There are many different kinds of leaders and many different styles of leadership, but in my opinion, there are two general archetypes of a “leader”. The first is an active leader: someone who is vocal, passionate and highly visible. This type of leader let’s everyone know they’re in charge and leads directly through commands, direct engagement of subordinates and head-on confrontation of problems. In contrast, the other kind of leader is more passive: someone who, instead of the highly conspicuous persona of an active leader, possesses a quiet and professional demeanor. Passive leaders lead by example, inserting themselves less frequently into the issues of others, preferring to serve as an external factor to model after rather than an actively engaging force. Both leadership types can be effective and, despite their differences, merit similar levels of respect.
Prior to my internship experience through EUSA, I was very much a passive leader. I’m not usually one to assert my dominance over others, so to speak. I prefer to remain in my own world and, by tackling my own problems swiftly and professionally, serve as an example to others of how things should be handled. I’ve been this way all my life. For instance, in high school, I was one of two captains on the varsity basketball team. The other, a close friend of mine to this day, was the active leader. Constantly talking at practice and during games, he was the consistent vocal presence and the dominant force whereas I was the quiet one who just showed up every day with a professional attitude I hoped others would emulate. This leadership style has continued throughout my undergraduate career. Fortunately, though, study abroad has presented me with an opportunity to develop myself as a leader and experience a different kind of leadership.
The biggest thing I have learned through my internship experience is that in the workplace, or at least in my workplace, you really get out what you put in. In my first few weeks at Pulsar Technologies I was content to have downtime. I was sparingly given tasks and when I completed them, I would simply notify someone and proceed to personal time until someone gave me another task. While this behavior wasn’t exactly objectionable, it also wasn’t maximizing my time in Spain. So I gradually began to take more initiative. When I’d finish a task, I’d ask for another. If one wasn’t immediately available, I’d persist every half hour or so until one was available. Eventually, I even got to the point of searching company documents for potential tasks rather waiting for them trickle down from superiors. I learned that I’d be given as much responsibility as I asked for and that, if I didn’t ask for tasks, the other employees at the company were too busy on their own to give me anything above the bare minimum. As a generally passive person this adjustment proved difficult for me. But, with time, it became easier and easier to speak up and I’ve definitely seen growth in myself as a result.
Continuing with my passive leadership style at Pulsar wouldn’t have been a negative thing. I would’ve completed the tasks I was given, established a niche in the workplace and gone about my business on a daily basis. However, the experience is much more valuable now that I’ve learned to speak up, be an active worker and advocate for myself. I’ve taken part in probably twice as many projects, had many more discussions with my coworkers, and established myself not just as an intern who does what he’s asked, but as a contributing member of the IT department. This change in my leadership approach and approach to daily life has also provided some social benefits. As my confidence and familiarity with my coworkers has increased, so has my tendency to start conversations and participate in small talk. Just as speaking up for myself at work has resulted in more projects and more work experience, participating socially has produced more quality conversations and added benefits to my Spanish-speaking.
In conclusion, my internship experience abroad has seen me transition from a passive leader to more of an active leader. Rather than get lost in a busy workplace environment, I’ve learned to take initiatives on projects and ask for tasks. Rather than shy away from conversations in Spanish, I’ve learned to embrace them. Doing so has helped me get the most out of this experience and grow as a leader. My initial passive view of leadership is an important perspective to have; there’s something to be said for quietly going about your work and letting your productivity, work ethic and actions speak for themselves. However, through this internship program, I’ve learned that the other kind of leadership, loudly and unabashedly saying what you think and taking initiatives rather than letting them come to you, can be an equally enriching approach to leadership. I only wish it hadn’t taken me half of the program to figure out.