This summer marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For most people, the day passed unnoticed, and everyone went about their business as normal. For some of us, though, it was a time to truly appreciate the elevators & escalators, ramps to access sidewalks, and the lever door handles & push-bars that are now standard in public areas. It was a time to see how our country has become more aware and accepting of adversity and people’s struggles, how society has become more welcoming of disability and diversity, and much more accommodating to individuals’ unique needs.
My disability is rather minor, and I am often reluctant to even refer to it as a disability because, like so many things, it looks far worse than it is. I was born with short arms and missing fingers. I have no thumbs. But I’ve known nothing different. This is my life, and while I am completely independent, live alone, drive a typical car, and all of those “normal” things, I actually look quite different. People look at me and see something less than who I actually am. They see my vulnerability.
Everyone has vulnerabilities. Most people are able to keep them hidden to all except a select few confidants they allow inside, but it doesn’t mean they’re not there. When it really comes down to it, though, they shouldn’t be hidden! As leaders in business, we need to find these vulnerabilities and embrace them! Gone are the days when it was sufficient to follow the tried-and-true patterns that would make a business successful. We need truly innovative ideas to stand out in today’s business world and make a real impact.
Robots and machines doing the same thing over and over again? We’re beyond that for today’s leading service industries. To make an impact selling our widgets or services, we need to stand out, and we’re obviously not going to get there by doing what we’ve always done! We need to reach out to wider audiences with very different backgrounds, and to do that is much easier than you would think.
Understanding vulnerabilities of yourself and those around you help you see the bigger picture. By surrounding yourself with people from different backgrounds, you automatically get multiple perspectives and different approaches to the same challenge. Their (and our own) vulnerabilities can almost always be embraced, adding the unique experiences and world views to our own business processes. This is truly thinking and working outside of the box, to borrow an often made-fun-of business buzz word bingo term. Like a daisy growing out of the concrete, let’s look at the adversity and vulnerabilities people have experienced in their lives as beauty and strength coming out of some rather unfortunate situations. This is the kind of grit and vigor most people say they want to hire, right??
These are unique capabilities and perspectives that cannot be taught; they’re only earned through life experiences. So, it’s not only a bonus to hire for diversity in addition to skills, but it’s also going to bring insights to your team that no self-help book, business memoir, or leadership training course can teach you. Adversity and diversity are often considered struggles in the moment. They’re the challenges we sometimes think might break us… but they’re gifts when we finally come out on the other side. Whether it’s the project from hell in which you earn two promotions before completing, or successfully navigating the obstacles in your personal life and playing the physical hand you were dealt, they ultimately make us stronger!
It benefits us all to appreciate these vulnerabilities that are experienced. When we all look at them not as hindrances or flaws in people, then we can fully appreciate the value it brings. Even without a noticeable disability, we all have struggles and face adversity in our daily lives. Surround yourself with a trusted team of people with different backgrounds, struggles, challenges, and life experiences to be exposed to their different viewpoints, and you just might be surprised with the new successes from opportunities you never knew existed.