Tag Archive for: Dyslexia

Podcast conversation

Andrew Kitley from The Invisible Gift meets Nathan Whitbread

In the final episode of season 3 of The Invisible Gift, Andrew meets Nathan Whitbread – The Neurodivergent Coach. The Neurodivergent Coach provides Consultancy, Coaching and Assistive Technology training for dyslexic and neurodivergent individuals and teams. In the episode, we learn what the term neurodiversity really means. Nathan explains the Medici Effect and why neurodiversity has finally become sexy and the boys identify why the best leaders work for their employees. Not the other way round.

Listen here.

Top quotes

“Labels can be helpful but also quite dangerous. It’s always important to remember first that you are a unique human with unique characteristics and traits who happens to have a dyslexia diagnoses.” – Nathan Whitbread

“I always say we should strive to identify as individuals not by groups or labels because you can pigeon hole yourself.” – Andrew Kitley

About the guest

Nathan Whitbread is a motivational speaker and founder of The Neurodivergent Coach. Nathan described his early life in education as ‘constantly avoiding’ essays. He would chose his degree precisely because it wasn’t essay driven. Nathan graduated from the University of Surrey with a degree in Mechanical Engineering with Business and Management in 1998. Nathan would only learn he had dyslexia when he began a career in marketing. In 2015, he founded The Neurodivergent Coach. The Neurodivergent Coach provides Consultancy, Coaching and Assistive Technology training for dyslexic and neurodivergent individuals and teams. The Neurodivergent Coach works with both individuals and organisations to create a more neuro-inclusive workplace. Since 2017 he has been a Workplace Needs Assessor for the British Dyslexia Association. Nathan is also an Associate Assistive Technology Training Consultant and Coach at eVoice.

About the host

The Invisible Gift is hosted by entrepreneur and dyslexic, Andrew Kitley. With twenty years experience, Andrew Kitley has worked his way up the metaphorical and literal ladder to become Managing Director of Kitall: an engineering firm. Under Andrew’s guidance, Kitall is now one of the most sought after names to complete complex engineering projects in the UK. In each episode of The Invisible Gift, Andrew seeks the advice and inspiration of a fellow trailblazer who has defied the odds to achieve the extraordinary – turning the challenge of neurodiversity into a gift.

Broom and dustpan in Cupboard

Project neurodiversity sorting out the broom cupboard

John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems says “25% of CEOs are dyslexic, but many don’t want to talk about it”. There is an argument that if leaders self-identify as neurodivergent the rest of the workforce will feel more comfortable coming forward and having a conversation about neurodiversity.

Organisations can thrive instead of survive if they embrace neurodiversity. The current situation looks like there is a lot of noise, good ideas and goodwill in helping individuals become more effective in the workplace. The reality is that many of these initiatives are disjointed, not bespoke, and fragmented, so organisations are running many different special projects at the same time. This creates a substantial operational overhead that can detrimentally impact the organisation’s effectiveness.

This is a big problem that is not going to go away unless we start to think more holistically and in a project-orientated way across our organisations to help support neurodiversity. We have to think about the constraints we have to operate in. What is the scope of what we are trying to do? How long is it going to take? Do we have the resources to deliver it? And most importantly, how will we know what success looks like?

The project management approach is just as relevant to individuals. In my experience, many individuals have had a very fragmented and disjointed approach to support. To help them manage more effectively I would argue we need to treat neurodivergent support far more like a project.

Project Mindset

It is often easy to get baffled and confused by the potential solutions and lose sight of the problem we are trying to solve. Are we taking a project mindset to neurodiversity in the workplace? Are we focusing on what the problem is?

As an example, John needed support with task management. His company provided him with a robust task management app. The app allowed him to connect tasks across applications and distribute them throughout the organisation. John required a simple solution to help him understand what he needed to do and the priority that should be assigned to each task. As a result of the solution, John became obsessed with making sure he was fully utilising the app rather than focusing on solving the problem. He became stressed, anxious, and guilty about not using the app completely, which distracted him from the problem at hand, which was effectively prioritising his workload.

John’s situation is true for many individuals, as often incorrect solutions are provided that often create additional problems instead of solving the original issue.

Adjustments and support fall into two models which are, The Medical Model, which is about fixing the individual and The Social Model which looks at the social/organisational factors that disable the individual from working effectively.

Often the easy answer is to try and fix the individual by providing an off-the-shelf solution, but there needs to be experimentation, open dialogue and possible coaching.  Then a solid process can be written down and used going forward.  This needs to be led by the individual with support from the organisation. When we look at this in a project way, it means taking a step back and thinking about the impacts of what’s going on within the organisation.

The broom cupboard

Another example: I worked with Toni, who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and was dealing with work overload and unhelpful organisational behaviours. Toni enjoyed teaching and was successful in the classroom, but her administrative abilities let her down. Furthermore, there was bureaucracy within the organisation, which meant that basic administrative tasks were assigned to senior staff.

We began with small wins to gain momentum, such as examining how Toni could better complete her administration. We set up a distraction-free environment in a broom cupboard for her to complete her administrative tasks. Toni’s mood improved dramatically as a result of a simple change that was inexpensive and quick to implement. Then we altered the way classes were assigned, allowing Toni to have breaks and time for administration between teaching. This was a more difficult organisational issue that required leadership support. The changes were made one at a time and were evaluated based on their impact and usefulness to the individual and the organisation.

In this particular case, it was helpful to get quick wins before working on more challenging adjustments. This allowed Toni to build trust and gain confidence in what was being implemented to make sure the solutions met her needs.

Action is key on Project Neurodiversity

“Often movement is the most important thing.”

Claire Pedrick

We are often afraid to begin, but to determine what is useful, it is critical to ask the individual and the teams involved what the problem is and how we can begin to solve it together.

Toni was overwhelmed in the previous example because she couldn’t see a way to begin solving the problem. What worked was solving one problem, reviewing the solution to ensure that it resolved the issue in the short and long term, and then moving on to the next. Action will frequently involve challenging the status quo, but I would argue that well-thought-out systematic changes will often benefit not only the individual but also the larger organisation.

Creating workplace adjustments should be viewed as a project that should be implemented, but be prepared to roll it back if it doesn’t work. The process should be structured, and documented and any changes made need to be communicated, recorded and approved by all stakeholders who use the process.

I hope the information above has helped you think about neurodiversity and how to use the concept of a project to make changes more effectively. I’d love to hear more about your experiences in making your work environment become more neuroinclusive.

Perfection vs excellence

Perfection vs excellence mixed with neurodiversity

I recently worked with Peter who is responsible for managing union activists within a teacher’s union. Peter had been a successful teacher who had left the classroom due to frustration with government policy that got in the way of his passion for teaching. He then moved into the union supporting teachers to be the absolute best they can be in their job. Peter has a dyslexic diagnosis, and this impacts his ability to process information along with his short-term memory. I should emphasise that he is extremely competent at his job and exercises a high level of emotional intelligence especially when dealing with union members, but he has struggled with perfection vs excellence in his role.

Recently Peter has undergone changes at work as his union has been taken over by a larger union, which has meant a complete change in infrastructure and IT with many new systems being introduced along with additional processes. I should mention at this point Peter has a well-rounded education including a master’s degree in organisational management, he is a well thought of and highly trained individual working in a frontline role because he wants to make a direct difference to teachers. Peter always wants to do the absolute best job he can, often at the expense of personal time and well-being.

Working with Peter through a series of coaching sessions we were able to explore the difference between excellence and perfection and why it is vital to understand it. I must emphasise here, I’m not suggesting Peter should be doing shoddy work that is unfit for purpose, the issue was that the work he was producing was so far above and beyond what was required. It meant other clients were not getting what they needed (nor was he).

Excellence vs perfection

Excellence is about doing the right things, in the best way possible and doing them well enough to meet what is required. It also means accepting that there is always room for improvement and ironically that perfection should be your goal. You also need to have a reality check that you are highly unlikely to get there, but if you keep aiming in that direction your current working processes will just get better and better. This is a growth mindset, it’s about building on yesterday, recognising what could have been done better and doing it. In addition to that, it is also about being kind to yourself.

It is a journey of wonder and surprise

Perfection is the definitive 100% right way to do something and is completely unobtainable and if you do try and obtain it you will use a disproportionate amount of energy and gain a diminishing return for what you are doing, often causing anxiety stress and disappointment. This can further manifest in depression, procrastination and ultimately poor performance within individuals and teams.

It is a destination with no seats

For Peter, much of this was to do with the changes that were taking place in his role and responsibilities and how he felt he needed to be able to continue to deliver one hundred per cent, even though all these changes were happening. A breakthrough moment happened when we talked about the concepts of working in your job and working on your job, as for excellence to take place your processes and working practices need to be a well-oiled machine. This means taking time to understand them and innovate to meet the needs of your organisation, but more importantly to meet your own needs to achieve your objectives. For Peter, this was a breakthrough moment that enabled him to look at his job in a different way. He recognised although he wasn’t the most senior person in the organisation he was the most senior person who had control over what he did because he was able to manage himself. Once Peter started to take this point of view, excellence became the only option. He couldn’t have perfection in a changing, innovating workplace because by its very nature improvement involves failure and learning.

This was a life-changing moment for Peter and something he has been able to use as he has moved to a role with more responsibility since completing his coaching. If this is something that is of interest to you, please get in contact.

Being Neurodivergent at work

Being neurodivergent at work

Have you ever been faced with a problem that you just can’t solve? You don’t know where to start, and have no idea what to do next? Being neurodivergent at work can feel like this.

I’d like to introduce you to Paul who has been working in advertising for 5 years. He has been struggling with managing his diary and tasks for most of this time with many near misses and close shaves. Paul was diagnosed with dyslexia at school but since starting work hasn’t felt that he needed to talk about it and to be fair has done pretty well for himself in winning key clients, as well as building key relationships that have helped his employer increase their revenue. Unfortunately for Paul, as his responsibilities have grown so have the number of tasks he needs to do, and he can’t hold them all in his head anymore. In addition, because he is now more senior within the organisation and these errors are getting noticed by others, his capability is being brought into question.

This situation came to a head in a recent performance review with Paul’s manager and Paul was alerted to the fact that disciplinary steps may need to be taken if he was unable to sort the situation out. At this point, Paul opened up about his dyslexia and as a result, he was offered a Workplace Needs Assessment. As a recommendation of this assessment, Paul was offered workplace strategy coaching to help him with his task management.

Strategy coaching is a form of coaching that works with individuals on a one-to-one basis to help them solve problems using skills that they have learned before. What is different from traditional coaching is that there is also a mentoring component to help them understand how their condition affects them.

Being neurodivergent at work – understand the condition then build the strategy

The coach worked with Paul to understand how his workplace and job role worked along with the responsibilities and tasks that he was frequently dealing with. Paul was able to talk through the many solutions that he tried over the years, along with some of the frustrations that he had with sticking to a solution consistently. The coach was then able to present a couple of different strategies to Paul and they worked together to work out which one would be most suitable for him. This is where coaching crosses over with mentoring and this is entirely appropriate in this situation.

The goal is to help an individual build strategies that work for them, in addition to giving them the skills to adapt those strategies when situations change. A key part is building a process of learning, playing with and then stress testing strategies while reviewing and reflecting on progress.

Paul ended up selecting To-Do List app that enabled him to focus on his tasks separately from other items like meetings and calendar events. This was important for Paul as he had often struggled to differentiate between items that were time-bound and items that he had scope to do when he was ready. The other key part of using the app was that his To-Do List was available on several different platforms, meaning he could access it when he wanted to. The other big bonus was Paul was able to also manage his social and home life within the same app reducing his stress and arguably saving his relationship, as he had forgotten birthdays, anniversaries and many other key events.

NB: His partner regularly talked about Paul’s memory as a ‘forgettory’.

Part of this coaching also looked at how Paul could adapt what he’d learn in the future as his role developed and things changed because self-sustainability is essential, and it is vital that individuals like Paul are able to know where to get help and how to adapt the help they already have to meet future demands.

Improving mental health and performance

There is a pool of evidence that suggests strategy coaching improves employee mental health along with retention and career progression within a business. Strategy coaching is not a sticking plaster over a problem, it is a toolkit that equips individuals to become the absolute best they can within the workplace. Clients like Paul who have undergone strategy coaching report a positive impact on their confidence at work along with an up-lift in their perceived personal effectiveness. This positive feedback is also supported by their immediate line managers as they reflect on the impact of strategy coaching on their team members. You will be pleased to know this was also the case for Paul’s line manager.

“The coaching I received around task management has helped me keep my job and improved work to the point where I was able to go for promotion to the next level. This has been a complete lifesaver for me, it’s helped me to do the thing I love without fear of making mistakes.”

Paul – Key Account Manager – Advertising Agency

The story doesn’t end here, Paul is likely to need additional support and help at different times throughout his career. This is why The Neurodivergent Coach clients can get in contact at any time to follow up after the coaching sessions have finished. This is really important as it gives an independent sounding board for advice and support as you progress on through your career and a place to talk through your successes and any potential help you might need in the future.

Ten years on

I experienced strategy coaching first-hand over 10 years ago and although the sessions were quite different to what we deliver now, the impact they have had on my career and personal development are incredible. They have enabled me to do things that I found exceedingly difficult, to the point that I would avoid them. In fact, without strategy coaching, I certainly would not be running my business today and I certainly would not be able to write this blog post.

If you would like to know more about how strategy coaching could support you or someone within your organisation please get in touch.

dyslexic

How does a dyslexic person fit in at work?

Have you ever stopped to think about who you are and what you are doing? It’s a big question!

I now identify as being neurodivergent and dyslexic (along with a few other traits), but this wasn’t always the case.

I have worked across several different professions including sales, marketing, business development, technology, and fundraising. What I have recognised over this time is that you are not the job you do, but instead the skills, experience, and attitude that you bring to that job. This can mean you can perform well in many different roles, bringing new and more effective approaches to age-old problems.

There is a flip side. Sometimes it can be hard to fit in, understand alien processes and feel that you are not accepted as part of the organisation you are working for. You may have felt like this at certain points in your life, but for some individuals, this is an everyday occurrence and something that stands in the way of them progressing at work. This is something that I experienced first-hand. Not being able to work effectively, struggling with my short-term memory and ability to process information and as a result not being able to perform effectively at work.

What does a dyslexic diagnosis mean?

Getting a dyslexic diagnosis helped me understand some of my points of frustration including how I thought. I recognised that some of the things that were difficult are to do with how my brain works. For example, thinking big, having big ideas and thinking outside the box are strengths of mine, but areas of difficulty include getting these ideas down on paper and remembering them. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to say, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t actually put it down on paper, it just means the process is really difficult and as a result is something that I have avoided for a long time.

Workplace needs assessment

After diagnosis, I was assessed by a workplace needs consultant who took the time to understand how my job worked and what help I might need. This resulted in a number of recommendations including strategy coaching and various pieces of assistive technology. With associated training, it enabled me to manage some of the things I found more difficult far more effectively and to amplify my strengths. After being through this experience I recognised that this is something I wanted to help others with, bringing not only the skills I had gained in coaching and training but also adding on top my real-world commercial experience.

So ‘The Neurodivergent Coach’ was born, an organisation designed to help individuals and organisations amplify strengths and manage difficulties so that neurodivergent people can be the assets that they were always meant to be. We offer support around coaching, technology training and workplace assessment. What is important in all this is that it is focused on the individual and their needs so that they can develop and be effective at work.

If this is something that has impacted you or one of your team, you might like to know that there are several different ways that you can get help.  Please drop me a line. It would be great to talk further.

Neurodiversity

What is Neurodiversity?

Have you ever helped someone and seen their eyes light up as they realise that they can solve their own problem and keep solving their problems? I call this, “Making Neurodiversity Heroes.”

In my mid-30s I faced a stark choice, whether to try and complete a qualification where I needed to write essays in a closed room with no help, or whether to bail out and do something different.

As I had been diagnosed with dyslexia I was able to get help through the government Access to Work scheme and as a result, I now have a diploma in marketing. This wasn’t a magic wand, but instead the start of the process of discovery in recognising I had real strengths I needed to amplify, along with several difficulties I needed to manage to be successful.

Neurotypical and neurodiverse

Neurodiversity is about how we all think differently. What I am specifically interested in are the people that don’t fit what we call, “neurotypical,” which is what the average person is like in terms of their thinking style. Neurodivergent on the other hand describes those people that think differently. This can be in small ways or sometimes large ways.

Where did the term neurodiversity come from?

The term neurodiversity has been used since the 1990s and was originally brought into use through a collaboration between sociologist Judy Singer and journalist Harvey Blume, regarding their work around autism. What the term means has expanded since then and it encompasses all types of thinking. What is important within this is recognising that some people are neurotypical and others are neurodivergent.

Why I became a neurodivergent coach

1 in 8 people are neurodivergent within the workplace and many experience challenges conducting their everyday work. These challenges are often related to efficiency and communication, along with being able to carry out tasks in the same way as neurotypical colleagues. This often means that neurodivergent individuals ignore their strengths and instead focus on their perceived difficulties, not bringing the full value they could to their workplace.

I’ve seen what happens to both individuals and organisations when people are helped and use different processes to complete their work. This is how heroes are made!

Amplify strengths and manage difficulties of neurodiversity

Neurodivergent individuals can be helped to amplify their strengths and manage perceived difficulties. For example, if they are dyslexic, a strength could be around communication skills and emotional intelligence. A difficulty could be around processing and short-term memory and to manage these difficulties new coping strategies could be put in place as well as assistive technology.

It’s important to remember that if you have met one neurodivergent individual you have met only one. Just as each neurotypical person is an individual, each neurodivergent person is an individual too, so they need to be treated as one.

When strategies and potential solutions to help amplify strengths and manage difficulties are being looked at, it is vital that the individual can make choices about the best way to implement solutions in their situation. I have seen with first-hand experience how neurodivergent individuals can become as efficient, if not more so than their neurotypical colleagues.

I started The Neurodivergent Coach to help organisations and neurodivergent individuals to flourish.

If you would like to discuss any of the strategies or ideas mentioned here, please get in touch.