Tom's TEDx Talk on Leadership and Neurodiversity
Temple University Now interview with Tom about his autism-at-work efforts
Tom does a voice over of the speech he wrote for the Hedwig House 2017 fundraising gala. Outstanding video by the outstanding folks at the Hedwig House!
Flyer for Tom's speech at NASA Langley in 2021
Tom Edwards pursues organizational innovation from the three perspectives of research, practical application, and teaching. Tom began his career as an engineer working on rocket motors and spacecraft projects. His many years of practical experience include driving innovation from the top management team of a NYSE-listed company and as an independent consultant. This practical experience is augmented by doctoral research into what makes organizations innovative. Tom has served as an executive with profit and loss responsibility for a strategic business unit of a NYSE listed manufacturing firm focused on water and air pollution control products. Tom then accepted the challenge of building a culture of innovation at the company, an effort that resulted in innovative new products that made significant contributions to the performance of the businesses. Tom’s current challenge is building a graduate program in leadership for the college of engineering at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Tom began to apply management principles to the leadership of neurodiverse employees in 2015. The complete lack of research into this question led Tom to develop a workshop for industry practitioners that began to build a body of practical knowledge. Tom has spoken on this topic at numerous organizations including SAP Inc., the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP), the National Agricultural Library, and the 2021 Villanova University TEDx conference. Additionally, Tom has made sure that the graduates of the Engineering Management program at Temple University are equipped to step up this challenge in the workplace. Several of these graduates have contributed to the Autism-at-Work programs at their organizations.
Managing the Autistic employee. Leadership is the art of finding a way for team members to fit in and contribute to the mission of their organization. I believe that an enlightened leadership approach combined with effective management skills can help relieve the unemployment crises (80%!) among those on the autism spectrum. This requires minor but mindful modifications in how team members are managed. This will make it possible for organizations to benefit from the unique and deep skills that these employees can bring to the table. Additionally, viewing leadership as finding a way for everyone to contribute combined with a mindful application of management skills makes us better leaders of everyone in our organization. The resulting increase in productivity is an unanticipated bonus of learning to lead team members on the autism spectrum.
Several years ago, I was speaking with a bright young man on the autism spectrum about his difficulties at work when it occurred to me that his supervisor had no idea how to lead a team member on the autism spectrum. Many conversations later I was convinced that this was a common barrier to people on the spectrum. At the time I was capping off a thirty-year industry career as a manager with doctoral studies in management at Pace University in New York. I reviewed all of the management research literature looking for what was known about leading people on the autism spectrum. I found nothing! There has been some work published since then but not enough to provide practicing managers with a theoretically valid system of practical action. The lack of research led me to recommend the modification of typical management tools like delegation and conflict management in accordance with the constructs of autism researcher Francesca Happé who argues that the autistic mind is often characterized by deep specific skills combined with weak central coherence or a difficulty in "getting the gist" of the situation. This approach is baked into my efforts to help managers understand that they can make their organizations and themselves more successful by empowering autistic team members to make their contributions.