Developing Self Knowledge: Cerebral Palsy Career Builder for Job Seekers

By Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, Disability Employment Expert

Developing self knowledge is a discipline your new job seeker with cerebral palsy (CP) needs to master now, during this school-to-work transition, because such a skill could become his or her competitive edge in today’s job market.

Let me introduce you to Sue, who, I believe, has invested some time in developing self knowledge. Sue is 36, has a master’s degree in public administration. She works as a facilitator, recording secretary and strategist on short-term projects for various municipal, county and state government agencies in Missouri.

She also happens to have CP, uses a power wheelchair and hires personal assistants through a local agency so she can live independently in a downtown apartment in Springfield.

Sue knows how to help small groups clarify their goals and develop strategies which help them achieve those goals. She’s a leader in the community because she helps people identify opportunities in which they can excel.

Part of Sue’s success is that she also has articulated who she is as a leader, what her personal values are and how she intends to behave and interact with others. In other words, she has developed and articulated a personal leadership philosophy.

In the process, she has also become an expert at developing self knowledge.

Sue says, “I’ve learned how to be a leader because I continually have to get multiple personal tasks done on a daily basis – sometimes through a variety of people.”

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Her family and friends will tell you that making the most of the opportunity to live independently is Sue’s passion. Everyone around her knows that because she’s a “predictable” leader. She knows what she needs in terms of personal care, she is continually developing self knowledge and she makes it clear to others what she needs and expects.

As a result, her “team” becomes comfortable helping her to meet those needs because they view Sue as a consistent leader.

Sue trusts her team members, and they trust her. That approach in her personal life also carries over to the relationships she has formed in her pubic administration work.

Benefits of having a leadership philosophy

Mike Figliuolo, author of “One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership,says one of the key benefits of developing self knowledge and a personal leadership philosophy is the trust you can gain from a new boss and a new set of coworkers.

He writes that your new job seeker’s consistent behavior, based on personal maxims he or she has developed about how to interact with others, helps your son or daughter become:

  • A more decisive leader.
  • A more predictable leader.
  • A more productive leader.

Your new job seeker needs to be clear about what he or she expects from a boss, coworkers, customers, or suppliers, he explains. If that’s not clear, your son or daughter is not going to do good work – no matter where the job title lands on an organization chart.

“If you’re clear about your expectations, people will know where you stand. In a leadership position, people may quit on you and pursue other dreams, but that’s OK,” Figliuolo tells his clients, “because individuals need to find their ‘best fit’ and ultimately that will improve your own productivity as a leader."

Heart shaped by fingers of both hands set against a sunset, representing "Developing Self-knowledge" theme

Four aspects of leadership

As founder and managing director of thoughLeaders, LLC, Figliuolo coaches his clients in developing what he calls a “holistic leadership approach.” He helps individuals develop personal maxims for these four aspects of leadership:

  • Leading yourself – How do you intend to shape your future based on your values, goals, ethics and standards for yourself? How do you bounce back from setbacks? What standards do you set for yourself?

  • Leading the “thinking” What are your standards for your team based on your company’s compelling vision? How do you foresee the future in terms of risks and opportunities? How do you drive action within your team?

  • Leading your people – What’s your “natural” style for building authentic relationships with the individuals with whom you work? How do you motivate them? How do you stay connected with their “reality?” How do you commit to do their personal growth and invest in their development?

  • Leading a balanced life – How do you keep things in perspective when your team experiences stress? How do you define your personal boundaries and coach others in defining their boundaries?

I have a hunch Sue may have read Figliuolo’s book because she has apparently become her own expert at developing self knowledge.

The key, Figliuolo writes, to developing an authentic leadership philosophy is to recall, record and share with others personal-experience stories about your leadership approaches that allow you to “get out of your head” and into “your gut.”

He says you’ll then become “authentic” (be your “natural self”) in your approach to leadership and be able to record a meaningful series of leadership maxims, which together are no more than a page long but represent your leadership philosophy and how far you’ve gone in this particular task of developing self knowledge.

In short, your job seeker’s trigger for developing self knowledge is recalling and retelling personal stories about instances when he or she demonstrated leadership and felt good about it.

My leadership maxims (as I recall)

It’s been 18 years since I’ve led a team (in person – before virtual teams, e-mail and texting). But here is what I recall emphasizing during the quarterly performance reviews I conducted with each of the people on my staff as well as the high school and college interns I hired each summer:

ACCOUNTABILITY – Committing to a two-way contract

"I will only say good things about you to others.

"If you have a problem with the way I manage this department, I expect you to tell me and not others so we can fix it together. Just as I review your performance on a regular basis, I expect feedback from you regularly about how we can improve this department."

VISION – Driving action and innovation

"We are here to serve our dairy farmer members as best we can.

"While carrying out our corporate mission, you have a golden opportunity to learn and develop your skills in an environment which encourages you to “use your own best judgment” in resolving every-day issues."

AUTHENTICITY – Staying connected with reality

"I expect you to take center stage in the areas for which you are responsible but keep me informed about 'what’s really going on out there.'

"When you succeed, you’ll get the credit and the accolades because I’ve delegated full responsibility for your job duties only to you."

BALANCE – Keeping things in perspective

"If you screw up, it’s your responsibility but it’s OK. Tell me about it, and we’ll try to fix it together and learn from it so we can bounce back. It’s not the end of the world.

"I expect each of us to reach for perfection, but, if we fall short (and we will), that’s OK. I only ask that we learn from our mistakes."

Like Sue, I believe I was successful as vice president for corporate communication at that time because I had a personal leadership philosophy in my mind and repeated it often. It was not on paper (until now), but it grew out my experience living with CP.

I knew I had to delegate effectively and give members of my team opportunities to be recognized for their efforts under what were, at times, unusual circumstances.

It turned out that, of the more than 30 people I led over a 28-year stint at the company (now Foremost Farms USA), many of them have become outstanding leaders in media, education and public service.

So, help your new job seeker highlight the leadership experience he or she already has (from leading personal assistants and unpaid volunteers to a full-fledged team in a business environment) during upcoming job searches.

Does his or her CP experience naturally lead into a personal leadership philosophy? If so, your new job seeker needs to seize that opportunity (which no one else has) and be prepared to tell why.

At the very least, your young job seeker needs to have a one-page handout about his or her personal leadership philosophy handy during job interviews.

It may just be the competitive edge your son or daughter needs to outshine job seeker competitors who are not as savvy in developing self knowledge about who they are as leaders.

What is your new job seeker
doing right now to shape his or her future?

Join PACER’s Facebook discussion.

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Originally written and illustrated by Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, who, as a person with cerebral palsy, served for 10 years as a vice president in a Fortune 500 company during his 29-year career in corporate communication. He’s an Accredited Business Communicator, certified as a Global Career Development Facilitator and author of 14 Amazon books about disability awareness and disability employment issues.