John Chambers is the CEO of networking gear maker Cisco Systems. In 2004, he said his biggest regret was:
"That I didn't share my issues with dyslexia earlier. I didn't realize how that impacts others. Because you consider it a weakness and you don't share your weaknesses. And you don't realize that it helps others who have this issue, and also your family."
He revealed his learning disability in the mid-1990s, in response to a child's question. Thank you, John Chambers, for your honesty.
Chambers' parents were both physicians, which lead to Chambers getting specialized help in elementary school. But it wasn't easy:
"There's nothing harder on you than when people come around the classroom in first, second and third grade to call on you, and your stomach starts to tighten up and you know you're going to mess up the reading," he told IBD.
Chambers says dyslexia is especially frustrating because more effort couldn't fix the problem.
"My parents would sit and read with me in the evening, and it would get worse, not better," he said.
According to a book on Cisco, Chambers' parents hired a reading specialist, Lorene Anderson-Walters. I can't find out how he was remediated, but his attitude had a lot to do with it. Anderson-Walters recalled,
"He had this very optimistic attitude about everything. He was just not going to fail.
Here is Chambers on how he revealed his learning disability
Before people knew about learning disabilities, my teachers thought I wasn't very smart. I read backward and in reverse order. I had to go to extra school, which I hated. My family refused to accept the idea that I couldn't go to college or wouldn't go. I considered dyslexia a weakness and never talked about it.
We had Bring Your Kid to Work Day about six years ago. They ask everything from "How much money do you have?" to "Are you doing a good job leading the company?" One little girl tried to ask a question and couldn't get it out. She started to cry. She said, "I have a learning disability." I said: "So do I. Take your time."
I was a little bit embarrassed. That evening, there were a dozen e- mail messages. One said, "You don't know what it meant for my child." Parents and children encouraged me to be more candid with my learning disability, how I overcame it and share with young people. Not to use learning disability as an excuse for why we can't do things in life.
While his dyslexia has been remediated, Chambers uses other technology to communicate. In an interview on how he works, Chambers said:
...I'm a voice person. I communicate with emotion that way. I like to listen to emotion too. It's a lot easier to listen to a key customer if I hear how they're describing a problem to me.
I'll leave 40 or 50 voicemails a day. I do them on the way to work and coming back from work. The newest thing for me is video on demand, which is my primary communication vehicle today. We have a small studio downstairs. We probably tape ten to 15 videos a quarter. That way employees, and customers, can watch them when they want.
To be informed, I like summaries. Because of my dyslexia, I do very little novel reading or that type of activity. I love quick articles. Before every meeting and every panel I study briefing binders with all the information I need: what we're doing in a presentation, who we're meeting with, backgrounds on them, etc. It's two or three pages on each topic, and that is how I like to learn.
Investor's Daily Interview
San Francisco Chronicle interview Sunday February 29, 2004
Interview CNN Money, Aug 21 2006: "How I Work": John Chambers