Myths about neurodivergent people and leadership

By Ludmila N. Praslova 7 minute Learn

People don’t normally attend voluntary coaching classes on neurodiversity inclusion with the intention to ask ableist questions. They arrive as a result of they wish to be allies. And but, even amongst would-be allies, the everyday query is, “how can I/others be a greater chief to autistic people.” Why not “how can I be a greater colleague, direct report, or ally?” This considering can’t be defined by a behavior of being excessive in organizational hierarchy – the query is usually requested by people who by no means had managerial tasks.

This seemingly innocuous query displays one of the vital persistent stereotypes related to implicit ableism. Many consider that autistic and, extra broadly, neurodivergent people (e.g., these with ADHD or studying variations) can’t be leaders. Distinguished examples resembling Richard Branson, Charles Schwab (dyslexic) or Elon Musk (autism spectrum) are defined away as uncommon exceptions. Different fashions of autistic leadership in business, politics, or the Navy, in addition to the many examples of small business owners, are sensationalized and ignored on the identical time. General, neurominorities are nonetheless seen as solely “match” for subordinate positions or choose (normally technical) particular person contributor roles.

Tellingly, one other fashionable query is “which jobs are appropriate for autistic (or different neurodivergent) people?” It reveals the identical underlying ableist assumption: that the total vary of jobs isn’t appropriate. In actuality, there’s a super vary of abilities and talents amongst neurodivergent people, matching the total vary of jobs out there—plus some jobs that by no means existed till neurodivergent people created them.

A lot of the job creation comes out of necessity. Elon Musk mentioned that he solely turned an entrepreneur identified for Tesla and SpaceX as a result of he could not get a job—and so did many others. Bias towards neurominorities within the office is staggering, with 50% of UK managers stating that they’d not hire neurodivergent expertise. Based on The Economist, “autism is a situation that defies easy generalizations. Besides one: The potential of far too many autistic people is being squandered.” Office entry and success limitations outcome within the unemployment price of autistic school graduates within the U.S. as excessive as 85%, whereas 46% of employed autistic adults are over-educated or overqualified for his or her roles.


Unemployment information appears shockingly incongruous with the findings that autistic professionals might be as much as 140% more productive than the common worker, and that neurodivergent traits are related to much-needed originality of concepts. 

Nevertheless, dwelling on the “enterprise case” for variety has many limitations. With out the will to assist the dignity and thriving of all people, the enterprise rationale for variety shouldn’t be efficient—and it could even promote commodifying expertise, whereas concurrently dehumanizing people and perpetuating bias. First, the dearth of inclusion is a serious injustice to neurodivergent people, genius-level expertise or not. Second, it is a chance loss for organizations and our bigger society.

Some would possibly say that the unemployment information signifies the necessity to give attention to probably the most quick challenge—neurominority hiring. Organizations can deal with the leadership challenge in a while. Nevertheless, inclusion is actually efficient solely whether it is systemic. The shortage of neurominority perspective in leadership is a vital hyperlink within the vicious cycle of prejudice and exclusion. With out addressing all phases of the expertise pipeline concurrently, we’re unlikely to see a lot progress in inclusion.

Tackling long-standing biases requires an understanding of how these biases perform. Particularly, how do people who contemplate themselves ethical and simply proceed to deny opportunities to others? And why do organizations shun neurodivergent expertise whereas fighting a talent shortage?

Myths about neurodiversity

Bias, together with ableism, is persistent as a result of a number of psychological mechanisms assist it. Listed here are three vital methods wherein prejudice towards neurominorities is maintained:


1. Profitable careers of neurodivergent people are seen as an exception, through subtyping 

Subtyping is a mechanism that helps persistence of stereotypes by clustering group members who defy the stereotype into subgroups, resembling “educated immigrants” or “distinguished autistics.” Separating out people like Anthony Hopkins, Daryl Hannah, or Greta Thunberg can assist the concept others are “actually autistic,” leaving the stereotype intact. The assumption that success is simply attainable for just a few, distinctive neurodivergent people persists regardless of the various examples and information. For example, one UK research of self-made millionaires revealed that about 40% of the 300 studied had been dyslexic (vs. 10% of dyslexic people within the normal inhabitants). 

2. Pathologizing of positives and strengths

Due to the general unfavorable stereotypes of neurodivergence, even constructive behaviors or attributes might be interpreted as unfavorable. In a latest research of ethical habits in autistic vs. non-autistic people, autistic individuals acted ethically no matter whether or not they had been noticed, whereas “wholesome controls” (that means, the non-autistic people) had been much less moral when not noticed. The authors interpreted the consistently moral habits of autistic individuals as an ethical deficit—a pathology. After outrage from the autistic neighborhood, the report wording was barely modified, however a lot of the pathologizing language stays.

 3. Perpetuating misinformation

One other query usually requested within the context of autism inclusion is  “how can organizations work with somebody who lacks empathy?” An overtly autistic enterprise chief Charlotte Valeur was even requested “how do you cope with empathy” in a board place interview.  The belief underlying this query is that autistic people lack empathy. Nevertheless, the connection between empathy and autism is complicated. General, autistic people fluctuate in empathy (identical to neurotypicals); desire relationships simply as a lot; and many report very excessive ranges of caring. The important thing challenge in interactions with neurotypical people shouldn’t be an “autistic deficit” however a dual empathy downside, with neurotypical people missing empathy towards autistic people and exhibiting important computerized bias and exclusionary behaviors.

Equally, there’s a persistent stereotype that “all people with Tourette’s use obscene phrases and have anger and cognitive points.” Actually, coprolalia, the involuntary and repetitive use of obscene language, is a rare symptom, and most people with Tourette’s have regular emotional regulation and intelligence.

Myths about leadership

The present fast-changing setting of reinventing work presents alternatives to enhance the inclusion of neurodivergent people on all ranges of organizations. Nevertheless, along with debunking myths about neurodivergence, this might require debunking leadership myths.

The notion of neurodivergence as an impediment to development is supported by outdated concepts about leadership. These concepts embody: 

1. A Fascination with confidence and charisma

This could result in the rise of boastful incompetent people, and in the end hurt a staff’s productiveness and morale. With extra consideration to substance over type, organizations may gain advantage from the experience and dedication of humble, succesful, and honest leaders—together with neurodivergent ones. Over time, this might additionally assist break organizational cycles of discrimination and make workplaces extra inclusive. 

2. The give attention to command and management administration

Based on Ron Carucci, writer of Rising to Energy and To be Sincere, leaders who “micromanage and train each little bit of authority that comes with the function, irrespective of how trivial,” and insist on “making many of the selections and having many of the solutions” create inefficiencies and frustrations. The “command” mannequin doesn’t work within the data and creativity economic system and with self-motivated people and groups. Leaders who bring out the best in motivated groups are sometimes introverted and humble.

Within the context of distributed and distant work “command and management” ways develop into more and more counterproductive. As a substitute of exerting positional energy, the way forward for work requires main by means of affect—and that requires specializing in function and authenticity slightly than management. Goal-focused affect is a superb match for neurodivergent strengths, as demonstrated by activists like Greta Thunberg or Daryl Hannah. So is believed leadership derived from creativity and innovation. 

Furthermore, one of the vital promising fashions of leadership for creativity is shared leadership. Efficient use of shared leadership requires group variety, which is usually impeded by the third leadership fable. 

3. The tyranny of “match” 

Extreme give attention to group cohesion leads to groupthink in leadership groups. A steered option to restrict the risks of groupthink is to nominate “satan’s advocates.” Neurodivergent people, historically labeled as “poor match,” are more likely to deliver unique considering and honesty to assist leadership groups suppose extra fastidiously, objectively, and creatively, enhancing the aggressive benefit. An idealistic teen local weather activist Greta Thunberg and the tech innovation billionaire Elon Musk couldn’t have been extra completely different from the “common”—and from one another. But, it is perhaps our want to interrupt from the tyranny of match that made these two neurodivergent people Time journal individuals of the 12 months 2019 and 2021, respectively.

Making the world of labor extra inclusive of neurodivergent leadership would require important effort to let go of biases and embed inclusion deep inside organizational processes. Nevertheless, the stakes are extraordinarily excessive, as implicit ableism is perhaps impeding the rise of the very leadership we have to survive. Based on Caroline Stokes, writer of “Elephants Earlier than Unicorns,” and a thought chief on organizational emotional intelligence and govt coach powered by ADHD, “survival of the group within the twenty first century will depend upon creating excessive integrity product and people-first tradition, to positively impression high-stakes human and planetary wants.” Leaders who comply with their moral rules no matter whether or not they’re noticed or not are more likely to play a serious function in making certain this survival.

 Ludmila N. Praslova, PhD, SHRM-SCP, makes use of her in depth expertise with international, cultural, means, and neurodiversity to assist create inclusive and equitable workplaces. She is a professor and director of Graduate Programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Vanguard College of Southern California.


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