Project Manager, Inclusive Tech
Lee Corless is autistic, but he didn't know that for most of his life. He had always had a gift for numbers, a rare ability to understand the nuances of processes and change. Ten years ago, when he was diagnosed as being on the spectrum, the pieces fell into place.
“My brain is very much in tune with project management and how to improve things," Corless says. “I'm very good with process change."
In his current job at J.P. Morgan, he has been able to explore that side of himself—and make things easier for others. He began by volunteering in the bank's "Autism at Work" program, which helps offices adapt to be more effective and welcoming for autistic employees. Ultimately, the United Kingdom's National Autistic Society gave him an award for Most Outstanding Achievement by an Individual on the autism spectrum. Now, he works full time as a Diversity and Inclusion Lead in the firm.
What does success look like to you?
For me, success is doing something that's more than just a job. It's important to me to make a difference, both in my company and in people's lives.
I'm immensely proud of what I have achieved and my successes. I feel that pride every day I walk through the doors. I look forward to work every day, and I don't think a lot of people can say that. Work brings me structure and great purpose.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My wife is a huge influence. She is the one who helps me to find my structure to really drive my life. She is the one who saw my traits and my struggles. She convinced me to get the diagnosis.
At work, that would be James Mahoney, who heads Global Technology, Diversity & Inclusion. He got me involved in the Autism at Work program. He's my mentor and a calming influence. He gave me opportunity and believed in me. He's looked at my autism as a strength.
What do you consider the most valuable piece of advice you've ever received and where did it come from?
My brain is quick to find the right answer, but never quick to find the right way to deliver that answer, so my wife and my boss both gave me the same advice: Think before you speak.
Following their advice, I've been careful to not let my autism define who I am. In situations that require a response, I take a step back, take a breath, ignore the silence, allow myself to process all the information, then respond with my thoughts gathered.
This technique has made me a better communicator and a more well-rounded leader.
Work-from-home, go to the office or a mix of both?
For someone on the spectrum, working from home is bliss. The team still has plenty of contact and interaction with technology and Zoom. Without the commute, my favorite ritual is getting up early and watching some video blogs on YouTube that most people would find boring.
What is the biggest obstacle you've overcome in life?
All change is difficult for me, even though I worked in change management. When I joined here nearly five years ago, I had to deal with changing both my job and company. I was transparent from the start with my new line manager, and he was absolutely fantastic and supportive. At home, I have great support from my wife.
I've learned since my diagnosis how to manage and build coping mechanisms to handle change. My brain needs structure. It has to have flow. And my brain is very good at picking up on those kinds of things.