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 standard 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 pondering 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 obligations.

This seemingly innocuous query displays one of the vital persistent stereotypes related to implicit ableism. Many imagine that autistic and, extra broadly, neurodivergent people (e.g., these with ADHD or studying variations) can’t be leaders. Distinguished examples corresponding to 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 similar 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 complete vary of jobs isn’t appropriate. In actuality, there’s a super vary of abilities and talents amongst neurodivergent people, matching the complete vary of jobs obtainable—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 stated that he solely grew to become an entrepreneur recognized for Tesla and SpaceX as a result of he could not get a job—and so did many others. Bias in opposition to 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 knowledge 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 need to assist the dignity and thriving of all people, the enterprise rationale for variety shouldn’t be efficient—and it will probably even promote commodifying expertise, whereas concurrently dehumanizing people and perpetuating bias. First, the dearth of inclusion is a significant 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 knowledge signifies the necessity to concentrate on probably the most speedy problem—neurominority hiring. Organizations can tackle the leadership problem in a while. Nevertheless, inclusion is really efficient solely whether it is systemic. The dearth of neurominority perspective in leadership is an important 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 think about themselves ethical and simply proceed to deny opportunities to others? And why do organizations shun neurodivergent expertise whereas scuffling with a talent shortage?

Myths about neurodiversity

Bias, together with ableism, is persistent as a result of a number of psychological mechanisms assist it. Listed below are three necessary methods through which prejudice in opposition to 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, corresponding to “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 idea that success is simply potential for a number of, distinctive neurodivergent people persists regardless of the numerous examples and knowledge. For example, one UK examine of self-made millionaires revealed that about 40% of the 300 studied have been dyslexic (vs. 10% of dyslexic people within the common inhabitants). 

2. Pathologizing of positives and strengths

Due to the general destructive stereotypes of neurodivergence, even constructive behaviors or attributes might be interpreted as destructive. In a current examine of ethical conduct in autistic vs. non-autistic people, autistic contributors acted ethically no matter whether or not they have been noticed, whereas “wholesome controls” (which means, the non-autistic people) have been much less moral when not noticed. The authors interpreted the consistently moral conduct of autistic contributors 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 brazenly 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 advanced. 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 problem 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 vital automated 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.” The truth is, 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 embrace: 

1. A Fascination with confidence and charisma

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

2. The concentrate on 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 position, 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 information and creativity economic system and with self-motivated people and groups. Leaders who bring out the best in motivated groups are usually introverted and humble.

Within the context of distributed and distant work “command and management” techniques change into more and more counterproductive. As an alternative of exerting positional energy, the way forward for work requires main by way of affect—and that requires specializing in function and authenticity somewhat than management. Goal-focused affect is a superb match for neurodivergent strengths, as demonstrated by activists like Greta Thunberg or Daryl Hannah. So is assumed 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 delusion. 


3. The tyranny of “match” 

Extreme concentrate on group cohesion ends in groupthink in leadership groups. A steered technique to restrict the risks of groupthink is to nominate “satan’s advocates.” Neurodivergent people, historically labeled as “poor match,” are prone to carry authentic pondering and honesty to assist leadership groups assume 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 totally different from the “common”—and from one another. But, it could be 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 vital effort to let go of biases and embed inclusion deep inside organizational processes. Nevertheless, the stakes are extraordinarily excessive, as implicit ableism could be 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 government coach powered by ADHD, “survival of the group within the twenty first century will rely on creating excessive integrity product and people-first tradition, to positively affect high-stakes human and planetary wants.” Leaders who comply with their moral rules no matter whether or not they’re noticed or not are prone to play a significant position in making certain this survival.

 Ludmila N. Praslova, PhD, SHRM-SCP, makes use of her in depth expertise with international, cultural, potential, 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.