By Randy Hain
I have been leading people since I was a 16 year old in high school working at a restaurant in the town where I grew up. Leadership has always been a passion for me and after years of study, reading dozens of leadership books, listening to mentors and accumulating great experience on the way to a successful career I have come to understand one thing: I can still learn something new about leadership. In my case, the best source of ongoing leadership lessons is my 11 year old son Alex, who has high functioning autism.
With roughly 1 in 166 children diagnosed with autism, it is likely you have parents in your extended circle of family and friends who are raising a child on the autistic spectrum. For clarification and perhaps education purposes, you should be aware that people suffering from autistic spectrum disorder will always present differently. These wonderful people are all unique and their symptoms can range from very low-functioning and non-verbal to very bright and verbal. A disorder that includes such a broad and varied range of symptoms is often called a spectrum disorder; hence the term “autism spectrum disorder.” The most significant and commonly shared symptom is in the area of social communication, which includes challenges with direct eye contact, normal conversation, communicating ideas, empathy and reading facial expressions or social cues.
I have not written specifically about Alex in the past and do so reluctantly now. My wife and I love Alex and his younger brother Ryan more than words can say and have always tried to protect them as best we can. We have both discussed Alex’s condition and challenges openly with friends since his diagnosis 9 years ago, but I feel compelled to share with others how he has inspired me to be a better person, a better father and certainly a better leader.
It dawned on me the other day after playing his favorite game of Trivial Pursuit and listening to an endless series of questions about my favorite baseball players, favorite songs and favorite Sponge Bob episodes that the way I interact with and “lead” Alex has strong parallels to leadership in the business world. The skills I have developed and the lessons I have learned in working and communicating with Alex have been spilling over into my professional life for years. So, I would like to share with my peers, friends and clients 7 vital leadership lessons I have learned from my gifted son.
All of us could stand to learn important lessons from our children. Alex is a child with special needs, but first and foremost, he is a special child. The heroism he exhibits each day by simply interacting with a world that is often alien and unfriendly is a source of ongoing inspiration for me and the others who have gotten to know him. I am grateful that I have gained the humility to recognize that over the years I have been Alex’s father and supposedly the teacher in our relationship, he has been teaching me the entire time.
About the Author
Randy Hain is Managing Partner and Shareholder of Bell Oaks (www.belloaks.com), a nationally-recognized executive search firm. He has played the lead role in hiring, training and developing one of the most successful search consultant teams in the industry, and has earned a reputation as a values-based leader who invests heavily in his colleagues, candidates and clients. Randy is on the boards of the Atlanta Union Mission, TROVE Inc., the Atlanta St. Vincent de Paul Society and Ethikos. He is a co-founder of the Atlanta Catholic Business Conference and is a very active parishioner of St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church in Roswell, GA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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