This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website:

22 November, 2010

Some Simple Leadership Tips From a Young Professional

Earlier in the month it was an honor to accept the AUCD Young Professional award. Not only was it humbling to be recognized by AUCD, a network with such phenomenal leadership in the disability field, it was also a great to be recognized by my colleagues at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI). As I look back on my relatively short time at ICI, it is clear to me that I could not have gotten to where I am today without a lot of support, encouragement, and teamwork from those around me. Two themes come to mind when I think about necessities for me to do my work, hopefully they can be useful for other young professionals in the AUCD network.

Find strong mentors– There is always so much going on in the disability field, nationally and locally. It is difficult to make sense of the complexity and rarely does any one person understand the entire picture. As a young professional in the field, the huge systems and movements we work within can be intimidating, which is why it is vital that we connect with proven leaders that can help guide us. For me, it’s been useful to link with mentors that can help me develop a broader understanding of the issues and challenges the field faces. It is also important to me that mentors be able to help me understand how I can fit into this movement and develop a personal vision to best move the field forward.

Develop strong partnerships– Much of my work includes training, research, and technical assistance with human service organizations, community coalitions, or governmental agencies. Since I do not work in a lab, it is vital that I have access to these organizations and that they have access to me. For this to happen, I must develop strong partnerships and quality relationships with community members pursuing similar works. For me, developing these partnerships does not happen overnight, it takes time and they are planned. Partnerships are best when they are reciprocal, so it important to be able to contribute, be it skills, ideas, or anything else that can be useful. For partnerships to be successful you must be willing to invest and groom them.

These simple ideas are the foundation of much of my work at ICI. Without guidance and help from others who’ve navigated similar territory, I would find myself easily lost and overwhelmed in the enormous systems I work in. I would also find it impossible to complete the many community-heavy responsibilities without the connections locally and nationally. As you carve your career out consider these ideas to help connect with others leading the way in your communities.

Derek Nord, PhD


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