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What it takes to be a neurodiverse leader

How can organisations support neurodiverse people into leadership roles?

Last week's focus on neurodiversity (Neurodiversity Celebration Week took place from 18 to 24 March this year) provided an opportunity to highlight the wonderful talents that neurodiverse people bring to the workforce. However, as a CEO with ADHD who runs a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) organisation, for me, celebrating neurodiversity every single day is simply business as usual.

I was diagnosed with ADHD well into my working career and, like many, spent a lot of time trying to hide it, being embarrassed about it, and feeling stupid and lesser than others. That was not only exhausting but significantly impacted my mental health. Roll forward to today, and I am open and proud of being neurodiverse. I’ve realised that my difference adds strength and brings energy and creativity to my organisation. In fact, I see being neurodiverse as a superpower.

Read more: Neurodiversity: a legal perspective

I find it staggering that people remain under the misapprehension that neurodiverse people are only suited to technical jobs, such as accountancy or software development, and not leadership. The truth is that neurodiverse people make open and authentic leaders, honest and considerate managers. They bring a plethora of skills, expertise and experiences to leadership.

Skills mastery

As individual contributors, neurodiverse employees are able to master a skill or talent quickly. As a leader, being able to understand the disciplines of those in your team that may be different to your own provides a unique opportunity to support them in their roles better.

Problem solving and outside-the-box thinking

Neurodiverse people have extraordinary pattern recognition abilities and see connections between things that others often don’t, making them fantastic problem solvers.

Also, they have the ability to think critically and abstractly, challenge norms and add enormous value to strategy development.

Laser focus

Having the ability to give 100% attention for sustained periods of time enables neurodiverse people to get stuck into things without distraction. Such laser focus is something that all leaders would benefit from.


As most neurodiverse people have had to learn to navigate the neurotypical world and find alternative ways to get where they need to go, they have developed phenomenal resilience along the way.

Read more: Harnessing the rich potential of neurodiverse talent

Absolute honesty

A great thing about neurodiverse people is their complete and unfiltered honesty. In leadership, this cuts through the noise and politics and coalesces others around getting things done in a no-nonsense and impactful way.

Embracing my neurodiversity has enabled me to be a far better leader. I now lead with authenticity, compassion, accountability, openness and vulnerability. This has created an environment where everyone feels psychologically safe, able to be just who they are and express their thoughts, feelings, views and concerns without fear of judgement or recrimination.


So, how can organisations support neurodiverse people into leadership roles?


Reach out for help

Most organisations will not have the expertise in-house to do this, so it’s vital to partner with DEI or neurodiversity organisations.

Remove barriers

It’s critical for organisations to make sure there are no barriers for neurodiverse people at any point in the employee life cycle – from recruitment and onboarding to retention and progression. Importantly, ensure that learning, development, growth and progression opportunities are fair, equitable and appropriately accessible for everyone.

Create specific pathways into leadership

Employers should collaborate with neurodiverse employees to develop leadership pathways and programs that meet their specific needs.

Have an open, respectful and inclusive culture

At the heart of any DEI initiative is culture. Having an inclusive culture, which is values-led, and compassionate, where people feel valued, respected, and have a sense of belonging is essential.

Organisations that support neurodiverse people into leadership roles will have a competitive edge. Diverse thinking, approaches and ways of working lead to greater creativity, innovation and opportunities for growth.


Sandi Wassmer is CEO of the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion