April is Autism Acceptance Month.
My nephew Charlie is intelligent, funny and a snappy dresser. He taught himself to read by the time he was four, loves the Green Bay Packers, fifties music and Andy Griffith TV
shows. He is also autistic.
Charlie was diagnosed by the time he was two; his mother spent countless hours educating herself about his condition and advocating for him. Autism manifests itself in the way the brain takes in, processes and responds to information. Charlie had his own timetable for learning and developing communication skills and even walking and running. When he was young, he would hold his hands over his ears in grocery stores and large public areas; all the different noises were overwhelming to him.
Autism also comes with a set of strengths: a deep passion for interests, the ability to recognize visual, musical, social or emotional patterns and strong individuality.
I watched Charlie maneuver and adapt to a world that must have seemed strange. But consider that some of the skills and talents he employed are the same ones that ensure success in life and in business.
Lesson 1: Be true to who you are
There is nothing phony about Charlie, he dances to the beat of his own drum and is oblivious to the fact that what he likes may not be the latest trend.
Similarly, the most effective leader’s I’ve known are comfortable in their own skin. They don’t play games and you never have to guess where they stand on an issue.
Lesson 2: Have a plan and be prepared
Charlie’s need for organization at times drove his mother to distraction. He always wanted to know what the plan was for the day, the week, the month and the year.
Successful leaders have a vision and a plan. They know what they want their world to look like in the future and they work toward a goal.
Lesson 3: Be flexible and learn to adapt
The world isn’t easy for Charlie to navigate. He doesn’t pick up on emotional cues or respond to “incidents” the way you and I do, but he’s intelligent and has learned to roll with the flow and get through difficult situations.
Every day the world changes: valuable employees quit, old customers pull their orders and new ones come on board. Technology throws us curve balls. The best leaders are always learning, always looking for the next tool that will make them and their organization more successful and productive.
Lesson 4: Willpower and tenacity will take you far
It isn’t easy for Charlie to articulate what he wants but if he wants something bad enough he keeps working at it until he gets his message across. If the answer is “no” and he still wants it, he’ll keep pressing.
Some companies endure and even prosper through catastrophic events that cause others to fail. These organizations have focus, determination, willpower and persistence. They also have employees who believe in their cause and do what has to be done.
Lesson 5: Learn the rules and follow them
When Charlie went to live with his brother, his world changed. He had to learn a different schedule and had to share the TV, the computer and the bathroom with three other people. As situations arose, a list of rules evolved (complete with consequences if they weren’t followed) that helped everyone live together successfully.
Guidelines help people maneuver new situations more successfully. They remove ambiguity and help people make wise choices.
Lesson 6: Get help from experts
Charlie has an aide who helps him become more independent. Tiffany exposes him to new ideas and environments. Together they anticipate his needs and goals. She guides him, is his landing net when he fails and his cheerleader when he succeeds.
Smart leaders seek out sources of knowledge and counsel. They understand that the most effective resources do not offer a specific course of action, but explore options, discuss possibilities, share connections and celebrate successes.
There is wisdom in the world wherever you turn. When you are open to new ideas, they can come from unexpected and non-traditional sources. Be open to the possibility that someone or something different may have lessons to share.
If you’d like to know more about autism or support the autism movement, click here.