From education to employment

Neurodiverse leadership in every boardroom

Professor Amanda Kirby is the CEO of Do-IT Solutions

From across the globe, we can see that there remains a lack of diverse leadership in the boardroom. A recent article in the Times highlighted the lack of diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity. If the only leaders you see look, dress and speak in a certain way it makes it hard to progress up the ladder if there are not the role models.

Is this a door of entry a certain shape to enter? If we look within the UK the 350 biggest companies are likely to miss a government-backed target that says a third of board positions should be held by women by 2020.Women represent just 25.5 per cent of directors in FTSE 350 companies, according to the Hampton-Alexander review, which was launched by the government in 2016 to increase gender diversity.

When it comes to neurodiversity only recently some leaders have felt comfortable enough to stand up and discuss that they are neurodivergent openly and feel comfortable to tell their story.

 Vice Admiral Nick Hine, The Second Sea Lord, from the Royal Navy was only diagnosed with Autism in 2009. He highlights his leadership strengths as :

“I am extremely focused, I love solving problems and finding the most efficient way to do things. I am excellent at making rational decisions based on data. I don’t ‘trust my gut’ – I need evidence before I make any decision.”

Elon Musk from Tesla recently stood up on Saturday night TV in the US talking his diagnosis too and about why he thinks he is a good leader.

Charlotte Valeur is a Danish former merchant banker and “corporate governance expert”, and the former chair of the Institute of Director and she ‘came out’ and talks openly about the benefits of clear think and direct talking as she describes her experiences of being on the autism spectrum too.

Other leaders such as Paul Orfalea who founded the American copy store Kinko’s, built Kinko’s into a copy store chain that created over two billion dollars in revenue a year.

However, we need to remember that neurodiversity is not ‘just’ autism but it represents the different ways we think, move, act , process and communicate. It is the spiky profiles in leaders such as Richard Branson who describes himself as Dyslexia. Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, has been hugely successful and has a diagnosis of ADHD.

What do they have in common as leaders? Expertise in specific areas, drive, focus and determination.

What makes good leaders?

Goodall and Baker’s Theory of Expert Leadership provides a theoretical basis for the relationship between leaders who have outstanding expertise in the core business of their organization. It may be this super focus and specialisation alongside drive means with opportunity Neurodiverse talent can bring an extra dimension into the boardroom.

Brent Gleeson asked leaders what they think was important for great leadership.

Alex Gerasimov, Insomnia Escape Room DC said:

“Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of every individual to effectively manage the outcome of a team is imperative for success. Leaders have a great vision and use the resources at hand to solve problems. They take risks and make hard decisions, knowing they could sometimes be wrong. Those are the most important qualities of a real leader that work similarly in our professional and personal lives.”

This is key when working with teams and really considering where neurodiversity fits. Everyone has a spiky profile but some people will have spiky strengths and dips and if we recognise how teams fit effectively together we can improve outcomes at all levels of all organisations.

Who are we missing and why are we missing boardroom talent?

This may be because on the way up we need to have adjustments made to maximise our skills, but if we do get to the top then we can ‘job carve’ and focus on our areas of excellence and delegate to others the tasks that we are less good at.  It is so important that we provide opportunities for support and skills training at all levels in a timely fashion so skills and talents can be optomised and that expertise we need to demonstrate can be showcased and not lost on the way.

Professor Amanda Kirby is CEO of Do-IT Solutions a tech for good company that provides training for organisations about neurodiversity in education and the workplace. Do-IT has developed screening tools to measure the spiky profiles we are talking about.

She is also co-author with Theo Smith of the recently published best-selling book Neurodiversity at Work, Drive, Innovation, performance and productivity in a neurodiverse workforce.

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