Top 15 Leadership Tips for Advocates

Two women lean together and smile.
Two women professionals during a MIUSA exchange to Jordan.
MIUSA fosters leadership development to strengthen the efforts of disability rights advocates worldwide.

Take a glimpse into our top 15 leadership tips we share with colleagues and participants around the globe each year.

  1. Start with small achievable steps and make sure to focus on three or four at a time. If you focus on just one step, what happens if it doesn’t work?
  2. Celebrate when you’re successful. Whether you chose to indulge in a slice of your favorite cake, gather with your friends, or whatever celebratory tradition you have, you deserve it! While you’re at it, don’t forget to share your success with the world and post a photo, story, or link online so your community can learn about your achievements. 
  3. Focus on solutions, so you can do the work with passion and joy. Don’t get caught-up on barriers and instead approach your work like a puzzle to solve and you’ll become more satisfied and less frustrated. If frustration hits, take a break for fresh air or team building activity to refocus on your goal and vision.
  4. Stay positive. Exude positivity. You’ll be surprised how contagious a little positivity can be. Others will take notice and it will quickly have an affect on the demeanor within the office or project.  
  5. Know when to include others. Prioritize your time and be engaged, but know when to move on and delegate tasks to others. As long as you share the same vision, trust that your colleagues will accomplish the work.
  6. Don’t worry about other people’s attitudes and make sure people with disabilities and allies feel empowered. Don’t be afraid to slow down and take the time to make sure everyone receives equal access. For example, if you need to use the ramp or lift on a public bus, don’t worry about other people on the bus who may be in a rush. It’s your right to be on that bus, even if it takes a little longer to get on/off. This same principal can apply to other areas such as access to materials or communication.
  7. Practice making hard decisions. Keep the values of your mission in front of you when you have to make decisions that may not be popular. Take time after to reflect on outcomes.
  8. Have a mentor or mentors who can advise, teach, and encourage you. Make time to check in with this person on a semi-consistent basis (at least monthly) and share how things are going and the challenges you’ve encountered.  It’s always helpful to have the perspective from someone in your field of work.
  9. Be able to take criticism. This is your time to grow and improve. Be able to put yourself under the microscope without placing blame on others (this is the difficult part!) and reflect on how you could have done things differently.
  10. Don’t expect credit when you are successful. Also accept responsibility when things go wrong. Look at how you can keep moving forward.
  11. Thanking people is an art. Give credit to others and thank them profusely. You have to motivate people to act while also fostering relationships.
  12. Surround yourself with better and brighter people than you. Their intelligence and approach will inspire you to be better.
  13. Visualize what success would look like to you. Know what you are trying to achieve. Write yourself a note and hang it on your wall as a daily reminder of your goals.
  14. Understand that different things motivate people, i.e. recognition, titles, etc. Be open and receptive to a wide range of motivations and working styles. This will allow your team to work more efficiently.
  15. Build relationships, it’s the most important thing you will do as a leader. Build positive relationships with people in power (before you need them). Start relationships now and nurture them.

What other strategies have proven to be successful for you?