During Week 1 of my internship with BridgeYear my bosses made something clear – while our professional work was important to them, so was our personal development. To demonstrate their investment in us as individuals, they set up weekly coaching sessions. For 30 minutes each week, each intern gets to meet with our assigned coach to talk about areas of growth that we have chosen with their help. These sessions have become essential to my BridgeYear experience and development as a leader.
My role this summer involves leading a team of people I’ve come to call friends and reporting to bosses I’ve called mentors for years. In other words, I’m caught in the middle of relationships with multiple dynamics. Although this situation creates an ideal working atmosphere on most days due to our strong bonds, it can also be hard to juggle when we have to get down to business. I worried about this from the start – how can I voice my opinions when we’re not on the same page, confront serious topics and deliver big asks, all while maintaining mentorships and friendships? I expressed this worry to my coach during our very first 1:1. It’s been about 7 weeks since then, and in that time, the situations I first worried about became a reality.
While the moments leading up to difficult conversations with my team were nerve-wracking, they weren’t as bad as I had imagined. This is because I worked on establishing a culture of trust and openness with the advisors I was leading from the start. I was readily available when they needed me, I listened to their concerns inside and outside of BridgeYear, and constantly reinforced that my priority was doing what was best for our students. Going back to the talk I had with my coach, I remembered that if my team trusted me and understood that I had the right intentions, then they would be willing to listen when it was time to get serious. I think this is exactly what happened. My team listened and acted when I expressed concerns about us not meeting goals or tracking student progress, etc. They were receptive to my feedback and none of it damaged our friendships because mutual respect had been established.
Just as things had to get real with advisors, the same happened with my bosses. In another one of my coaching sessions I was told that in my position I had to be an “advocate.” My coach explained that I had to communicate my team’s needs to them (the co-founders) in order for all of the team to be on the same page. It was another responsibility that took some owning up to because I had to manage up and communicate the not so pleasant things.
I got my chance when I realized that as BridgeYear was expanding, the focus on advising was getting lost in transition. With potential partners being attracted to our Career Test Drives (CTDs) the most, our time was mostly spent on CTD-related tasks and, in comparison, little time was being invested in advising. This was worrisome. I wanted us all to be 100% for students, but we felt that our CTD projects were more pressing. When I decided that this couldn’t go on for longer I sat down with one of the co-founders and told her that this had to change. Together, we brainstormed ways to get everyone to restructure priorities by tag-teaming during an all-team meeting in which advising took the spotlight. This was a wake-up call for advisors and since then, the team has done well at prioritizing.
I bring these situations up because in the process I’ve gotten to develop new skills and learn about myself in the workplace. I’ve learned that, though not always easy, it is possible to find a balance between friendship and professionalism. I’ve become better at listening and adapting to other’s needs. I’ve practiced managing up to my bosses, though I’d say not enough, but even that’s part of my growth. The lessons I’ve learned during my time with BridgeYear will surely resurface at Brandeis and beyond.
Dariana Resendez ‘19