My Supervisor, My Mentor: 7 Lessons Learned from My Intern-Supervisor Relationship

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May 20, 2014

When I met my supervisor, Christine Hernandez, I didn’t realize that I was meeting one of my first mentors and role models. Before I met Christine, I wasn’t reflecting on my career goals. I had never asked myself, “What skills do I want to learn at my job? Where do I see myself in five to 10 years?”

Christine and I have now worked with each other for four years — first at George Mason University and then at AAUW. Our relationship taught me professional lessons that could be helpful for other new professionals and interns out there.

1. Working relationships require patience and understanding.

One of the most valuable workplace traits that both Christine and I share is patience. We both know that it takes time to get to know your role within an organization, and it takes even more time to understand others’ work styles. When we met, I recognized that Christine was new to her position and that she would be adjusting to the culture at George Mason University. She also had great patience with me as a college student who was coming into her own workplace identity.

2. Learn to adapt and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

As a student assistant and as an intern, I’ve learned to adapt to different projects, deadlines, and personalities in the workplace. Through trial and error I have learned what works best for my team and our work. When Christine gives me a task, she gives me a deadline and then lets me complete the task without micromanaging me. Project deadlines, tasks, and goals may change, but I know that I am a stronger and better worker because I can adapt to these changes. To gain better clarity and to effectively manage change, I have also learned to not be afraid to ask questions.

3. Trust is a must.

When we first started working together I had to prove myself and gain Christine’s trust. Own your accomplishments and make sure that they’re visible to your employer. Don’t be afraid to show your strengths and acknowledge your mistakes.

I also learned to speak up when something didn’t go right. Rather than hiding any problems or issues, I made sure my supervisors knew. Yes, I made mistakes, but I gained trust when I was willing to be honest and own up to them.

As I gained her trust and demonstrated my capabilities, Christine gave me more tasks and opportunities for growth. I also felt comfortable in asking for more of a leadership role on team projects. This trust significantly strengthened our dynamic of mentor and mentee.

4. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

One of the best lessons that I learned from Christine is that I have to communicate with her even when I am unsure of myself. When I have a task that becomes overwhelming, I’m okay with letting her know. I learned to view this as a way of advocating for myself and doing what was best for my projects. Instead of internalizing it as a sign of weakness, I have realized that showing vulnerability and being honest are signs of strength. When I was honest about my weaknesses, Christine provided me with professional development opportunities to improve them and to grow professionally. I also learned that being vulnerable led to more self-awareness on my part.

5. Gratitude and appreciation matter.

A big must for us is tomake sure to appreciate one another’s work. If I’ve done a task well, Christine surprises me with a gift card for coffee. We’ve celebrated “Galentine’s Day” as a team. We make sure that we appreciate each other and others that work with us. Through these expressions of gratitude, I’m much more aware of the great things that my co-workers are doing and how lucky I am to work with such a strong team.

6. Mistakes are opportunities for growth.

I do well when my mentors want the best for me but are willing to let me make my own mistakes. Christine taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes even while aiming for high goals.

7. The support of a supervisor can lead to further growth.

When I was applying for graduate school, Christine provided guidance and support. She wrote my recommendation letter, talked to me about the GRE, and connected me to others in my field who had gone through the process of applying. She offered advice but also didn’t expect me to do everything she suggested. Knowing she trusted me to make the right choices instilled confidence in me.

Thanks to our four years of working together, I know what kind of supervisor, mentor, and colleague that I want to and can be. As I start a new period of my life, I hope to be the kind of supervisor and mentor that Christine was for me. I will look for opportunities to pay it forward as a mentor myself.

This post was written by AAUW college/university relationships intern Mabinty Quarshie and published at http://www.aauw.org/2014/05/20/lessons-from-my-intern-supervisor-relationship/

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