WE like to hear inspirational stories in the raw, so what could be better than hearing from a man whose tale fits the bill in more than one sense.
Stephen Raw first became aware of the Naked Leader when he attended an ILM conference in London. Having been told about David Taylor’s first book, and inspired by the message, he confessed he couldn’t put it down and is now one of many thousand people who receive the Leader Board each month.
Stephen believes in the power of effective communication and says: ‘Never stop fine-tuning your methods and styles. Remember everyone is an individual and therefore you need to customise your approach.’
In responding to my request for people’s career/life defining moments, this is Stephen’s extraordinary story.
‘My defining moment both personally and professionally is because of my youngest daughter Bettina who is now 25,’ he begins. ‘Bettina copes with learning disabilities, complex communication problems, severe autism and epilepsy. Bettina is someone who inspires me every day.
‘She does not see or understand cynicism, sarcasm, racism and lots of other ‘isms’, she is only comfortable and confident around people who are positive and positive about her. She is fiercely independent and a deep thinker who has taught herself to read and communicate (her first word was Mum when she was 11).
‘Bettina uses phrases from TV which are more often than not in context and we often hear her practising new words in her room. As a young person she fought physical contact, eye contact and we think she had mental health pain (which is not uncommon for a person with autism) before she came to terms with her life and is now very affectionate to those she trusts.
‘How did it change me? I had a full military career (24 years man and boy) so when discharge loomed I wanted a new career, one which would make a difference. I chose supporting adults with learning disabilities. My moral compass during the last 16 years of my second career is and continues to be Bettina. What do I want for Bettina is what drives me to support other adults with learning disabilities.’
Stephen threw himself headlong into the challenge and he continues: ‘I started as a support worker supporting people with learning disabilities within their community. I am now a managing director for a company which supports people with learning disabilities to have more control and independence with their money.
‘What specific leadership lessons has Bettina taught me (and I have taken into my work)?
1. The importance of communication.
2. Being positive and optimistic. Sir Ernest Shackleton (my hero) said this was true moral courage.
3. Whatever is going wrong in your life – leave it at the door, don’t dump it on the person you support – it’s not fair.
4. Be consistent – it would be unsettling for Bettina if we were different in our behaviour depending on her mood.
5. Your body language is both open and positive – Bettina is looking for communication clues – I must make sure at all times they are the right ones.
6. Control your voice and mood. People at work often mention they have never seen me angry or in a panic. When Bettina’s support worker visits our home she often mentions how calm and happy our family atmosphere is. It would frighten Bettina if she picked up on a bad atmosphere. At work I think if I was anything different from being positive and enthusiastic it would unsettle my team.
7. Get things into perspective. If you think you have it tough, imagine what it is like for Bettina trying to understand our world.’
Stephen admits that his list is not exhaustive and he could come up with a Top 20 or a Top 50 because Bettina really has changed his world.
Stephen is a managing director of Dosh Ltd (www.dosh.org), a subsidiary of Thera (www.thera.co.uk). The company is part of a charity, with 40% of the directors involved having learning disabilities.
Anybody who feels moved to contact Stephen can do so on email@example.com and he adds: ‘I am happy to help parents who may find it a shock when their son or daughter are diagnosed or they fine it difficult to imagine a positive future.’
Need some help and advice on this subject? Why not contact someone who really has had Raw experience – and is willing to help?