In the past, I had always been good at taking charge, but I was not always the best at being a leader.
Before this internship experience, I had always felt comfortable taking on a leadership role. Take this common situation for example: you’re stuck in a group project full of people you don’t really know and have not worked with before. You all just sit and stew in silent anticipation, waiting for someone to speak up and take charge of the new group dynamic. Sounds horrible and awkward, right? Well, when I am stuck in these kinds of situations, I am the person who always speaks first. Maybe it’s because I can’t stand stewing in awkward silences or my assertive nature, but I always take charge in these situations and break the ice. Thus, I tend to become the de facto leader. However, I do not want it to sound like I only take leadership roles just to relieve awkward moments. I genuinely have always felt comfortable in positions of leadership and enjoyed running things.
However, in my younger years, I was guilty of making mistakes with my leadership style. Instead of capitalizing on the power of delegation and collaborative group feedback, I had the poor tendency of taking over other group members’ work without being asked to do so. Despite hating being micromanaged myself, I found myself doing the same thing. Instead of trusting group members to get their work done and communicate their ideas to me, I let the stress of deadlines and completing assignments overwhelm me.
Thankfully, I have grown a lot from the stressed-out girl who felt she needed to micromanage. In college, I fully pivoted and changed approaches. My leadership style (as of right before the internship this summer) was focused on a more trusting, collaborative model. While perhaps a little less efficient, it led to a better group dynamic and more free sharing of ideas. What matters most to me now is that group members feel like equal partners, that they feel that they have agency over their portion of the work, and that their ideas are received with an open mind. I am proud of the leader I have grown into and grateful that I’ve left the bad habits behind.
My internship abroad this summer has only solidified this change within me. Interestingly, I am learning the biggest lessons about leadership from my fellow co-workers in the law firm. In a way, it makes sense to learn lessons about leadership, not from leaders, but from those being led. Most people in leadership roles think they are amazing leaders, but only those working under leaders can inform you on how to actually best serve a team and their needs. Fortunately, being an outsider coming into a firm for a temporary period of time means that you become a de facto safe space for people to share their opinions about their work life. You hear about their complaints, what they love, who they respect and why, who they fear, whose opinions they value and how that trust was earned, and more.
Here is a list of key takeaways that I have gathered from this internship experience:
- Respect everyone’s time: Give people enough work to keep them engaged and busy, but do not give them way more than what their job actually entails. People have personal lives, a leader should let them find fulfillment outside of work too.
- Be flexible: everyone has a complex personal life with rapidly changing circumstances. Unexpected events, like a pet dying or an emergency medical procedure, happen all the time. Leaders should be flexible and generous during unpredictable moments. Your grace as a leader is measured by the kindness you show when you have every right to be annoyed.
- Check-in meetings are a great way to judge a team member’s progress and to see whether their potential has been maximized within a given project.
- Changes of scenery are key: taking a break from the routine of everyday life is important for stimulating creativity and giving people things to look forward to in their work day.
As a result of my internship experience and the above key takeaways that I have learned, I think that I will become a better, more flexible leader. From my coworkers, I learned some more crucial ways to make your team feel like respected equals, which is critical for setting a comfortable work environment. I will carry these lessons into my newly improved, more collaborative leadership style, and emphasize the needs of my team even more in the future.