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Executive Coaching Today's Neurodiverse Leaders (Autism, ADHD)

In today's modern workplaces, the concept of "neurodiversity" is gaining traction and understanding. It's a term that encompasses a wide range of neurological differences, such as ADHD and Autism, among others. Some have estimated that around a quarter of the population is thought to be neurodiverse in some way, but not all of them have received a formal diagnosis. This idea of a 'spectrum' of neurological diversity challenges the traditional notion of 'normal,' suggesting that we all have unique ways of processing information and interacting with the world. In fact, if we were to plot these differences on a bell curve, the individuals we label as "neurodiverse" would simply be at the edges of this curve, rather than being fundamentally different from the rest of us.

This article aims to speak to both the neurodiverse executive, as well as those who coach them.



Girl with eyes closed and her brain lighting up
A neurodiverse person's brain

 

For Individual Leaders Who Are Neurodiverse:

If you're a leader who identifies as neurodiverse, you might have experienced challenges in finding the right coach. You might feel like your needs aren't being met or that you're not making progress in your personal or professional development as quickly as you would like. Ideally, you need to find someone who understands the individual nuances of your neurodiversity and how to adapt their coaching style to fit your unique needs.


The good news is that there are executive coaches out there who specialise in working with neurodiverse individuals. They understand your unique strengths and challenges and can provide you with the support and guidance you need to thrive. Remember, you are not alone. There are resources and support available to help you find a specialist coach who understands and supports both your neurodiversity and your leadership. With the right coach by your side, you can achieve your personal and professional goals and find fulfilment in your work and leadership.

 

For Coaches Who Have Neurodiverse Leaders as Clients:

It can be challenging to coach an executive who is neurodiverse, especially if you don't have experience working with neurodiverse individuals. You might feel unsure about how to best support them or how to effectively communicate with them. Executive coaching leaders who have ADHD, Autism or other neurodiverse conditions requires a specialist approach. Here are some tips:


If you're a an executive coach who finds yourself with a supervisee who discloses their neurodiversity or if you suspect that they may have an undiagnosed or undisclosed neurodiversity, here are some tips:


1. Create a Safe Space: Establish an environment where neurodiverse leaders feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences. Encourage open communication and assure confidentiality.


2. Set Clear Goals: Define specific objectives. This could include improving communication skills, enhancing leadership abilities, or addressing specific challenges.


3. Use Visual Aids: Many neurodiverse individuals are visual learners. Incorporate diagrams, charts, or other visual aids to help them reflect on their situation or issue.


4. Provide Structure: Overt visibility of the structure of the sessions will help neurodiverse leaders stay focused as you move through each phase of the session. Outline a clear agenda or plan at the start and set time limits for each section.


5. Use scenarios and real situations: Encourage neurodiverse leaders to choose “a time when…” or a specific example to reflect on their own actions and behaviours. Ask open-ended questions that prompt them to think critically about their decisions in those moments and the impact they had on their team. This will lead to heightened awareness and discernment for future situations.


6. Offer Feedback: Though ideally coaching offers minimal advice giving, this population benefit from an external perspective. Providing constructive feedback that highlights a strengths-based approach to development areas is critical, however. Any suggestions need to be specific, practical, and achievable.


7. Promote Active Listening: Encourage neurodiverse leaders to actively listen to others' perspectives and consider different viewpoints. However, it's important not to misinterpret their self-sufficiency as a lack of empathy. Individuals with autism, for example, may become overwhelmed with feelings for others, leading them to withdraw or avoid rather than communicate their care. The focus should be on learning to listen with the intent to communicate care to the listener.


8. Get yourself a specialist coach supervisor: You will need support yourself when working with this client group. Make sure that you seek further professional development and regular opportunities to receive professional reflective supervision with someone who has specialised in this area.

 

When neurodiverse leaders engage in executive coaching, they can expect improved self-awareness, enhanced problem-solving skills, increased confidence, and better communication. Neurodiverse individuals bring unique strengths to the table, and with specialised support and a nuanced approach, they can make significant contributions to their teams, and organisations. Cultivating reflective practice is a powerful tool for helping all leaders grow and thrive in their roles. By creating a safe and structured environment, setting clear goals, and providing constructive feedback, executive coaches can help neurodiverse leaders reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to their teams and organisations.

 

Author: Kathryn Martens

Kathryn first learned about the neurodiverse population in her early career as a Speech Pathologist. She then furthered this expertise developing her special interest in neurodiverse clients through executive coaching, leadership development strategy, and coach supervision.


She conducts workshops and develops strategies for organisations to promote neurodiversity inclusion. Additionally, she performs workplace assessments for neurodiverse leaders seeking to optimise their work environment for success.


She also lives with and supports three people in her family who are neurodiverse.

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