A Japanese proverb (literally: ‘7 falls, 8 getting up’) extols resilience, and is the title of the incredibly accomplished second book by the young Japanese autistic author Naoki Higashida.

Both this and his previous book, “The Reason I Jump”, are translated and introduced by David Mitchell (‘Cloud Atlas’, ‘The Bone Clocks’, father of an autistic son) who highlights the insights, understanding, and awareness that Naoki shares about the ways in which the intention behind communication can be lost or confounded.  And it made me think of Leadership communication mis-steps that have been discussed with me recently.

No, the parallel is not that Leaders may be autistic.

The parallel is that a gifted autistic writer is so engaged with when and how these mis-steps happen, that his analysis and explanation may also help ….’neurotypicals’.

Two small themes feel very useful.

Naoki analyses how one day instead of saying ‘thank you’ to a carer, he says – and has no control over this – ‘have a good day’. The moment is lost, his meaning is lost, and the possibility of connection is lost. He describes how he and the carer are standing in the hall near a pair of shoes. His mind (again, unbidden and not under his control) connects and references the previous occasion he was standing by these shoes: when it was relevant to use the phrase he had spent a long time learning..…‘have a good day’.

A coachee this week, while ‘neurotypical’, described a similar sort of process.
By trying too hard to….. ‘be a leader’, she had replicated this very dynamic. By referencing an admired, a prototypical, leadership response rather than attending to what was needed by her team member there and then, true connection failed. Naoki cannot re-wire, but we can; we can make the effort to respond to the particularity with which we are faced, and not channel previous, or other people’s, encounters.

Naoki is touching, too, when he describes the damaging effect of criticism. He describes a constant wrestling with an awareness that a mistake has been made. The last thing needed in the whole world is repeated additional criticism from others. Don’t ‘neurotypicals’ feel this too?

Two small reminders in a surprising book packed with insights: deal with the current situation (not a remembered or imagined one) and dial back the criticism. Thank you, Naoki.

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