A bit more on Trevor. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age five (the clinical diagnosis was Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified or PDD-NOS). He has always been high-functioning with some social and communication challenges that typically accompany someone like him. Today he is 26, has a bachelor’s degree in Film & Media Studies from Arizona State University, lives on his own, has a job, and supports himself. He will have some challenges for the rest of his life, but as he gets older, he has become much more self-aware of his strengths and challenges. My wife Patty and I are incredibly proud of him.
As I was reading through his movie rankings, something much deeper than movie reviews emerged for me. What struck me was the number of Trevor’s strengths that give him the ability to review, rank, and communicate the 90 movies, as follows:
- Candor – The reviews are clear, concise and direct.
- Quantitative Analysis – Each of the 90 movies are graded using 37 data points in five categories. He goes well beyond “loved it/hated it” by quantitatively scoring each movie. He developed the rating process a couple of years ago and has been using and adapting it since then.
- Courage – He expresses his point of view fully knowing that some will agree, and others will disagree.
- Exec-speak – He summarizes each review in a 3-5 sentence digestible summary for those who want the “Cliff Notes” rather than a complete analysis.
- Credibility – He uses facts and data to support his positions.
- Awareness of Societal Issues – In many of his summaries he points out behaviors and attitudes which may have been acceptable over time but in today’s world are unacceptable.
- Tenacity – Three years ago he established an ambitious goal and stuck to it. Many would have given up.
- Passion for Quality – When Trevor started this endeavor three years ago, he didn’t have a grading scale. He developed and modified his grading scale and subsequently re-graded and re-ranked the movies as his grading scale matured.
Look at the above strengths. Most any leader would love to see a list of strengths like that in an employee. Couple these with subject matter training and you’ve got a vibrant, contributing member of the workforce.
Another great example of unearthing strengths is the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The IDF uses soldiers on the autism spectrum to scan visual materials from satellites and air sensors to identify minute troop changes. They found that soldiers on the spectrum can better focus and get less fatigued than their neurotypical counterparts. It’s a strength that fills an important security need.
Take the initiative to understand how people with disabilities can contribute to your organization by doing the following:
- Look at actions – In Trevor’s case, his move reviews and ranking process is something he is passionate about and undertook on his own fueled by his own passion.
- Decompose actions to core strengths – For each action, dig deeper and understand what strengths enable them. It’s not particularly difficult to do, it just takes some time to observe and ask, “What is it that drives this action?”
- Align the core strengths to needs in your organization – Just as with the IDF, soldiers with autism are serving in areas where they can be more effective than their neurotypical counterparts because someone took the time to understand how focus and attention to detail could be used to help national security.
According to Accenture’s research report Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage, there are 15 million Americans of working age living with a disability and only 29% of those participate in the workforce. It’s your responsibility as leaders to look at the strengths that exist in this vastly untapped pool and align them to the needs in your organization. Oh, and back to Trevor’s Oscar rankings, want to know what’s number 90 and number one? You’ll have to look for yourself 😊.