Working with future leaders

Jane McCarroll offers tips and strategies to help your interns be successful and to help you develop your own leadership skills at the same time.

My career started in retail. I studied at night, and worked in a music store by day. I was quickly promoted to manager and looking back at my early career, I realise that many of the skills that have had ‘real world’ benefit and application have come from my on-the-job learning and training versus what I learned in lectures. 

My first job was with The CD Store in Christchurch, which, when I started, was a one store operation and in the few years I was there it grew to a national chain in four cities. On reflection I think it was akin to a commerce degree on the fly where I was lucky enough to have a great leader who allowed me to learn (sometimes through trial and error) who believed in my potential, and gave me hands on experience which has helped me enormously throughout my career.

Now, in my capacity as head of marketing and membership at the Institute of Management there’s always a high degree of ambition tempered by the number of arms and legs I have to achieve great outcomes. One of the strategies I have deployed is to work with university interns to help increase outputs as well as encourage and provide experience to our future leaders.

I have worked with interns from a variety of universities and disciplines including graphic design, social media, coding, database segmentation and photography. I really enjoy working with interns as it gives me an opportunity to understand how IMNZ resonates with new audiences and I’m always open to using an intern’s fresh knowledge of my field to look at possibilities for expanding and improving our offerings to customers.

A great experience doesn’t just happen. If you’re a first-time intern manager, here are some of my tips and strategies that can help your interns be successful and develop your own leadership skills at the same time.

• Be prepared: This has been a great discipline for my highly creative mind. Before engaging an intern, I outline exactly what the project scope involves and develop a project charter outlining responsibilities and goals for the duration of the internship. Creating a structured plan is important for several reasons. You’ll make sure that you’re providing your intern with work experience that’s actually valuable, and you’ll make sure you’re using his or her time well.

• Be welcoming: I think it’s important to carve out some time at the beginning of an internship to get to know the people you’re working with. From taking time to give an overview of the organisation, introducing her or him to my colleagues, grabbing a coffee or some lunch and reviewing the project charter is a great way to begin a productive relationship.

• Schedule regular catch-ups: Bringing out the best of our interns requires regular communication. Daily stand-up meetings have become a common ritual of many teams, and working with interns is no different. I think convening daily to replan in-progress development is essential to ensure the project goals are not only being met but also understood. Taking a few minutes in the morning to cover off on what’s happened and what’s coming up, along with weekly check-ins, ensure projects stay on track.

• Provide meaningful, practical tasks: While administrative duties like making copies and updating databases are part of being an intern, your intern won’t grow or learn much if that’s all they’re doing. I try to align the tasks directly in relation to their career goals and strengths. This develops my delegation skills and allows me to empower others in bringing out their talents.

Assume nothing:
Working with people at the beginning of their career might mean that things that are self-explanatory to you might be new to an intern. I believe communication is the solution to everything, so keeping an open dialogue where questions can be asked and answered regularly helps ensure expectations, processes and deadlines are clear to everyone.

• Be the change you want to see: I strive to be the change I want to see  with everyone I work with and aim to be someone my interns can learn from. I take time to answer questions and provide both formal and informal growth opportunities – this is part of helping someone learn, and part of being a great boss.

Making sure my interns have a great experience is good for them and good for IMNZ. Working with an intern is both a privilege and a responsibility. Interns can provide the extra pair of hands, current educational thinking and support your business needs. They can bring fresh perspective, vibrancy and diversity to your organisation. Simply said, a lot can be gained from the contributions of an intern – if you manage the internship effectively.

We have had great experiences and have been able to provide practical experience to help kick-start many careers – this is very much the ethos of IMNZ where we strive to empower people to be the best they can be and help them live well-lived lives in well-led organisations.

At IMNZ we are in our 70th year of building management and leadership bench strength in New Zealand and as important as it is to honour our heritage, it is equally important to inspire our future.

Working with interns helps me supplement my team and accomplish projects and assignments that I might not have the resources to pursue.

Interns go on to do great things and I’m proud to be working alongside our future leaders to help them accomplish their career aspirations.

Jane McCarroll is the marketing and membership manager at IMNZ. The Institute of Management NZ helping leaders step up and lead since 1946.

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