Can an autistic person be a leader? What is 'leadership?'

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BillyBates
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15 Mar 2017, 2:46 am

I'm an NT guy working in leadership development for an insurance company. I'm interested in setting up a website to support AS individuals in leadership roles. I don't mean "CEO Fortune 500 roles", I mean leading a team, leading a project, leading with new ideas, leading others to think differently... things like that.

What does 'leadership' mean to you? (For me it's about "showing people a better future, showing them the path, and showing them how to make the journey"). By this definition I guess anyone can be a leader.

What do you think?



Desmilliondetoiles
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15 Mar 2017, 4:18 am

Leadership doesn't necessarily mean showing people how to do stuff to me, although I guess you mean to teach by example. A leader to me is someone who respects all opinions or at the very least makes an effort to respect the people, someone who is not afraid to have an unpopular opinion because it shows integrity, someone who has compassion for others, someone who is honest, and someone who is humble. Oftentimes, it's hard to be all those people at once.


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BillyBates
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15 Mar 2017, 4:39 am

Hi Desmilliondetoiles, thank you for your reply. I agree that often it's hard to be all those people at once (or know what is the right thing to do at any time).

Using your definition, are there times that you've been a leader? What did you do well, what not so well? It would be great to hear more from you.



Lunella
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15 Mar 2017, 7:42 am

It's definitely possible but I imagine the person would just have to undergo a lot of training and making sure they actually understand what certain social things mean in general because that would be the main problem, their social skills and social understanding. Self awareness is quite important as well, if they have none then perhaps they likely wouldn't be suited for the position because being a leader means you have to include everyone, not just yourself, selfish leaders are often in it just for the ego and that never makes a good leader.

I think the best kind of leaders are when it's community focused, not making them fear losing their job under a big hierarchy because if it's community focused they will perform better under more positive circumstances and this would also perhaps be easier on the autistic person rather than have them come across as a negative dominant force.

Also, it's better to not just label them as autistic and treat them as so, they are just an individual with some social problems after all. Every autistic person is a different person with autism, I find employers tend to forget this. That person has their own problems, not all are the same.

I hope that provided some help.


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BillyBates
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15 Mar 2017, 9:26 pm

Hi Lunella, thanks for the reply. I agree that self awareness and social skills are important, and yet there are plenty of leaders who lack ability in these areas (from my experience.)

I also agree that every person is different. I don't really like the idea of 'NT'... I understand the perspective, but it is also important to remember that everyone 'off the spectrum' is very individual too.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.



klin
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17 Mar 2017, 4:31 pm

Hi, Billy. Absolutely, yes. At the moment two people who come to mind are: Temple Grandin; a young woman whose youtube videos I've watched a lot and who is an advocate for autistic people (Amethyst Schaber, you should check out her videos). Certainly I think leadership roles might be more suitable for more high-functioning individuals.

I think leadership depends on one's ability to take stock of a group dynamic and see things in a systematic way. I think the ability to identify organizational and methodological deficits causing what seem like contingent errors is very important. The leader should be able to see how everyone and everyone's tasks function together.

I think the role of the leader should be to orchestrate cohesion and identify problems that individuals focused in their particular tasks might miss due to their specialization.



The_Walrus
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20 Mar 2017, 5:44 pm

I think autistic people are often good at leading by example, and we are also good at managing resources (e.g. "you're good at this so do this, you're good at that so do that, so-and-so is off today so could you please cover them?"). What we struggle with, speaking largely from my own experience, is managing the people as people rather than as resources. Keeping people happy and motivated can be difficult for us.



The Unleasher
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20 Mar 2017, 6:48 pm

Well, the modern school system's definition of a leader.

"Everyone is a leader, because everyone is equal at everything at the same time!"

I disagree and I don't think that everyone is a leader. Everyone can have leadership traits, but there's a difference. You need to know how to be assertive enough to apply those traits. I think that leadership is a property within oneself which not only takes an individual with confidence, a somewhat relaxed personality, and enough assertiveness, but the will to keep fighting and living.


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Stoic0209
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21 Mar 2017, 8:52 am

Leadership is something I often think about, especially working in the Quality field. A definition given by Dr. W. Edwards Deming of a leader is as follows,

"First, he has theory. He understands why the transformation would bring gains to his organization and to all the people that his organization deals with. Second, he feels compelled to accomplish transformation as an obligation to himself and to his organization. Third, he is a practical man. He has a plan, step by step, and can explain it in simple terms.

But what is in his own head is not enough. He must convince and change enough people in power to make it happen. He possesses persuasive power. He understands people."

This last part would be a challenge for us Aspies. Could this be learned? Maybe.



NobodyKnows
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21 Mar 2017, 10:01 pm

The_Walrus wrote:
I think autistic people are often good at leading by example, and we are also good at managing resources (e.g. "you're good at this so do this, you're good at that so do that, so-and-so is off today so could you please cover them?"). What we struggle with, speaking largely from my own experience, is managing the people as people rather than as resources. Keeping people happy and motivated can be difficult for us.

I would second that.

Savants vary, but I would definitely consider tapping an impervious or hypervigilant one as a crisis leader, or to manage a team that's working on something unfamiliar to most of its members. I've done that as a political field organizer working on local elections, and as a volunteer coordinator as a housing non-profit, and in both cases it went a lot better than I expected when I started.

My weakest point as a political-op was that I'm not very partisan, and it took me too long to learn to fake it. Talking to local activists can also be a bit like buying a rug at a bazaar in Cairo; the rug merchant expects you to haggle, and the activist expects you to manipulate, and both will find you quite odd if you don't.

On the plus side, I was comfortable talking to people from other parties (useful because our other organizers weren't, and both campaigns were intra-party contests), and there were quite a few introverted volunteers who didn't like working with our other staffers but would work with me quite happily. (Those were the people that we called on to do prep-work at fund-raisers, enter volunteer info into our database, drop lit or install lawn signs.)

The non-profit job was a similar story. I had no savvy for office politics, and I worked closely with a fund-raising director who had an incompatible personality. The bright spots were that being job-focused (as The Walrus described) seemed to go over well with the job-site volunteers (understandable given that they were up on 30' ladders and had to trust us), and both the construction staff and our management relied on me to speak up at difficult meetings when nobody else wanted to.