What I Learned as a Leader from My Intern

Be Different. Deliver Excellence.

Apr 09, 2019

Image Above: Marketing Team including Taylor McDonough and Brittney Stepanek, at GreatAmerica Awards Banquet (2018).

Hidden surprises I learned as a leader after managing an intern.

A year ago when my leader asked me if I would want to manage a direct report, without hesitation I quickly and adamently answered, “NO.” At the time, I was buried in my growing workload and assumed a headcount would actually add more work, take me away from tasks I enjoyed and priorities that needed to be done. I worried that it could become drama that would weigh on top of everything else. I’ve managed people in the past, and thoroughly enjoyed it, it just felt like the timing wasn’t right for me.

Then I met Taylor. We first met after she accepted a corporate marketing internship at GreatAmerica. Her leader at the time introduced us as having the same “Personality Index.” (Interns go through the same hiring process as a full-time GreatAmerica Employee). With similar personalities, we instantly connected. We later bonded even more over our obsession of snacking on peanut M&Ms.

Leveraging Resources

My workload wasn’t getting any easier, and with Taylor as a corporate resource to marketing, I took the time to sit down to learn more about her skills and interests. Per her bandwidth, I offered and asked for her help on some marketing projects in Collabrance that I thought would help be good learning opportunities for her.

While I was focused on helping Taylor as an intern grow professionally, I didn’t expect that she was going to help me grow professionally as a leader too.

Eager to learn, she accepted any opportunity for projects to learn and apply her skills.

An Earned Opportunity

I was so impressed by Taylor’s attitude and ability to add value that as summer ended, I didn’t think her internship should. I quickly hustled to do what was needed and extended her an opportunity to continue to work remotely as a part-time marketing intern in Collabrance as my direct report. This was the first time in my 6 year career at GreatAmerica where I wanted a headcount.

Throughout the next year, Taylor worked remotely as my intern while she was also attending school full-time and working another part-time job she had committed to prior. We quickly found a rhythm that worked for us and she was a valuable asset to our marketing and sales team.

Learning Alongside Each Other

It wasn’t long before Taylor was running with marketing projects and ideas on her own as an intern. Her help allowed myself to also grow in several areas including the ability and bandwidth to:

  • Focus on strategy: Taking a step back, I was able to get organized, and spend more time on our overall strategies and initiatives. I always tried to share the “WHY” behind different projects and tactics.
  • Enhance tactics already in place: During our many hours of training, we would review marketing tactics in place and Taylor as the intern would ask challenging questions. We’d talk through ideas and areas of opportunity. Overall, many times our curiosity would have us try many new things and learn by trial and fire.
  • Try new tactics: In the last year, we’ve been able to try many new projects along the lines of Podcasts, Webinars, Ads, Social, Surveys, Research just to name a few, all because of the extra support and curiosity.
  • Envision the future of Collabrance marketing: The realization of the opportunity ahead and how it can be implemented towards an overall vision. Teaming up with my intern, it felt like it was no longer a vision, but that we were actually executing and making progress allowing the vision to come to life.
  • Feel a greater sense of purpose: The opportunity to help someone else develop professionally was extremely rewarding. I believed my efforts and time spent with an intern is the hope of our future.

Professionally Growing Together

More importantly as a leader, I gained just as much from my intern as I hope she did from me. As an intern, I saw and treated Taylor as a peer, and the team treated her as a member of the family. She was constantly setting the bar, so I was constantly building her expectations… little did I know, at the same time she was also helping me grow as a professionally as a leader.

Managing an intern taught me to:

  • Delegate & Trust: Marketing in Collabrance soon became and “AND” not an “OR” ability. We split projects based on interest, skill and bandwidth. If my training was effective, I knew I could trust Taylor to deliver, and she would deliver without micromanagement.
  • Effectively Communicate & Make Yourself Accessible: Because we worked in two different locations and I did not set specific hours for Taylor as a remote worker, from the start we had to make sure we were communicating regularly and effectively. We would make specific time for each other to have ongoing one-on-ones to share anything needed from each other as well as build our relationship.
  • Lead by Example: Taylor and I were in a unique position that as a leader and intern, we had similar personalities. When I take into account things I need in a leader, I tried to put myself in Taylor’s perspective and provide that in return. Anything I expected her to do, I also expected of myself. I wanted her to know that I was right there along side her as a mentor.
  • Don’t Underestimate: My belief for an intern was that every project should be a learning opportunity. Just because an intern may not have as much experience as others, it doesn’t mean they can contribute just as much, if not more. Even though Taylor was an intern, she could produce and be on par with the rest of everyone. I constantly forgot she was still only a college student. Her performance as an intern constantly impressed me.
  • Listen to Understand, Not Respond: One of the biggest things I value is a good listener and I wanted to provide that to my intern. Let them talk, let them have a voice, an opinion. Listen to understand their questions, desires, needs and they will see that you genuinely care about them and they are just as worthy of your time.
  • Take Time to Celebrate the Wins: It’s so easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind. However, whenever we’d have marketing wins, I was sure to point them out, recognize the success and share gratitude. I knew it would only reiterate that were on the right path and that as an intern, they should feel confident in her contributions.

This is Only the Start

In my situation, it happened to be an intern, but it can also be true of other professional relationships. I'm constantly learning from others. Everyone has something they can gain.

As our internship comes to an end after a year and Taylor prepares to graduate from college, I’m proud to share that Taylor has accepted a full-time position within GreatAmerica to continue her journey with us where she can grow and apply her skills.

It’s been an amazing year, and an intern wasn’t something I initially expected, but was a special surprise that I’m grateful for. It has been a mutually beneficial experience.

Thank you Taylor for your contributions as an intern that have also allowed leaders to learn right along with you. We’re proud to have you as part of the GreatAmerica family!


Category: Personnel

About The Author

Brittney Stepanek

Brittney Stepanek, Strategic Marketing Director for Collabrance, is responsible for helping build relationships and brand awareness through strategic marketing initiatives. Before working at Collabrance, Brittney joined GreatAmerica in 2012 doing marketing for the Office Equipment Group. She received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of Iowa.