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:

05 November, 2012

Becoming a Leader is to Take on Leadership Roles

 David Helm, PhD

As you contemplate your year and your career, a few things come to mind.  Namely – be involved to the maximum extent that your time allows.  I find repeatedly that the more you put into your projects, your program, your own learning, the more you get out of it – the more invested you are, the more others are willing to invest in you. I always have found that for example, in classes that I taught that those who ask questions, are prepared for the class, and who question the speaker get the most out of the lecture/class.  The same will hold true during your year in a LEND program.

With that in mind I also highly recommend that you connect to a mentor – someone to whom you can turn to when you have questions, to whom you can run ideas by and to someone who’s been there and thus has some perspective. This is typically not a supervisor, not someone to whom you report your activities to or who has a responsibility to evaluate your job performance.  I remember college, graduate school and career mentors who have helped me to shape my own career – they were available to me when I contemplated graduate school, when I chose how to proceed through graduate programs, and how to navigate the employment advancement scene. 

And stay in touch with former mentors – they also glow a bit brighter with each of your successes. You become a “protégée”, someone whose career reflects on their career as well.

For those of you who are looking for academic careers or anticipate working in the universities and look toward career advancement – in addition to everything else you are doing don’t forget to publish. Writing and developing publishable manuscripts is often quite time consuming and can easily fall off the to-do list – but don’t despair – get your manuscripts in shape to ship off to journal editors and let them give you the critical feedback you need to be a successful contributor. Make it a priority that when your paper is returned with comments, revise and resubmit as quickly as you can.  The publication turnover can take months, even years, so keep your manuscripts in the editors’ in-box and not in your to-do box.

And for all LEND fellows a key element to becoming a leader is to take on leadership roles, as simple as that may sound.  As you know, leadership comes in many colors, shapes and forms, and there are always opportunities to take the lead (volunteer to chair that committee, to develop those ideas, or to lead that task force). Be a joiner  -- Be as informed as you can and be willing to take the lead. As one of my mentors, Allen Crocker, would say, “leave the campsite better than you found it”.

Good luck as you end the first semester and get prepared for the second half of your year in LEND.


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