Switching on the Floodlights
A typical day can leave me feeling confused
A typical joke was that meant to be funny
A typical day will I forget my lines
A typical day another play to try and understand
A typical day and I want to tell you how I feel
But typically I am too scared
Because typically I worry that you will judge me weird
a typical days hustle and bustle oh so stressful
Typical noise of the city stops the thoughts from coming
A typical day all I want is a sign that you care
A typical day what was that, a signal but all too subtle
Am I a typical man
Or am I Atypical human being
Typically I try to let my actions speak louder than words.
This is Phil. Phil was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and dyslexia in June this year. He is in his mid-40’s. Phil is a senior leader and heading to the top in his profession. I met Phil and 9 other participants on a recent training programme (I was co-running) for aspiring leaders wanting to accelerate their career. All the participants had a disability, including neurodiversity conditions. Most, if not all participants, had hidden disabilities which, to a great extent they had tried to conceal.
On one level there should be no need to run these type of programmes specifically for disabled leaders. But for some, including Phil, ‘unlocking’ the disability, and harnessing these impairments, is critical to further success. Understanding the whole you is what makes you authentic. More than one participant has said they traditionally left their disability at home before entering the physical or online workplace. All left the programme intending to bring their whole self to work in the future recognising the benefits to them and their employer. The energy used to conceal my disability can now be focused on other activities that deliver better outcomes. I can see things other colleagues do not see and being able to leverage this is a strength for them.
I am one of those 17 percenters who have lived with their disability from birth. It is impossible for me to hide. What you see is what you get. I try to imagine having a disability which is hard to define and can fluctuate from day to day.
Meet Sara (not her real name). Sara has a condition called Fibromyalgia which means that she lives with chronic pain in her lower back, neck, hips and knees and can only walk short distances. Other symptoms include chronic tiredness (similar to ME), “fibrofog” which means she has days where struggles to concentrate on anything along with depression and anxiety.
So, for many years now my career has been “on-hold” as I have battled my health issues, very privately most of the time. How could I move into a more senior role when I am always tired (and yes, it often shows) or have days where I can’t follow a conversation in a meeting and make any sense of it?
Sara has come to the realisation she has the power to choose to further her career and not allow herself to be overlooked simply because she has off days.
I now understand that letting people know about my hidden disability isn’t admitting to a weakness, it is simply saying (as per the song from The Greatest Showman) “this is me!”.
And so back to Phil. Looking back now, it is no surprise that I ended up in a career that was mostly required independent work and focused on data. Career progression began to stall when I needed help as I couldn’t face another 20 years of living in darkness. Through the support of colleagues I got diagnosed with ASD and dyslexia, to say it was like someone switching on the floodlights is an understatement. Understanding the reasons for my struggles has allowed me to find better-coping strategies, then simply trying to control my brain.
In terms of career aspirations if you ever think you can’t, please think again. Don’t ever think darkness is the best place. Come into the light.
Thank you Phil, Sara and the class of 2020. You are the pioneers for others to follow and to switch their floodlights on.
Mike Adams OBE
8 December 2020