I’m three weeks into having a summer intern and things aren’t going perfectly.

“I’m so sorry.  I was up at 6 AM worried because I didn’t get it done.”

The first week I was all chill and encouraging–inside and out.  “No worries, we are figuring things out,” I said.

“Oh, I forgot you needed it to be designed in portrait layout, not in landscape.”

Week two, I felt a pull toward the not-so-chill part of me, the irritated part of me. Then I heard my own voice reminding me of everything I train leaders to do.

In front of me was the perfect situation to practice what I preach – cultivating psychological safety.

Practice 1. Approach interactions with humility.

Acting as if I have all the answers was not the answer. Thinking my expertise in communication makes me a graphic design expert (my intern’s major) would only create fear and stifle creativity. I needed to act with humility and remember that I too am learning. Just this week I said, “I apologize. I thought we were approaching the project in the right order.  It turns out that we need to move step 2 up to step 1.” Her response, “That is really helpful because I will have a better idea of what you need.” It is a powerful thing when leaders take ownership for their own lack of understanding and apologize when they fall short. 

Practice 2. Keep expectations realistic.

Setting expectations that are beyond someone’s skillset is unfair and frightening. Expecting my intern to work at the level I do is unrealistic – she is growing. Expecting her to juggle the same number of balls I do is unrealistic – she is learning.  I needed to adjust my expectations. I said, “I realize you felt you could manage finals, moving out of your dorm, and starting your internship. Would it be helpful to extend the deadline on this project?”  Her response, “Yes. I need more time, and I feel so much better knowing you understand. I really want to do a good job.” It is a powerful thing when leaders recognize expectations need to be adjusted.

Practice 3. Let the coach speak louder than the critic.

Criticism creates anxiety. Coaching creates autonomy.  I could have told my intern that I expect her to manage her time better, but what would that have done except shame her? Instead, I followed my own advice–Guide G Factor: coach instead of direct.  I reminded her: you’re learning how I work, what my business is about, and how to work in a business environment for the first time in your life.  Then I invited her to reach out—text or email–me when she has questions. I want her to learn how to think through roadblocks. What she doesn’t know is that soon I will be asking questions like, “What do you think is the right solution?” “What do you think is the next best step?” “Why do you think that didn’t/did work?” It is a powerful thing when leaders are curious and ask questions.

Aaaah, practicing what I preach. It feels so good.

Does your team need a little kickstart? I can help bring your team together and refocus their energies in the same direction. Just reach out, let’s chat.