Prior to the boys’ diagnosis, I was really struggling to lead my team effectively at work. I was consistently frustrated with how the team was performing and at the pace of their progress.
Once the boys were diagnosed, I was so burnt out trying to figure out the balance between leading my team at work and leading my family at home. I decided to take a leave of absence to really wrap my arms around their diagnosis and everything that came along with it (therapies, dr’s appt., etc.)
I originally planned on using my time off to get the boys services situated. I wanted to ensure I did everything in my power to help them continue to learn and grow. Surprisingly, my time off also ended up being a learning and growing experience for myself.
Not only did the boys diagnosis save them; the diagnosis also saved my career. What I realized during that time is that the Autism theories and techniques I was learning about, were actually transferable and applicable at work. At the end of the day Child Development is People Development, and I am in this business because of my passion for helping people grow.
The 7 most important lessons I learned and began applying at work are these:
1) Find out what motivates them; What is their passion
Most children on the spectrum have what some may call obsessions, I personally like to call them passions. Both of my sons have strengths and passions, and I like to help them build on them. For example, my oldest loves the solar system. I help him build on this passion by reading books about it, visiting the observatory, etc. Doing this helps me to connect with him, and let’s me in his world. It helps him know I care and I’m on his side. Helping him leverage and build on his strengths can also prepare him for a career in the future. His dream is actually to be an Astronaut!
Similarly, at work I love to find out what drives my team. What do they love about their job? What comes naturally to them, and where do they perform their best?! When we focus on building on our employees strengths and passions we will see their best performance come out.
2) Teach how they learn
Discovering that my youngest is Hyperlexic really helped me to ensure that his team of teachers and therapists were teaching him in a way that he best understood. We began to see the best progress, as soon as everyone began providing him with more visual aides and written instruction. He went from only speaking in 3 words sentences, to speaking in 5 word sentences.
When working with different individuals on your team, you may notice that some of them catch on really quick and some of them require more support, or more time to start performing to expectation. When you see this happening, it is a good indicator that the individual you are leading learns in a different way. The best thing to do in this situation is to individualize your approach.
I recently lead an individual who had a very difficult time learning new technology. She had to learn several new websites to manage the hiring process. I discovered that she is a visual learner so I printed a few screen shots of the websites for her and highlighted for her where she needed to go and what she needed to fill out.
3) Allow time for Practice
Using the same example as above, I also discovered that this individual is a hands on learner and requires more time for practice. After 6 months of providing her with lots of one on one support, she was able to start navigating the websites required with much confidence and could perform all tasks independently.
This is actually one of my favorite lessons my children have taught me. Prior to the boys’ diagnosis, I was extremely impatient and would get frustrated and take over tasks when I saw that an individual was not immediately performing to expectation.
Our ABA team taught us about breaking tasks down to small steps. This is also called task reduction. When we were potty training the boys we broke it down to small steps like pulling down pants, sitting on the toilet, etc. We would then practice and practice the same step over and over until they could do it naturally on their own. I had to learn this lesson the hard way and through a lot of patience with myself. I learned that I am new at this parenting thing, and I also need to give myself time for practice.
4)Recognize the behaviors and actions you want to see more of
Focus on the positive behaviors your child displays throughout the day and you will get more of those positive behaviors. My oldest son struggles with anxiety and self injurious behaviors. My son’s teacher taught us to not only ignore his bad behaviors, but to really make it a big deal when he does something right. “Oh I like how you are sitting nicely!” The more we look for the things that our children do well, the more those positive behaviors increase. What you focus on grows!
The same can be said with the performance of our teams. If we only focus on their poor performance, they will feel defeated and perhaps stop trying. We need to be able to balance our approach. Catch them doing something right and tell them.
I have recently been working with one of my peers on how he provides feedback to his team. He is consistently being told that he is too direct and abresive. He had me sit in on a conversation between him and one of his employees. The conversation went very well. After we were done speaking to the individual I told him I thought he did well. More specifically I highlighted the behaviors for him “you listened to what she had to say”, “you owned up to your mistakes”, “you thanked her for her feedback”. I want him to know when he is doing it right so he understands how to continue to improve his approach.
5)Celebrate small wins
Stopping to celebrate the progress of our child’s development journey is so important. My oldest son can be very resistant when doing his homework. I usually try to spread out the homework assignments so we are not trying to cram so much at once. I congratulate him after each page is done, but keep pushing him to complete more!
Once again, doing this with our teams is also important because it fuels their drive to keep pushing to achieve those bigger goals. Working in a retail environment we have many goals to achieve. The most important goal is to beat our sales results. It can be very discouraging when we are not achieving that bigger goal. Instead, I focus on the smaller goals we are achieving such as employee engagement, and customer experience. I celebrate and highlight those areas, then ask my team “what’s next”!? Start small… Go BIG!
6)Accept them for who they are, but Expect them to become who they can be
Accepting our children’s strengths and weaknesses does not mean that we stop pushing the boundaries of what is possible. We must maintain a balance of what we expect from our children and accepting our children. Accepting them as a person does not mean we allow negative behaviors to continue. On the other hand, expecting them them to become better does not mean we do not accept them and love them for who they are. We must learn to balance the two to help them continue to grow.
It is the same way with our teams. They want to feel connected to us on a personal level, and although we can and should do that, it is not enough. Our people need to be clear on job expectations. They need to understand that everyone on the team plays a role, and be clear on what their role is. This is foundational. Once they understand the basics of their role, then we can continue to layer things on and further their development.
7) Individualize your Leadership
Lastly, Individualize your Leadership.
Just because you earned your leadership with one individual does not mean you will earn it with everyone you lead. Leadership is not just earned through one act, one time. It is earned through the consistency of your character, actions, and individualization of your approach.
Each child on the spectrum has different strengths and deficits. Individual development plans are needed in the school environment to help them succeed. No two children have the same nee
The same can be said about our people. All of our employees have different needs. It is critical that we adjust our style and approach in order to earn our leadership with each individual on our team.