How to Be a Leader When You’re an Intern

Savannah Bice | Lindenwood University

The definition of a leader has nothing do to with title, years of work experience, or where you went to grad school (or if you even went to grad school). A company needs leaders at all levels of business operations and development – and yes, that includes interns.

For some reason, most interns have the mentality that they must know everything and everyone by the end of their first week on the job. While interns do have a great deal to learn and many people to meet, it’s perceptive to remember that it’s also important to position yourself as a leader.

As an intern, you have a choice to act as a leader and make a positive impact – even on your first day.

If you’re curious as to what some of those actions are, I have made a list to help:

Sharing the work (and the recognition).

The great thing about being an intern is that there is always somebody before you that has been in your shoes. Instead of starting a project from scratch, reach out to those with more experience and ask them for advice. Most people love to share their expertise and it will prove that you know how to be a team player.

By building on the work that other people have already accomplished, you save yourself time by trying to do it yourself. Just remember to give recognition to those who helped you out when it is all said and done with.

Be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all.

The world provides a person too many chances to learn something new each day. No matter how much experience you pull during your career, you will never, ever know it all. It is important to derive the right attitude for when a situation pops up and you don’t have an answer to the problem (and this will happen, a lot).

Instead of feeling threatened that you don’t know the answer, soak up every bit of information you can from others and enjoy the ride on this roller coaster that the world calls “learning”.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I am sure you have heard of this thing called your “comfort zone.” It can be effortless to become accustom with being in your comfort zone, but that can be the most detrimental thing to your career – especially during the first few years.

If you take risks and push yourself as an intern, then you are conditioning yourself to do the same once you begin focusing on your career full-time. Interns don’t become leaders by sitting idly by and watching others – it is important to get involved as much as possible.

Fail fast, learn fast.

Inevitably, you will fail and make a mistake. It can be embarrassing when you make a mistake as an intern, but the important thing is to accept responsibility and then ask what the next steps are in correcting your mistake. The trick is to quickly learn what it is you’re doing wrong so that you can get back on the right track. Taking the time to sulk over a previous failure only gives you less time to make a comeback.

It is ultimately your choice to be a leader during your time as an intern. Being an intern is an impeccable growth opportunity. It is an opportunity to influence and motivate those around you to achieve more while learning about yourself at the same time. You don’t need years of experience or an advanced degree to position yourself as a leader in the workplace. Incorporating these actions during your internship can provide you a head start in setting yourself up to be a leader for the rest of your career.
This article was written by former Collegiate DECA Vice President and Lindenwood University Collegiate DECA member, Savannah Bice. This article was originally featured in the DECA Inc. LinkedIn Group. You can follow Savannah on Twitter @SavannahBice_.