This article considers what great managers can do to support and encourage talent who has the potential to soar but who also need to weave a more skilful path in partnership with others. Talent has the potential to be considered premium when we consciously and purposefully manage disability, long-term health conditions, or Neurodiversity.
Here, I share how exceptional managers have enabled my best to shine through (even though I have had complex disabilities, a long-term health condition and Neurodiversity my whole working career). I draw on what I’m observing now in clients who also happen to have at least one of these ‘skilful path’ conditions and how we are finding our way to thrive in complex organisations.
‘Flexible Will’ Lies Behind Resilience and Thriving with Confidence
I have always been fascinated by how some people thrive and enjoy the world of work, a glint in their eye clear for all to witness as they channel genuine engagement and ability. Having spent two decades in talent and leadership development, I’ve always thought the stars who have confidence in their abilities operate at the top of their personal performance curve. I used to believe that if we have disabilities, we must manage them to the best of our ability, making as little fuss as possible.
I could have been wiser in my focus, my adapted and masked strengths made me rigid and sub-optimal as I tried my hardest to be someone else.
I didn’t realise I was suffering from having a strong will that needed to reinvent itself. It’s understandable, really. Upbringing, society, and my own hardwiring all coalesced to create the identity of someone who wasn’t going to be defeated: what is called in psychology having a ‘strong will’. These contextual factors prevented me realising I needed to properly work through the details of where I had strengths and weaknesses and where I needed support to be my most effective. I believe this is the essential building block to claim the premium talent title;
Whoever you are, disabled or not, to be premium talent is to evolve from having a strong will and learn to have a ‘flexible, skilful will’.
The Benefits of Working at Depth
I lacked a big dollop of wisdom during my 30s and 40s managing multiple sclerosis and sight impairment in the workplace. Fortunately, I survived (just about!) thanks to a pragmatic yet empathic manager’s intervention.
I had yet to go on the necessary psychological journey of understanding myself (roots, consequences of upbringing, values, and the crucial impact of Neurodiversity) before I would get genuinely comfortable being in my own skin. Arriving at the recognition of who we are is usually emotionally game changing; it was in my case. Who would have thought it’s possible to experience a surge in energy for life and go to hte gym twice a week after 30 years of MS (given all the publicity about ending up in a wheelchair I had to endure in the 90’s)? But this is what happens when the different facets of who we are connect and finally make sense, like the missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
I no longer subconsciously have to mask the ADHD I have had since childhood feeling the benefit of strategies that manage it. Now in my mid-50s. I feel ‘turbocharged’ with life (no steroids or other prescription drugs!), and when people share that they find me inspiring, I’m happy to provide that service, too when invited.
Appreciation for Great Managers
I am grateful for having heeded the nudges from wise folk along the way: that the best medicine is to find a way to be happy in life and that sight-impaired people make great coaches!
I am glad to say that many more switched-on managers know how to support and challenge their disabled talent intuitively as awareness is raising. I hear from my disabled clients that their managers are more ambitious for their success than they may be personally ready for. It’s pretty norma in coaching sessions with everyone, disabled or not, to unpick how to speak confidently and work through vulnerabilities and anxieties. Having an enthusiastic manager is an excellent problem to have if the dialogue is healthy and real.
How I’ve succeeded has still been down to me, but here’s what I really appreciated about the great and the good managers I’ve been fortunate enough to work with:
- They were interested in me as a whole person, neither avoiding discussing my disability nor being fixated on it. I felt supported in how, when, and with whom I shared my story.
- They clarified that the organisation was more interested in what I could do than what I couldn’t.
- They encouraged me to be candid and solutions-focused about where I needed help, even when I didn’t realise I was soldiering on excessively. These were the building blocks for my resilience and adaptability as my health conditions fluctuated.
- There was an interest in keeping up to date on any adjustments I needed to be prepared to encourage things to happen so that I could perform at my best – an A3 printer and Zoomtext software was quite non-standard for our IT department in those days! Fortunately now there are far better solutions.
- Disability-related challenges were seen as an opportunity for learning and progress in getting my team to work together more closely. My expertise was showcased for others to learn from, whilst I benefitted from less experienced colleagues’ boundless energy and keen eyesight when wading through organisational charts of 200+ people on one page or producing the packs that accompanied my leadership training sessions.
Managers That Struggle
However, only some of my managers have been as enlightened as I would like. When a manager is out of their comfort zone (they are human too, after all!), you may need to take more of a lead in raising their awareness of what is required for you to be at your best.
Here are some elements you may want to prep them on:
- State clearly that you want them to understand how you manage your disability/impairment at work. Provide details on the practical adjustments that enable you to be most effective.
- The support/guidance you need from them to be at your best is (insert your requirements)
- Keep them in the loop on your adjustments. State if any outstanding adjustments are affecting your performance and any help you need from your manager to accelerate progress.
Collaborative Partnerships for Culture Change
In the corporate world, the ideal situation is when managers, the HR team, Learning and Development, Diversity and Well-being experts are joined up. These professionals can also help you get to the crux of your strengths and work out how to put them most practically to good use. Additionally, it’s suitable for many of these people to have you on their radar so that they have you on their minds at meetings where succession planning for critical roles takes place.
Talented professionals create positive organisational cultures that enable inspired leadership. When a person is managing a disability/impairment/health condition, and in a different way with neurodivergence, they can become the standout talent whose achievements might shift previously limiting mindsets.
However, only some are ready to sell their full story publicly. It’s essential not to take for granted that many are at various stages of managing their narrative (which runs alongside changes in self-awareness and evolving identity). Having access to a great manager, senior leadership, and enlightened HR colleagues is what most hope for. However, from my own experience, I also had to grapple with my own journey and seek out people who could hold the mirror objectively. Only then could I consciously and purposefully design my own skilful path.