Bring your overcomer’s attitude to the table and boost your career.
By Nancy Solari for Entrepreneur Magazine
here’s no question: More of us are working with a disability or a limiting condition for a longer period than ever before. This means we must change our perspective on our own productivity and be willing to see ourselves leading with a limitation. Disabled people must be ready to reach for the brass ring as they make up more of the executive team.
In the era of the “big quit,” employers are more willing than ever to hire diverse candidates with exceptional needs and limitations. The reason? Many people with disabilities have already proven they can go above and beyond expectations in their personal lives — and on the job.
But are you ready to take the next big step and leverage your strengths gained through adversity to aim for a leadership role? Here are four mindsets you need to take the leap of faith and expand your vision beyond the invisible barriers holding you back.
1. Get creative
There’s no greater opportunity to demonstrate your creativity than the journey through progressive visual impairment, multiple sclerosis or autism spectrum disorder. Whatever your limitation, finding creative solutions is the key to every closed door, every blocked opportunity and every unaccommodating venue.
Many disabled people get up much earlier than workers without limitations; for a person with multiple sclerosis, getting dressed can take more than twice the time most people would need. A legally blind manager must listen to emails read through speech recognition technology, whereas most people would visually scan the most important messages and easily toss out the rest.
Since you’ve found creative solutions to navigate obstacles in your personal journey, you can take this creativity to the next level. If you’ve been considering competing for a leadership role, use your creative side to uncover new methods and embrace innovation. Your adaptability and willingness to explore new technology will propel you to a new level of efficiency. You can be a beacon for others who want more from their careers. You’re a hurricane of inspiration; you’ve learned to meet change with confidence rather than fear.
2. Bring your perspective
Now that you’ve proven that your limitation doesn’t define you, it’s time to capitalize on the level of mindfulness you have gained through your journey. Your natural mindset is an awareness of staff members’ stress as they go about their day. There will be decisions as to how work will be done. Accessibility and accommodation are already part of your wheelhouse. You will come into a leadership position with an edge. Look around your workplace and see what needs redefining. Can small changes make a big difference in how team members work together?
Perhaps living with a disability has taught you how to leverage strengths and weaknesses for maximum output. You can spot hidden potential and get the most productivity out of others because you have overcome the obstacles in your own life. You have learned to complement your team members’ traits, learning to demand more of yourself while stepping back to let others shine when the time is right. This is the essence of leading with empathy, guiding people toward accepting one another’s gifts and working with each other’s shortcomings. You will be the first to admit that we are all a blend of both. Other executives will want to study your leadership style when you take the next step.
3. Speak for yourself
Part of living with a limiting condition is learning to advocate for yourself and discovering strength in your vulnerability. You will excel in negotiations and motivating people because you can relate and empathize with those struggling and celebrating their victories.
You may think sharing your journey through disability or chronic illness might bring unwanted attention or put you in a weakened position in the eyes of others. If you’re aiming for a leadership role, you may fear that telling your story could risk everything you’re working for. What is intriguing is how often a person’s journey weighs heavily in hiring decisions. The ability to move people with your struggle and connect authentically with others who have walked through adverse circumstances is often the deciding factor when company executives are looking to fill leadership roles. Most important, you will be a source of inspiration for people of all levels in the company. Finding your voice is vital to relate to employees and help them feel a part of the corporate community.
For you, “speaking up” could be asking for the role you want or advocating for your ideas. Learn to talk your worth and make your mark on the team. Finding your voice is the best way to position yourself for opportunity. You should be able to explain why you should get the job, why your idea will succeed, and why your story is important.
4. Measure your impact
What is your legacy in your workplace? Are you known as an overcomer, an advocate, or a leader with a fresh perspective? You can gauge your worth to your workplace by taking stock of the impact, the “footprint” you have made in your company, no matter how large or small the business may be. It’s never too late to change your legacy. Perhaps, in the beginning, you were getting your feet under you, discovering your resourcefulness. Now, it’s time to expand your vision and think about how you can leave your mark in business and life. This is a chance to live what you have learned and be mindful of the legacy you leave for the future.
Think about how you can make a difference and become a force for good when you finally land in an expanded role. It’s good practice to mentally prepare to step into leadership. You’ve served and observed, taking notes and promising yourself that if you ever rose to a powerful position, you would advocate for those who needed it. Your tendency to recognize others’ strengths despite their vulnerabilities will allow you to comfortably take charge with a heart of compassion toward those who may also wish to rise above their circumstances and see their dreams come true.
Finally, go with confidence
If you’re aiming for a position in leadership, let your confidence shine. After all, you’ve gone up against greater foes than unmotivated employees or a sluggish sales report. You’ve battled for your life and come out on the winning side. Go into your new role with the same strength and bold attitude you showed everyone, the positive outlook that helped you stay in the ring, refusing to let pain, anxiety, or frustration take you out. The culture is shifting as businesses learn to celebrate exceptional people while they honor diversity in the workplace. As a disabled worker, you can lead confidently, charting a new course and breaking new ground for all those who dream of overcoming adversity and rising to new horizons in leadership.