Over the past several decades the discussion of disability and its relationship to business has mainly been relegated within the employment sphere. The focus has been around hiring practices, developing a pipeline of gainful employment, and creating a new generation of persons with disabilities that are part of the consumer ecosystem to continue the ever-expanding progression of innovation for the digital economy of the 21st century. While this area is still critically important, an aspect that continues to not be emphasized enough is the element of leadership. In an era of real change, there are enormous shifts not only in how we work but where we work and the impact of the digital economy is not only redefining potential opportunities for both the general employee as well as potential candidates with disabilities, it is bringing them closer together like never before. C-level executives and senior managers need to reassess their own leadership styles and engage the importance that the disability narrative plays in their organizational growth in the digital economy. As we enter this new decade the role of leadership will become even more important to the continued trajectory for greater business success and help cultivate a new understanding of the power of disability within corporate strategy.
Where Disability and Leadership Intersect
For many understanding the direct correlation between disability and leadership tactics can often be a confusing one, yet when looking at it from the starting point of human capital it provides more clarity and creates a template to work with. Business is about people, and it is essential that great leaders sharpen their people skills to be able to better connect and develop effective management strategies to streamline business growth. With the ever-increasing employee pool of persons with disabilities that span across a wide range of demographics, types of disabilities, and backgrounds, embracing difference and being able to find synchronicity between business objectives and people is an essential tool to have for future growth.
Leadership Strategy #1: Sympathy/Empathy
True leadership is about making people believe and engendering a want to follow an individual or group that is focused on an idea or goal. Great business leaders in this next decade need to embrace this idea but to do so they must harness their ability to be more empathetic or sympathetic towards the needs of others. Being able to see the value in others and creating a mechanism for greater awareness of needs will be essential for more effective leaders in the economy of tomorrow. Learning to listen can often be a leader’s greatest asset and is essential for long term corporate success.
Leadership Strategy #2: The Role of Imagination
Leaders in this next decade need to recognize that one of the great assets that the disability experience offers is the ability to see the value add that imagination provides as a tool for business growth. C- level executives and senior management need to cultivate their ability to imagine new realities for their organization from the mechanics of job design to innovating new products and services that enhance their opportunities for continued growth. It is imperative that employees with disabilities play a central role in helping leaders to think by utilizing design questioning and creativity to imagine new possibilities and create new opportunities for corporate growth.
Leadership Strategy #3: Growth
Disability as a tool for leadership is still foreign to most companies’ strategic plans, however, in the next decade, the goal will be to illustrate how this type of thinking will shape business strategy and redefine the lexicon of leadership for the 21st century. Corporate leaders, for the most part, share a growth mindset, yet by utilizing a disability framework the goal is to see pathways to seek a new vision of tomorrow and explore new growth potential in areas yet to be discovered. New leaders for the next decade must seize upon these ideas to broaden their horizons personally and build a core competency to breath new life into every facet of the organization.
As we approach this new decade, the role of leadership is more poignant than ever before. With the upcoming presidential election, the Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30 and business moving at warp speed, there are changes ahead and leadership must not only keep pace with the times but be the trendsetters for the moment and help guide our institutions and organizations to a new reality of prosperity and growth. The disability narrative serves as a template that will enhance that reality and show its value as the new normal for us all.