Unlock the Powerful Gifts Your Disability Taught You About Being a Better Leader Empathy and active listening are two skills every effective leader should have. The experience of living with a disability provides an advantage in recognizing the importance of these skills and wielding them in the workplace.

By Nancy Solari

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As a leader, you are responsible for a challenging yet essential role within your company. If you live with any type of condition, be it physical or mental, from blindness to neurodivergency, your experiences overcoming this adversity can be an asset. With the help of the empathy and active listening skills you've likely developed, you can create a more lively and supportive corporate culture and build a more synergistic workplace.

Here are three areas where demonstrating empathy and active listening will make your business an encouraging and productive environment.

Channeling compassion

You have probably seen your fair share of working environments that lack some of the accommodations you need for your disability. If you use a wheelchair or other mobility aids, perhaps you have noticed a lack of ramps and elevators in many buildings. It can be incredibly frustrating to navigate spaces like these. The good news is, the kindness and patience you have gained from facing adversity will allow you to better understand others' struggles. When an employee comes to you with a problem, you can assure them that they are not alone. Channel your compassion by empathizing with your employees.

Even if you have not faced the exact same difficulties as them, you can still acknowledge and value their concerns by paying close attention to what they are telling you. Active listening involves making a conscious effort to understand and absorb what others are saying. Encourage their continued input. Practicing these skills will improve your listening comprehension while also showing your employees you care about their point of view. Being considerate toward every member of your company will foster a workplace that thrives on unity.

Related: Leaders With Disabilities Have Instincts That Inspire Their Teams and Stimulate Productivity

Accepting boundaries

As someone with a disability, you are probably very aware of your own limitations, which is a real asset when it comes to empathizing with others. Have you ever had a job where you felt like you couldn't say no to a project? This kind of pressure often results in burnout, which can be harmful to you, your team and ultimately, the work you produce together. Take stock of everything you are asking your employees to do and ask yourself, "Is it too much?"

Certain behaviors on your part — such as expecting employees to respond to emails while on vacation, discouraging them from taking time off or pressuring them to put their career ahead of their family — could be creating an environment where people feel uncomfortable with prioritizing themselves and their health. To mitigate this, start by setting some boundaries of your own. Some healthy examples of this would be using "Do Not Disturb" settings on communication devices while you are busy or only taking on one major project at a time.

Communicate your personal limits clearly with your team, and then allow them to set their own. Their boundaries may be very different from yours, and you can treat this as an opportunity to understand the other person better. You may learn someone is uncomfortable with working overtime because they value their family time. Approach these conversations with empathy, picturing what each person's responsibilities look like from their perspective. Finally, remember your active listening skills; making an effort to recognize and remember your employees' boundaries will demonstrate you care about their well-being. Once your team members know you accept their limits, they will feel more comfortable communicating them to each other. An open-minded team that respects its workers' comfort zones is one that performs together cohesively.

Related: 5 Ways Employees With Disabilities Help Maximize a Company's Growth

Embracing adaptability

While some limits are nonnegotiable, others can provide a lesson in flexibility. People have different abilities — you probably know this better than most as a result of your disability — and by understanding where your employees struggle, you can assign them work better suited to their skill sets. Keep an open mind while getting to know your team members, and show them you are willing to make adjustments to help them succeed, including others who may have their own condition. People with ADHD, for example, may thrive better with clearly-written to-do lists. Providing materials like these will allow your workers to thrive at your company. Even people without physical or mental health conditions may require flexibility on your part; students or parents may need flexible working hours. Actively listen to their needs and try to place yourself in their shoes. How would you feel in their circumstances? It can be easy to get wrapped up in your own duties, but by taking the time to address your employees' limitations, you will be creating a unified team that supports its members by accommodating their unique needs.

Your experiences as a person with a physical or mental health condition have equipped you with highly sought-after skills that make you a considerate and capable leader. Harness the abilities your condition has taught you by utilizing empathy and active listening. Be mindful of your employees' circumstances, and be receptive to their opinions and requests. With these valuable skills, you can build a harmonious team that runs like a well-oiled machine.

Related: Why Leaders with Disabilities Bring a Secret Weapon to the Negotiating Table

Wavy Line
Nancy Solari

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CEO of Living Full Out

Nancy Solari is an accomplished CEO, business and life coach, writer and motivational speaker. As host of the national radio show 'Living Full Out with Nancy Solari,' she shares her tools for success with audiences and organizations all around the country.

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