Tag Archive for: Leadership

man running

Neurodiversity, education leadership, and being human

In the rapidly changing landscape of the UK’s education sector, education leadership are at the forefront of innovation, facing an array of challenges that are magnified for those who are neurodivergent. Neurodiversity encompasses a range of conditions, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other traits. An estimated 20% of the working population identifies as neurodivergent. This percentage is thought to be even higher in fields that demand creativity, innovation, and hands-on skills, such as information technology, engineering and the arts.

The journey to education leadership for neurodivergent individuals is often paved with significant obstacles, yet their unique perspectives are invaluable in driving innovation and fostering inclusive environments. However, as organisations evolve, the strategies that previously facilitated their success may require adjustments. It becomes crucial for these leaders to reassess and adapt their approaches to maintain effectiveness and navigate the complexities of organisational change.

One of the primary challenges neurodivergent leaders face is the pervasive lack of understanding and awareness about neurodiversity in the workplace. Many have surmounted considerable barriers to attain their current positions, only to find that the very strategies that propelled them into leadership roles now need revision. Without widespread recognition of the strengths and challenges associated with neurodiversity, these leaders may struggle to adapt and thrive.

Why education leadership matters

Consider the example of a leader within a large organisation who, despite excelling in financial performance, found his ADHD traits hindering his ability to navigate the internal politics of his organisation. His innovative efforts led to substantial success from a profit and loss perspective, yet behavioural misunderstandings placed him on a final written warning. Only through targeted support aimed at helping the organisation understand the root of these behaviours and assisting the leader in developing more effective strategies was he able to turn the situation around.

Support Systems

Another prevalent issue is the inadequacy of support systems. Often, when leaders perform well, their needs are overlooked. However, when challenges arise, questions about the individual’s competency are posed instead of inquiries into the underlying causes of their struggles. For instance, another individual I worked with was grappling with the impacts of a family bereavement and the breakdown of a personal relationship. These challenges overwhelmed them, affecting their ability to lead their team effectively. Combined with years of masking their difficulties, they were on the verge of burnout. Through careful analysis and engagement, a plan was developed that allowed them to take the necessary time to recuperate, reengage with their team, and ultimately return to their leadership role with renewed strength.

Adjustments

Workplace adjustments are often pivotal for neurodivergent individuals but can be perceived as a sign of weakness for leaders. Accessing these adjustments can be daunting and may not adequately consider the individual’s needs, including how they interact with their team, manage their time, and cope with various pressures. By reassessing these processes to be more inclusive and tailored to the leader’s needs, organisations can significantly enhance the effectiveness of neurodivergent leaders.

Getting social right

Social interaction can pose challenges, particularly in senior roles where networking and forming connections with other organisations are crucial. Navigating social situations can be daunting for individuals with neurodivergent traits, such as those on the autism spectrum. I recently supported a senior leader who struggled with the concept of small talk, finding it irrelevant to his passion for mathematics and coding. By recontextualising small talk as a mathematical exercise, we developed strategies that allowed him to view social interactions through a different lens, facilitating improved communication and networking opportunities.

Dealing with Stigma

The stigma and stereotypes surrounding neurodiversity in the workplace can be pervasive and damaging. Neurodivergent individuals are often perceived as awkward, complex, or “special,” obscuring the unique perspectives and skills they bring to their roles. It is imperative to challenge these stereotypes and recognise the diverse contributions of neurodivergent leaders beyond conventional expectations.

Lastly, mental health and well-being are paramount. Creating an environment where it’s acceptable not to be okay and promoting open, meaningful conversations allows individuals to embrace their identities fully, amplifying their strengths and effectively managing challenges. I believe it’s pivotal that neurodivergent leaders are supported in maintaining their capacity to operate well. This often hinges on them having safe spaces to download and process what they’re doing so they can be the most effective for their organisations and teams.

Why support for education leadership is essential

In conclusion, supporting neurodivergent leaders within the UK’s education sector is not merely a matter of accessibility but is essential for fostering a culture of innovation and inclusivity. By addressing the challenges they face, from the lack of understanding and inadequate support systems, to the need for tailored workplace adjustments and breaking down stigma and stereotypes, we can unlock the full potential of neurodivergent leadership. This benefits the individuals and enhances organisational performance, creativity, and resilience.

As we move forward, let us commit to creating environments that recognise and celebrate the unique contributions of all leaders, paving the way for a more inclusive and dynamic future.

A picture of a megaphone to illustrate external processing

External processing and neurodiversity

External processing is a cognitive style where people learn and process information by interacting with the world. This can include things like talking to people, doing hands-on activities, or using visual aids. People who use external processing often learn best by “doing” and may find it challenging to learn in traditional settings.

External processing is sometimes associated with neurodiversity, which refers to the natural variations in human cognition.

There are many benefits to external processing. External processors are often creative and innovative thinkers. They can also be good at problem-solving, critical thinking, and effectively communicating and working with others.

However, some challenges are associated with external processing and neurodiversity, as sensory input sometimes overwhelms individuals. They may also need help to focus on tasks that require them to sit still for long periods. More challenges can arise if this is combined with difficulty understanding social cues and nonverbal communication.

If you are a manager or leader, there are a few things you can do to help people who are neurodivergent external processors to succeed in your organisation.

First,

Ensure your workplace is sensory-friendly by providing a quiet space for focused work.

It also means providing access to fidget toys or other tools to help them focus.

Second,

Provide opportunities for people to learn and work hands-on. This could involve projects requiring them to use tools or materials or having them work in teams where they can collaborate.

Third,

Be patient and understanding. Work with the individual and ask what is useful.

 

By understanding the benefits and challenges of external processing, you can create a workplace where everyone can thrive.

If you’re a manager or leader, you can help people who process information externally by creating a supportive environment. By understanding the needs of these individuals and providing them with the right tools and resources, you can help them reach their full potential.

Leaders and managers, are you looking for ways to create a more inclusive and supportive workplace for your neurodivergent employees? If so, consider contacting me at The Neurodivergent Coach.

We can help you understand the needs of your neurodivergent employees and how to create a welcoming and supportive workplace. We support you in developing strategies for managing employees who process information differently, including externally.

Here are some of the benefits of working with The Neurodivergent Coach:

  • Increased understanding of neurodiversity: The Neurodivergent Coach can help you understand how neurodivergent people think, learn, and process information. This understanding can help create a more inclusive and supportive workplace for your employees.
  • Improved communication: The Neurodivergent Coach can help you improve your communication with your neurodivergent employees and colleagues. This can help you better understand their needs and how to partner with them to support them to succeed.
  • Increased effectiveness: The Neurodivergent Coach can help you partner with your neurodivergent employees to help them increase their effectiveness. This is about providing the right tools and resources and creating a welcoming and supportive workplace.

If you want to learn more about how The Neurodivergent Coach can help you create a more inclusive and supportive workplace, please get in touch with us today.

We’d be happy to discuss what you need and if we are the best partner to help you move forwards.

Contact us here and start the conversation.

Some gold bars to show the importance of noticing neurodiversity

Noticing neurodiversity (or noticing anything else for that matter)!

How do I assist someone with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, or any other combination of the above (and sometimes more)? Did I mention PTSD? – well, noticing neurodiversity is key.

We have no medical training in general (unless you’re a medical doctor who transitioned to being a manager or HR leader, in which case I’d love to hear from you). There’s something about diagnosing that takes power away from the individual because we give them a label they haven’t asked for.

What we can do is pay attention to what is going on.

What does noticing neurodiversity look like?

Noticing can be defined as being aware of, whether or not a person is struggling with a specific task or thriving in a specific area. When we observe, we can approach them and say, “I’ve noticed that this appears to be a bit tricky; is there anything I can do to help, or, better yet, is there anything we could do together to support you?” This is much more effective than stating, “I think you look autistic,” or “your penmanship appears dyslexic”. Noticing is about reflecting back the data that you see rather than attempting to decipher what the data signifies.

There is significance in the term “we”

Are we drawing their focus to a problem they want to solve by noticing? The authority is in their hands; we must collaborate and ask them what we can do together. This is also essential because it keeps responsibility in the middle of the conversation, implying that power is shared rather than taken by one side. I’ve observed that this positively affects creating joint ownership and working towards a potential solution.

The power to move from noticing neurodiversity to asking

To notice, you must first ask. Nothing will change if we only observe and do nothing. Sometimes simply asking is all that is required for an individual to determine what is going on and what would be most beneficial for them to be successful at work.

Different places matter

Changing the setting or medium can be extremely beneficial when having open and honest conversations. If you need to talk to someone struggling, you might find it helpful to do so in a different place than you would usually talk to them. This helps in various ways because it allows individuals to think differently and makes them aware that this is a different type of conversation.

This is the ability of observation

Please make this a daily practice and plan how to use your observations to help your team and organisation be their most effective and innovative selves.

If you need a conversation, please get in contact.

Red Camera showing Zooming out on neurodiversity

Zooming out on neurodiversity

Have you ever attended a drawing class? I have, and as someone who is particularly bad at drawing, it surprised me. We visited the Eden Project, where an incredible local artist taught us to draw more effectively. It turns out that it has little to do with how well you hold a pencil and a lot to do with how often you stand back and look at your drawing from a distance. I created artwork that resembled the object I was attempting to draw. It was a huge surprise and impressed the little girl sitting next to me. This got me thinking about zooming out on neurodiversity!

When integrating neurodiversity into organisations, we are often tempted to make many small changes. These can be beneficial, but if we don’t take a step back and look at the big picture of what’s happening in the organisation, we risk a disjointed, ineffective approach.

This is especially true when discussing the subject of awareness. I facilitate a lot of neurodiversity awareness-training sessions, which are always well attended with very engaged interactive audiences. Still, there is a risk that if all you do is raise awareness, nothing changes, and you end up having a very informative meeting accompanied by lovely biscuits.

Professor Amanda Kirby highlights the dangers of oversimplification, stereotyping, tokenism, cause blindness, pinup people and becoming a broken record. Neurodiversity is not simple! Neurodiversity is very complicated because each individual will present their neurodivergent traits differently. There is a temptation to simplify neurodiversity to make it more accessible and understandable for everyone. Still, we must treat each person individually and provide a tailored solution to their struggles.

Raising awareness can create new stereotypes of how people behave. For example, I frequently get asked, “what should we be looking out for?” And “how will we know if someone has a neurodivergent trait?” I don’t think this is always helpful because it is more important to ask the individual what is beneficial for them and not put them into a box so we allow them to progress and then flourish.

Tokenism

(We all love a bandwagon and going along with the crowd). It was recently Neurodiversity Week, which is fantastic, but if all it does is make noise, it is ineffective; nothing changes for the people who need it the most, and our organisations suffer from not embracing and engaging with different thinking styles to help with innovation.

Cause blindness

People will become bored if we continue to bang the drum but make no progress. You must act, even if it is only a tiny action, or you risk nothing effective happening.

Poster people

It’s common to hear the same stories about the same people. Richard Branson is an excellent role model but is not the world’s only dyslexic entrepreneur. Love him or hate him, Elon Musk is not the only autistic entrepreneur; there are many brilliant people with neurodivergent traits who have done outstanding work. You need to think more broadly and not just roll out the same old pinups.

Broken records

Whether you like it or not, our world history has some challenging lessons for us to learn. Taking a person’s humanity and labelling them can dehumanise them. You must ensure that you focus on the individual and learn from mistakes in the past.

As we stand back and take a look at what it means to be inclusive within our organisations, I think it’s helpful to consider some of the following areas.

The issue we’re attempting to resolve by zooming out on neurodiversity

Instead of raising awareness and avoiding it, let’s get real and address it. Is it about recruiting, retaining employees, or something else? Let’s be clear about the problem and ensure our efforts are directed towards resolving it. Sometimes more data will be required, while other times, it will simply be a question of what should happen next.

Communicate with others

We frequently make assumptions about what is required. We must have an open and safe conversation about what and how change needs to occur. This conversation must be sensitive to specific cultural backgrounds or thinking styles, but it must happen.

Collaborate with others

It is beneficial to collaborate with other organisations that can assist you in moving forward with solving the problems you’ve identified. They may provide specialised knowledge or simply the ability to step outside the situation. This does not need to be a general label but a specific response to a problem you are attempting to solve.

Think carefully about your goals

SMART Goals aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they can help you figure out what you want to do and ensure it’s realistic and time-bound. This is critical because it allows you to assess your progress and determine whether your actions are effective or if something needs to be changed.

Taking action by zooming out on neurodiversity

This will not occur unless we take the first step forward. Moving forward may entail collaborating with an outside organisation to help you achieve your goals or forming an employee group. What matters is that you do not postpone this until tomorrow. Take the first step and figure out what you need to do next.

Measure what’s going on

You’ll never know if your changes have had any beneficial impact unless you measure their outcomes. Before you measure the outcome, it’s always helpful to take a baseline of where you are before you start otherwise, you will never know if anything you’ve done has made a difference. I would encourage you to consider ways to measure and understand the changes you have made easily.

Keep going by zooming out on neurodiversity

Moving inclusion forward, particularly in neurodiversity, requires a sustained effort. Many leaders will need to be involved in moving your efforts forward, and the organisation must buy into the entire process. If you want long-term change, you must ensure that you have the energy and drive to continue this effort for an extended period.

Would a conversation on zooming out be helpful? – Contact us here.

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.

Leadership Coaching

Leading in the neuroinclusive workplace presents very different opportunities and challenges, and as a result leaders often need different types of support to help their teams be effective. These coaching sessions are delivered by an experienced leadership coach who is neurodivergent and has experience in leading neurodivergent teams.

This is very much a bespoke offering, get in contact if you would like to find out more.

For more about this service please contact me.