Episode 26: Leadership, training, and neurodiversity with Sarah Noll Wilson


December 17th, 2019

46 mins 44 secs

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About this Episode

This episode, Kat and Liz talk about leadership development, theater training, and neurodiversity with Sarah Noll Wilson.

Sarah is a leadership consultant and also a proponent for working with neurodiverse people. Sarah started her career in leadership and teaching as a camp counselor and ropes course instructor. After a degree in theater performance and education, she took a day job in the insurance industry, and began to connect the dots in how to use creative drama in learning and development in a corporate context.

Why do good people become crappy managers? Because we don’t give resources and time to focus on leadership, says Sarah.

Sarah makes leadership training fun. She her story about finding her space and uses playful language to help people define themselves and to engage in leadership learning.

Sarah found leadership from managing ropes courses as a high schooler. She realized that technical training took a long time at her insurance company, and was able to shorten the training time and run team-building activities.

Sarah learned about mentorship and was lucky to find someone who taught her that SHE is in charge of her career.

Other takeaways from our conversation with Sarah:

Having a title doesn’t make you a leader, it just gives you authority. You need to understand who you are supporting is human.

Great leaders admit they don’t know things, and work hard to make themselves irrelevant by empowering their team. If you don’t care about the people who work for you, you shouldn’t be in leadership.

Great leaders are always asking themselves how they can get better.

And then the conversation turned to neurodiversity and ADHD.

Sarah shares her story with neurodiversity. She was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. She discovered it when she branched out on her own. Away from her corporate job and the context and structure of work and school, the coping mechanisms she had developed became less effective, and her ADHD became more apparent.

So Sarah has developed new coping techniques as she learned what she needs to be successful and do her work. For instance, she listens to music and uses her Forest app to keep her on task.

Are we missing as a society by not actively trying to support people who have executive functioning issues? Sarah's answer: a lot!

For ADHD, it’s about finding where you get your hyperfocus and leaning into it. Liz and Kat asked what questions to ask in interviews, and Sarah’s advice is to ask people you know at the company and to wait until you’re hired to ask for accomodations to avoid misperceptions. Also, understand that people are often misinformed about the challenges of neurodiverse brains; try to be ready to have informative conversations to educate people who have misperceptions. If you can, find a leader who you can talk with about what you need.

Sarah surrounds herself with people who compliment her skills and help her.

On any team, but especially on a team with neurodiverse people with qualities like ADHD, Sarah likes to use the concept of the lead goose: Other team members can take the lead role when the regular leader is overwhelmed with other priorities, and the lead goose technique can also be used by any team member to help out a colleague when they're swamped or having a tough day.

Sarah also talks about being authentically herself: if you hire her, you get all of her. Kat talks about hiring consultants, and the need for a two-way fit.

This episode was great fun to do, and Sarah is great in an interview. It's worth a listen if you're interested in leadership development, and even if you don't have ADHD, you very likely work with colleagues who have ADHD or are otherwise neurodiverse, so that part's worth a listen, too!

More about Sarah on her site: https://sarahnollwilson.com/me/
Twitter: @sarahnollwilson