sitting working together

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