Managing down

One of the common challenges i’ve seen is with founders and C-levels getting really frustrated with interns and junior staff. often, they’re angry the intern can’t keep up, doesn’t take initiative or does things wrong.

when i ask them why they hired the intern in the first place often the response is to do with the potential they saw in the intern. The intern was smart and had a lot of potential.

so why then, 3-9 months later are c-levels so frustrate. I think we can assume C-levels pride themselves on selecting talent and making good decisions, so why the consistent failure here?

Generally what i hear is, the intern needs to learn how to work better, the intern needs to take more initiative etc. But i find this to be a form of gaslighting, like blaming a baby of not using the toilet.

If an intern were so talented that they could self-teach whats take you more than several years to be proficient in, and be able to operate at close to your level, then maybe they should be replacing you.

What this means is that we might be dealing with interns with lots of potential, but that doesn’t mean that they are capable, most of the time they don’t have the exposure or experience to be capable in the first place, thats why they are called interns, thats why the are cheap, thats why they are doing their internship. They are counting on you to teach, lead, mentor and guide them, if you’re not prepared to do that, you really shouldn’t be hiring or working with anyone more junior than a director.

This means that as leaders its our responsibility to calibrate-down, we can’t expect someone who doesn’t know any better to calibrate up when they haven’t been exposed to it before, let alone been taught it, thats like getting angry at a kid for not knowing how to tie their own shoes.

Leadership and management is about getting others to support you and building your vision, part of that process is communication and effective communication is about calibrating your message and instructions so the receiver understands, this means YOU should calibrate to how an intern understands your instructions, if they fail to understand, it your fault and responsibility not theirs, blaming an intern or a junior staff for your failures in communications is more a reflection of your inadequacies as a leader than it is on the abilities of an intern.

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