Was I a Good Boss? Was I a Good Employee? An Intern and Boss Lay It on the Table

By now you know our story. I was a bad intern. Amy was my boss. She fired me and 14 years later, I thanked her—on SUCCESS.com. Because hearing those words—“Today will be your last day”—taught me a lot, mostly that I was a horrible first-time employee, a newbie breaking the rules of a professional world that I’d just met.

My public confession could have been embarrassing or awkward—admitting that you failed at anything usually is—but it spurred something unreal instead. It brought us back together, and started a conversation that led to Amy’s rebuttal (“I Fired Her, and She’s Thanking Me…”). In this post, Amy and I continue our frank conversation on how to succeed at work and as a professional.

Christina: Thinking back to the time you were my boss, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?

Amy: Hindsight is always 20/20, right? The only thing I wish I had was more confidence. But that usually only comes with experience.

Throughout high school and college, I had jobs where I was consistently praised for my attitude and hard work, and while this contributed to my confidence when leading organizations and projects, it didn’t translate to confidence leading people. I played small so no one would be mad at me, which meant I was more concerned about being liked than being a great leader—someone who keeps her eye on the vision, and everyone else’s too!

When you’re worried about people’s opinions and feelings about you, you begin to question your judgment. Don’t, because you have good instincts. I believe we all do, actually. So find a way to not personalize things, to stay focused on the big picture.

I think it’s safe to say that I was still at a point where I was learning valuable lessons and gaining experience when I let you go. That’s one of the reasons I was so open and excited to hear from you after 14 years. You understood that we’re all human beings learning and growing at different rates, and you didn’t walk around angry and unforgiving. That is huge.  

Amy: So, coming into your internship experience, did you have any expectations for your boss?

Christina: Back then I had no set expectations for how to be led—because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It’s taken me over a decade to realize that a part of “leading” or “managing” employees, interns especially, requires more than teaching them the skills to succeed; it also requires teaching interns how to access those skills. Good employers aren’t just employers—they are also educators.

I’m critical of the term “hit the ground running” when describing what employers are looking for in their college interns. New employees—yes, that is reasonable to expect—but seeking inexperienced interns who’ll hit the ground running is a recipe for failure because they are likely to run in the wrong direction.

Since my first internship, my expectations of employers have evolved from passive expectations to more active ones. I should have been more proactive about investigating what I did not know. But it is not all on the intern to figure out how to be successful; my expectations for a boss now include a continued investment in helping their employee succeed, rather than simply expecting them to. If the company doesn’t have the time to educate an intern, then they have no business having one at all. That is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

Amy: I couldn’t agree with you more. You’re not saying interns need to have their hands held, but they should definitely be guided. 

Every company is different and the longer you work for the same one, the greater the tendency is to overlook teaching the basics of your company culture. When new people enter your workforce, think back to your experience when you first arrived and remember that as you train.

It comes down to the basics: You’ve got to be present, empathetic and compassionate. Some might say that sounds too “new-age” for business, but what is business anyway? Businesses are formed by people who work together to provide a solution, be it a product or service. The most successful people (who lead to successful companies) are the ones who have an out-of-this-world vision but a down-to-earth approach for getting there—and they do that by connecting with and relating to people.

Read more from us about how to be an effective employee (and also an effective employer) in “3 Clues You Were a Bad Intern” and “How Big Egos Get in the Way of Professional Relationships… and Success.”


Christina Berchini is a university professor, author and researcher. She created heycollegekid.com, where she gives advice and tough love to college students. Her creative work has been featured on SUCCESS.com and promoted on BlogHer.com. Her interests include an unhealthy obsession with The Huffington Post and TED Talks.

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