Disability Leadership by Default

Reading time: 2 minutes

I’ve mentioned this before, but like many things, it takes repetition of many forms to understand something. Thinking about it from many angles and using different words or analogies.

When it comes to leadership, it can be found in many little ways. You may not be a leader, and that’s alright, not everyone is meant to be a leader. But, there will be times when people look to you.

Specifically, my experience is with using a wheelchair and going out to do something. When I go over to a house full of who I call my adopted family, they have to lift me up about 8-10 steps to get to the front door.

In a situation like that, where people have to lift you up some stairs, who do you reckon they look to?

You have to be ready, with confidence, to tell people what needs to be done. There is no “maybe do this,” there is only a definitive.

If you’re truly unsure, then you have to tell them that you’re thinking out loud, have them try a few things as you think through what would work best, but after enough experience, you should be able to tell people exactly how to do it. They get their confidence through you.

Don’t make the people helping think hard about how to help. They’re likely nervous and possibly a bit uncomfortable with so much responsibility if you fall. Tell them what to do.

People around you will take their cues from you. This goes from helping to knowing if it’s appropriate to make a few jokes. When it comes to jokes, I’ve never been serious about using a wheelchair and I’ve never been offended.

Something I hear a lot is, “I’m okay with it if you’re okay with it.” That’s what inspired me to write this. The realization that people, when saying that, are really saying that they’re taking cues from me, my confidence will give them confidence to help and try something.

Immediate actionable items: If you’re in a wheelchair, create a mental database of things you commonly need help with (getting up stairs maybe) and have a few ways that work so you know how to get help.

Summary: Imagine you’re getting in your car, you’re in a wheelchair and a bloke comes up and asks if you need help. You say yes. That person won’t know what to do next, you need to also tell them how they can help. That’s a type of leadership.

Overdeliver: If you want to do adventurous things, be comfortable with getting help, have confidence in directing help, be willing to take on new challenges, and then remember to take a few pictures.

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