An internship is basically a training program designed for students to help them polish their skills and give them a taste of the real-world, without too much pressure.
Internships allow a young person to develop their skills, gain insight in a real working environment by being exposed to real world demands, and responsibilities. While in this environment the young person gets the opportunity to improve their communication skills while at the same time boost their self-confidence.
We often think of an internship from an intern’s point of view and forget about the employer or person supervising the intern and the responsibility they have to the intern and the learning in leadership they get too.
Recently I had a discussion with a colleague who was not very happy with his intern in fact he was quite critical of him. It wasn’t until that he was reminded of his role and responsibility to the young person as being someone to help bridge the gap between academia and the real world that he began to see the relationship differently.
As we talked over lunch he began to embrace the idea that certain aspects of employment can really only be learned through work experience and not necessarily in the classroom.
He talked about a fear of reprisal from the intern and his need to protect his passwords and property as he was about to dismiss said intern with a negative appraisal. It seemed quite clear to me that he had totally missed the point of the internship altogether.
The student gains but the employer or supervisor gains too.
Once he had totally finished his tirade I asked one simple question.
What is your role and responsibility to this intern?
He paused, and thought intensely and responded.
“I don’t know…………. I mean I gave him a job, didn’t I?”
I then told him the story of my own internship experience many years ago when I too was a student, an intern at a family therapy clinic. I told him about how I froze in the middle of a family therapy session when the father in the session broke down and started to cry. I was totally paralyzed. I had never witnessed another man expressing grief before and I did not know what to do.
My supervisor at the time, an esteemed Psychiatrist took me under his wing and simply had a discussion with me as to what I was experiencing at the time and took the time to explore with me what I could have done differently in the situation. I learned about the true meaning of empathy and compassion that day, a valuable lesson that has stayed with me throughout my career. Had he criticized me, chastised me, my experience of the situation and the learning from it might have been quite different.
What you say does matter. How you say it does matter. And how you teach it matters too.
My supervisor at the time created a climate for me as an intern where I could learn and grow.
As I spoke fondly of my internship experience I talked about the opportunity I had been given to learn (often through trial and error), mistakes, with a supervisor who believed in my potential. The hands-on experience that I gained through that experience ultimately helped me succeed in my career. As I zealously spoke about this experience, my colleague began to embrace a different perspective.
Letting go of his litany of complaints about his intern he began to tune into his role and responsibility as a supervisor. The words guide train, mentor, coach, supervise came back into his dialogue. He began to embrace the concept of leadership.
He began to reframe his view of the intern’s behavior and began to see that rather than standing back and being critical of his actions, his role was to inspire, guide, model and demonstrate the awesomeness he wished to see in his student.
Rather than being critical of his interns’ actions and behaviors, he needed to see them as teachable moments and learning opportunities that he could help the young person to not only grow in their current job but to develop confidence in their abilities as well.
“What kind of a leader are you anyway?” I asked.
The question sat between us, as he prattled on about something else.
“What kind of a leader am I?” He repeated the question a few minutes later and deliberated for quite some time.
Recognizing this as a pivotal moment I gave him the space to answer.
“You know I haven’t really thought about it.” He replied, moments later.
A seed had not so much been planted as it had been reawakened. Although he never gave me an answer I could see that the question had evoked some serious thought.
I left him with this quote:
“Leaders who mentor the leadership potential in others, not only magnify the effectiveness in others, they magnify the effectiveness in themselves.” (Veronica Hislop 2018)
Internships, although very common in today’s workforce, can also be quite ambiguous: Employers can see interns as cheap free labour, (as did my colleague who initially seemed to want to treat his intern as an unpaid employee), with this attitude there is often room for exploitation. When roles and responsibilities on both sides are unclear the potential for this increases.
In the world of student and mentor there should be no room for exploitation; the only way to avoid ambiguity and exploitation is for the supervisor to not only be cognizant of their leadership role and style, but to be totally aware of the responsibility that they have towards the intern.
Let’s not forgot that as a supervisor of an Intern we have an important part to play in helping to shape their career and employment of a young person’s future. What we do as mentors can support their growth or seriously derail it.
A poor internship can make or break an intern’s future career. This is why what happened between Monika Lewinsky and Bill Clinton many years ago was so wrong on many levels.
As a final note we cannot forgot that an internship is a two-way process. Both parties the student and the employer/supervisor gain from this experience. The learning for the intern in terms of exposure to the work force is quite clear. However, companies and businesses benefit greatly from this experience too. Interns can provide an extra set of hands that can often help a company to finish their projects.
Beyond that internships can help an employer/supervisor to upgrade their leadership skills and take them to a higher standard. The intern learns, but more importantly the employer/supervisor learns too thereby creating win/win all around. This can only happen it the employer/supervisor is willing to embrace their role of leadership.
This article was recently featured in the Fall issue of the Toronto Manager Magazine. To speak with Veronica and find out more about her work with Female Entrepreneurs and Women in Business click here. http://bit.ly/2Qomut4