It is estimated that over 15% of people in the United States have learning disabilities. My guess is that if all forms of LDs were correctly identified and included, that number would be much higher. Several studies have indicated that people with LDs are more likely to become millionaires. One hypothesis is that people with LDs become more resilient, more likely to show people what they can do. One study discussed at LDonline.org suggested over 40% of 300 millionaires were dyslexic. The same article mentioned other famous, successful people with LDs such as Steve Jobs and Henry Ford. The list is long.
Gil Luria and colleagues published a thoughtful study on LD and leadership earlier this year in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. They discussed possible social reasons why some people with LDs might not naturally be seen as leaders, even though in their study, some people with LDs did emerge as informal leaders. They found individuals with LDs are “less likely to become leaders, whereas those who are selected for leadership perform as effectively as those without LD" (p. 755). They concluded there is no justification for denying people with LDs the opportunity to lead.
1. We all have strengths and weaknesses, some of which might be classified as LD. I was at 2000 feet learning to fly a Cessna. The instructor pilot said, “OK, Ballard, give me a steep turn to the right.” I knew the exercise well. I visually cleared the sky around me. No traffic. I then put the plane into 60 degrees of bank and then made a 360 degree circle in the sky, not gaining or losing a foot of altitude. I was pleased. But not the instructor pilot. He looked at me and said, “Ballard, that was one of the finest steep turns I have ever seen.” This was followed by some very colorful language I shall not repeat and the words, “Now give me one to the RIGHT.” I had executed my turn to the left. Right-left dyslexia raised its head. This was an early sign that a career in aviation might not be the best for me. My mother, God bless her, was brilliant but reading and writing were struggles. LDs are real, even for many brilliant, wonderful people.
2. So I do not find the findings of Luria et al. surprising, but confirming. Many of us find ways to compensate for our weaknesses (LD or other), to navigate life, to be successful in our own ways. My discussions with psychologists suggest that the key to achieving in spite of obstacles is persistence, drive, motivation, and grit. The person with an LD must solve problems, find solutions,to stay on the road to success. This "can do" attitude, ability to find ways around and through obstacles, characterize good employees and the best leaders.
3.People with LDs and physical disabilities can and do contribute to the fabric of our organizations, nations, and the world. Some become leaders. Others are given opportunities by leaders.
“Are Dyslexia and Wealth Linked? Study Finds Individuals with Dyslexia More Likely to Be Millionaires” http://www.ldonline.org/article/5665/
Luria, G., Kalish, Y., & Weinstein, M. (2014) Learning disability and leadership: Becoming an effective leader. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35, 747-761.
"Planets." © John Ballard, 2013
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