Ways to Build Your Leadership Skills

Focusing on your professional and leadership development during internships, extracurricular activities or entry-level positions can pave the way for success in your present and future endeavors.  The following is an excerpt from a blog article written by Tiffany Franklin, Associate Director, Career Services: 

It’s helpful to consider the qualities that make a strong leader: emotional intelligence, strategic risk taking, effective communication, relationship building, flexibility, problem solving, resilience, vision, and the ability to listen and take purposeful action. Great leaders possess a solid grasp of fundamentals in their field, yet they also surround themselves with people who make up for what they lack. They are constantly learning and envisioning what could be, but not ignoring current realities and historical context. They excel at conceptualizing a path and empowering a team to bring that vision to life.

Reading a list like that sounds like a tall order, especially when you’re in your first internship, but you have been building many of these skills for years through coursework, activities, sports, volunteer work, summer jobs, and more. Here are ways to cultivate your leadership skills. Notice that many of them do not involve an actual leadership title right now – instead, it’s about focusing on what you are learning.

  • Leading/Contributing to projects: Volunteer for more responsibilities. Seek out opportunities for impact and ones that may not seem glorious, but are important for building the foundational knowledge.
  • Build your network: Look for opportunities to work across your company; look into affinity groups or other ways to become involved in your company’s community beyond your own department.
  • Learning opportunities: Does your office host lunch and learns, webinars, or speaker series? Attend these both for the content and to meet more people.
  • Seek out mentors: Express genuine interest in colleagues and what they do. These initial conversations can turn into regular coffee chats and may help you find a mentor within the company or new work friends.
  • Leadership within professional associations: Become involved with your industry’s professional associations. The rates for student memberships are usually reasonable. Volunteer to help plan an upcoming event or help with the next conference. This will greatly expand your professional circle, can be a lot of fun, and a perfect way to learn from others in the field.
  • Network with alumni: Use QuakerNet and LinkedIn to identify alumni for informational interviews. Ask their advice on how to position yourself for a leadership track in your field.
  • Learn as much as possible about your field and leadership in general: Read industry publications and remain informed on current events. Look at the syllabi from top MBA programs like Wharton and see which books their students are reading about leadership – check those out and discuss what you learn in your networking.

Taking these steps will help you build valuable skills to benefit you throughout your career. Remember that Career Services is here to help you with this process.

By Tiffany Franklin
Tiffany Franklin Associate Director, Engineering Tiffany Franklin