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An Intern is never just an Intern

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During my 30 years of managing people, I’ve conducted and participated in hundreds of job interviews, ranging from hiring interns all the way to getting a skilled technical VP. I believe these hiring decisions have been the toughest, but at the same time the most important during my working life. Some of these people have been working for us now more than 10 years in various positions.

In my view, everyone aspiring to be a manager must learn that the new role means far greater responsibility for other people than for ones’ own tasks. Time and again I’ve seen managers who quickly forget this and somehow outsource themselves to HR, the next-in-line director or to a colleague. This plants the seeds of bad managership, which unfortunately is widespread; only to be camouflaged by overall company/organization success. Ultimately, however, the ineffective and uninspiring middle management can stall the whole company.

When you have the first person reporting to you, the game changes. Your primary goal shifts from being the subject matter expert to being a coach for your subordinate, who must – every single day – find out what makes the person thrive and exceed her/his own expectations. The same applies to a two-month intern as well as to a Senior Vice President of engineering. One can read a lot of management books and attend courses, but at the end the team is like a chessboard – every type of piece moves in a different way and requires a different strategy. This is what makes management so hard; it can’t be just learned, it’s an adaptive and painful process.

Like mother- or fatherhood, management is not a choice for everyone. My rough estimate is that a new employee takes about 1/4 of the effort what is consumed for bearing and raising a child. Managing someone requires more of your energy than you might first think and it does not necessarily get less over time as people constantly develop. It doesn’t matter if you have a management team full of Executive Vice Presidents or two new interns. Having the tasks and goals planned for them is just a prelude to becoming a real manager. Even with the interns, you infuse them with performant management culture and spawn (or suffocate) their inner drive of excellence. It’s really up to you.

It’s an immense responsibility. Be worth it, and suddenly you have a loyal team which does virtually anything for you across different companies, nations or other constructs. Ask yourself every morning: What is possible with these people today?

//Pasi

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