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Why my disability makes me a better leader


Can you name one leader — a CEO, CFO, MP or anyone you view as a leader – who’s blind, deaf, a paraplegic, an amputee or has Down’s Syndrome? Most Australians would be hard-pressed to name a friend of a friend or a celebrity, let alone a ‘leader’, with this criterion.

I believe this is a good thing. As my mentor explained to me: “Get that chip off your shoulder and join the majority”. He’s correct. I would rather be known for my ability.

I’ve read a lot of management books, especially those aimed at women who often state I should ‘quit being a girl’ and be more masculine in my business persona. In meetings I am often over the top, talk with my hands and take up space. I speak loudly, I’m not invisible and I will often act as the chairperson to intervene when the committee starts talking over the top of each other. In meetings I physically sit right in the middle of the table or at the head and will lean in towards the speaker and watch their every move.

With my work colleagues I’m extremely forward when I don’t hear or understand what’s going on or will request that I have the correct ‘tools’ necessary so I can discharge my tasks. I ‘fake it ’til I make it’. I have the office corner or the desirable quiet area in an open-plan office by necessity, rather than reward. I often close the door too so I can work more effectively.

Good leaders should have to walk the floor instead of picking up the phone. I will seek my colleagues out to speak with them directly as I prefer face to face communication. I enjoy networking and I’m seen as confident because I approach the wallflower and start a conversation with them rather than joining the large group discussion.

I am visible within the market place. In fact, I have been asked to provide a talk on ‘thinking outside the box on customer service’ for a business support group. I am often asked to write about my situation for the in-house staff bulletin.

I don’t hear gossip because I don’t actually hear the gossip! Be warned though, I can lip read and I read body language better than most and will pick up on cues when you are being untruthful. I am a master of silence. I wait patiently for you to say something and I appear confident when you have spoken because I pause and reflect on what you’ve just said. I request emails or completed forms from customers/clients rather than a phone call and this provides accountability and avoids the “You said, I said …” enabling me to get the task/request right the first time.

If I haven’t understood what was being said, YOU haven’t been the effective communicator. If I ask you to repeat yourself, you will not waste my time and will simplify the message rather than repeat word for word the long-winded waffle you said beforehand.

Isn’t it a sign of my ‘lack of communication skills’ that I don’t use the telephone. I can use the National Relay Service if I need to make an outgoing call and I can save the conversation as text for a record of conversation. It’s like dictating to my own personal assistant.

I know of an Australian leader — a prime minister — who was hearing impaired as we shared the same audiologist. Sadly he refused to wear his hearing aids and didn’t have Medicare amended to include hearing tests, like eye tests are, when in office.

A disability isn’t an excuse for being an ineffective leader. In fact it should be seen as an asset because you empathise with people better, you make an effort to communicate better and know how to bring out the best of your colleagues/clients by thinking outside the box when it comes to providing better customer service.

I am profoundly deaf and wear two hearing aids. When potential employers or clients ask about my ‘needs’, I tell them they need me in this modern world of equal opportunity and diversity!

Mums@Work 5 Dec 13

By:  By Lynda Leigh /  Dec 03, 2013 13:29PM