Journey of Personal Leadership; learning from our leaders

“[Personal leadership] to me is about inspiring people, making people feel comfortable, taking people along [and] taking responsibility for the decisions I make…” – Maryanne Diamond

Last December, in the first ever global #PurpleLightUp digital event, audiences across the world heard from Australian leaders with disability about the journey of personal leadership.

Our three guest speakers offered their insights, experience and advice on navigating personal leadership and creating an inclusive and accessible future.

Chris Rodrigo, Consultant at KPMG, Maryanne Diamond, AND board member and the late Leonie Jackson, Executive Manager, Advocacy and Strategic Partnerships at the Deaf Society and Deaf Services Limited sat alongside host, former AND CEO Suzanne Colbert to share their approaches on the topic.

We offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Leonie Jackson, who passed away Sunday, 17 January 2021. Leonie was a pioneer of Deaf Education and a leader to many leader across the community. She will be greatly missed.

What’s in a leader – finding strength from within

“Leadership isn’t just in the workplace. Leadership is in everything we do in our life.” – Maryanne Diamond.

While there is no one-sizes-fits-all approach to navigating life with disability, or leadership, our three panelists discussed some common themes that helped them grow throughout their career and their community.

Vulnerability, resilience and courage were qualities they identified as helping them advocate for inclusion.

“Sometimes you have to give a little bit away in order to welcome and to compel others to support you.” – Chris Rodrigo.

Building a personal support network

In advocating for inclusion, the three panelists were able to educate their communities around them and were successful in establishing their own support networks.

For Leonie, this was something incredibly important.

“I wanted to make sure that I had a community around me, and I wanted to make sure that I could provide other people with that sense of community.” — Leonie Jackson.

At times, it could be challenging to advocate for inclusion, but it was worth it. Offering opposing, diverse perspectives and sharing their stories helped educate the broader community and was a positive step towards an equitable, accessible and inclusive future.

“If we can establish speaking up as the new way forward, then it’s going to be better for the entire community.” – Leonie Jackson.

For organisations, this means lifting the voices of all their employees, listening to a diverse range of perspectives. It means creating a culture where employees are encouraged to share their thoughts, opinions and ideas in a safe and constructive way. Employee Resources Groups (also known as Disability Employee Networks) are an effective way to achieve this.

Advice for our future leaders: young people with disability

The panelists also offered advice for those with disability looking at employment opportunities. The most important thing was to understand your own accessibility requirements and accommodations, and have the courage to share them with employers to ensure you can work effectively and efficiently.

“Being clear and understanding your own needs and what works for you is really important,” – Maryanne Diamond.

By leading through example and having open conversations, you may find that you have shifted the organisational culture and provided more opportunities for others.

“Who’s to say there’s not another opportunity for a person with disability in that organization once you have paved the way?” – Leonie Jackson.

For organisations, it means asking questions early and making the appropriate workplace adjustments in a timely way , to ensure employees with disability can participate equitably. Organisations must foster a culture where employees feel safe and encouraged to request workplace adjustments.

Owning your own story

“I believe I’m the best person to tell my story,” – Maryanne Diamond.

For our three panelists, leadership drives down to one simple act; being at the helm of their own story. Being vulnerable and open enough to share their experiences with others shaped our panelists into the leaders they became.

For Chris, “Personal leadership becomes a practice of being able to be comfortable with your vulnerability.”

This act of sharing can be daunting for employees with disability. Our panelists discussed the common experience of being spoken for, rather than spoken with. While there can be good intentions, people with disability may experience the act of people without disability making assumptions about their ability to complete tasks. Incredibly capable, valued employees with disability may be overlooked for training or promotions based on assumptions.

For organisations, it’s imperative to create a safe, open culture where employees with disability are not only heard, but are actively part of the conversation.

For young people with disability, Leonie offered wise words.

“Be yourself and don’t be ashamed of your disability. Have the courage to show them the real you and people will learn to see things from your point of view.” – Leonie Jackson.

To see more advice from Leonie, Chris and Maryanne, watch the Personal Leadership panel:

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.