There are lots of examples of exceptional business leaders with autism, both in the modern-day and throughout history. They include Dr. Temple Grandin, Influential Autism Spokesperson and Professor of Animal Science and Satoshi Tajiri, Pokémon inventor. It is also thought that Albert Einstein, a Theoretical Physicist was on the spectrum too. Autism is an umbrella term that includes Asperger syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance, (PDA).
Autism impacts how an individual interacts with the world around them. These typically affect social interaction, social communication, and cognition. It is important to recognise that there is a spectrum. Everyone is unique. “If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.” (Dr Stephen Shore).
Everyone has unique strengths and abilities. Developing and using your strengths can lead to you accomplishing incredible things. You are creative and super focussed. Your passion for your interests comes across strongly. You dedicate time and commitment to mastering your passion and interests.
Individuals with autism are reliable and punctual. You are honest, loyal and fair. These traits are desirable and some of the most valued traits in business. An honest, loyal and fair business leader builds high levels of trust amongst their stakeholders. There is also a higher level of loyalty from staff and customers.
Autistic Leaders are Great Problem Solvers
Your ability to see the world differently from other people is also advantageous. You are a great problem solver because of your thinking outside of the box or non-orthodox approach. The lack of understanding often creates challenges that you may have to face at various stages of your life. This coupled with the lack of solution or support for you, often results in you coming up with alternative solutions to the problem.
You have a curious mind. By spending too much time making sense of the world around you, and employing different tools, strategies and mechanisms to cope with “all the noise and information”, your attention to detail can be unmatched. Your love for routine means that you are better organised than most adults and extremely punctual.
People with autism have higher levels of creativity. From music to acting, sciences to creators and inventors. There are some exceptional individuals who are great leaders.
What are the challenges business leaders with autism face?
Most leaders with autism face social interaction and social communication challenges. However, this does not mean that you are not sociable. It just means that you struggle with usual social cues. You tend to take things literally. You may also have hypersensitivity to certain sensory stimuli. Leading to sensory overloads in certain social situations. As a business leader with autism, you may come across as non-empathetic or socially insensitive. You may also have a smaller group of friends both in the workplace and outside of work.
It is likely you have a higher moral compass than most people and are very compliant with rules once you learn them. This may present a challenge when leading less compliant people. You may find such people frustrating to work with.
As having multiple conversations may create sensory overloads, you may be easily distracted by what is going on around you. You may also find it difficult to focus and stay on topic in such circumstances. Thus, having well-structured meetings with agendas will help. Clearly defined roles for meeting attendees will also help you remain focused.
You communicate clearly and straight to the point. This can be extremely helpful when communicating your vision to your team and customers. Coupled with passion, you can enthuse people and secure their buy-in to your dream. You are easily confused when people are vague. You may find certain people that you come across in business frustrating. These may include sales, marketing and business development professionals.
Your love for routines and logic
Your love for routines and logic can be greatly beneficial to you as a business leader, makes making you very organised and good at planning. You are very productive and have high standards. You may find that you may be particular and prefer how certain things must be done. It can help establish processes that you would like others to follow. However, you will need to build in flexibility to allow others to be creative. You would want to leave room for others to contribute and to grow. You may struggle with a sudden change of routine or if things do not go according to plan.
You may find non-verbal communication uncomfortable and unbearable. This includes eye contact, body language and other social cues. You prefer explicit rules, which take away ambiguity and confusion.
To run a successful business, you will need to engage with a variety of people. These include your customers, employees, and other stakeholders. You will need to interact with them in a way that presents and preserves your authentic self. Collaborating with an executive coach can support you to be the best at your game.