“He’s clueless,” Alan said to his peer, Tracy as they walked out of the meeting.
Alan had gone into his presentation to his VP, Amir thinking it was in the bag. What in his mind should have been a slam dunk turned out to be 30 minutes of inquisition-like questions, debating of assumptions, and skepticism of his solution, all followed by a “We’re not going to do this.”
“I just can’t believe how out of touch he is,” Alan continued. “The solution is as plain as the nose on his face, and he can’t see beyond his own incompetence!”
Tracy was quiet as the two walked and Alan continued to sputter. After a few minutes, Alan couldn’t help but notice Tracy’s silence.
“What do you think?” Alan asked.
“How about we go in the conference room and chat,” Tracy said.
“Sure.” Alan had always respected Tracy’s judgment and how she commanded the respect of not just peers and followers, but also her management. The two went into the conference room, Alan shut the door, and they sat.
“Alan, you’re incredibly bright and very passionate about your work.”
“But. . .” Alan said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“You haven’t yet mastered how to sell up.”
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Special intelligence Unit 9900 is dedicated to everything related to geography, including mapping, interpretation of aerial and satellite photographs, and space research. Within this unit there is another, smaller unit of highly qualified soldiers who can detect even the smallest details—the ones usually undetectable to most people.
These soldiers all have one thing in common; they are on the autism spectrum. Their job is to take visual materials from satellite images and sensors in the air. With the help of officers and decoding tools, they analyze the images and find specific objects within the images that are necessary to provide the best data to those planning missions. The IDF has also found that soldiers with autism can focus for longer periods of time than their neurotypical counterparts.
This story speaks to me personally. My son Trevor was diagnosed with autism at age five. The only thing I knew about autism at the time was Dustin Hoffman’s Rainman character. Raising a son on the spectrum drastically changed my point of view on disability inclusion, seeing strengths through the challenges, and cultivating those strengths while accommodating the challenges. He’s a grown man today, living on his own, working, paying his bills, saving money, and building relationships. His strengths outweigh his challenges.
The same reckoning with his strengths and challenges can lead to success with overseeing how an organization thrives, but how do you begin to ensure inclusion of disabled people’s strength in the workplace at scale with at an organization level? It has to start at the board and C-suite level.
Recently I received two LinkedIn requests to connect, one from a rep at a well-known insurance company and the other from a financial planner at a well-known financial services company. In the first request the rep told me that the insurance company notified him that my construction company is eligible for a special program that grants an immediate discount.
Sounds great; the problem is I don't own a construction company.
Twice I asked him to tell me who at the insurance company notified him. He finally responded with a “nobody notified us,” even though in his original message he was “notified by <insurance company> that my construction business qualifies for the discount.”
My very first job was baking bagels at age 15 back in Connecticut. When my family moved to Arizona a year later, I bagged groceries and stocked shelves until I graduated high school, then sold clothes while in college. After getting my degree I joined Arthur Andersen & Co. as management information consultant where I worked in Phoenix, Chicago, and Seattle. After 11 years I went to Microsoft where I worked for nine years before leaving to homeschool our son. My professional life now is as an author, publisher, consultant, and disability inclusion advocate. It’s a journey that I never anticipated and am thankful for the great life learnings it afforded me.
“Oh brother, Moe is on the meeting invite,” Sue said to herself as she prepped for the meeting.
Moe has been at the company for 40 years and considers himself the fountain of knowledge for how things should be done. Even though a lot in the industry has changed over the years, Moe loves to tell stories about “the good old days” and how so much of what the company is trying to do can’t work. “Those idiot suits on the 40th floor . . .” is one of Moe’s go-to quotes, explaining his view that leadership doesn’t have a clue as to how to run the company. Moe can easily take up ten minutes in a one-hour meeting justifying why a new idea won’t work, based on an irrelevant old war story which typically ends with, “If they just listened to me . . . .” Some team members try to be polite, and others try to shut down Moe’s bluster. Moe’s credibility, once well-regarded in the company, is now in the toilet. Despite his attempts to demonstrate relevancy, he’s simply viewed as a pontificator.
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