Kevin O’Leary, a.k.a. “Mr. Wonderful,” has struggled with dyslexia ever since he can recall. But he’s not the only Shark on Shark Tank with the learning difference: both Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John were diagnosed with it, too.
However, all three credit much of their success to learning to overcome the challenges of dyslexia.
“The way to look at dyslexia is as a unique power instead of an affliction,” O’Leary recently told Entrepreneur on the Culver City, Calif.Shark Tank set. “Very few people have the abilities that dyslexics have. If you look down the road, as they grow, what happens to dyslexic men and women is they become very successful in business. This is because dyslexia gives you some really unique perspectives and abilities that I’d call superpowers.”
In his book Cold Hard Truth, the multi-millionaire financial guru writes that back in his home country of Canada in the 1960s, his educational therapists helped him restore his shattered self-confidence in an unorthodox way, especially for the time.
“You have the ability to read backwards, read in a mirror, read upside down. Can any of your classmates do that?” O’Leary says they asked him. “And that actually got me back the only thing I really needed, which was my confidence,” he says.
To this day, the 61-year-old mutual funds magnate still believes overcoming his learning difference continues to pay dividends in business.
O’Leary points to David Neeleman, the founder and former CEO of JetBlue airlines, as an example of a fellow successful entrepreneur who turned what many view as an obstacle into an opportunity. “He is one of many, many business leaders who are dyslexic and who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, as I have as well.”
Neeleman, who also has ADHD, encourages dyslexic individuals to leverage their learning difference as an “asset” in their professional pursuits.
“I did and I’m pretty happy with my outcome,” O’Leary tells us. “You have to put it in your own mind that this is not an affliction that will negatively impact your future. It shouldn’t in any way diminish your self-esteem or be considered something that is going to hurt your chances to be successful at work or in life.
“Dyslexia just doesn’t do that and there’s no evidence in history that it does,” O’Leary continues. “It’s just that it affects math and reading scores early on, and so what? That’s something you can get around. Never give up and never let dyslexia hold you back. It’s a gift.”
The acute ability to focus on the task at hand is one of the many ways O’Leary says he believes dyslexia can benefit affected entrepreneurs. “For entrepreneurs, that turns out to be 80 percent of the battle,” he says, “staying focused in challenging times and on the tasks you’re trying to achieve in business is very important, and that is actually how you get over dyslexia. Forcing yourself to focus over and over again.”