Post 4: Lessons from 826 National’s Leadership

My internship at 826 National has reinforced my passion for education equity and my ultimate goal of working in education law, working toward education equity for our most under-resourced students. As I move forward in my professional career, one of the things I will take away from this experience is the incredible leadership I have seen in my office. As I approach my last few weeks, here are a few of the leadership qualities I will take with me to my future workplaces:

Building a Vision
When I first started at 826 National, the intern cohort participated in a visioning activity. The exercise was modeled after one that the 826 National board members did a few years ago, about what they wanted the 826 network to look like in ten years. The process begins by writing, in present-tense, about that ideal future state. Then you work backwards to determine the steps necessary to make that vision happen. In the nonprofit world, a vision is hugely important in maintaining and growing an organization. A clear vision (the desired future position of the organization) informs a strong mission statement (the objectives and the approach to those objectives), both of which make up the backbone of an organization’s operations. A leader’s ability to spearhead the building of a vision, both on a small and large scale, help guide a team toward a common future goal. To be quite honest, when I first started at 826, I saw visioning as a pretty cheesy, time-consuming activity. But this summer, I have seen how visioning can motivate and inspire staff, and how working backwards from a vision can actually streamline projects. Now that I have learned the steps myself, refining my approach to vision-building is a skill I can take with me long after I leave 826.

Connecting Even the Small Tasks to the Mission
826 National has also shown me that having a strong vision and mission in place is just the beginning. An effective nonprofit is careful to tie each task to the mission, and to communicate that connection to the staff. Doing so gives purpose to the work being done and improves team morale. This seems small, but a leader without this skill is not executing their job to its fullest extent. 

Visioning can lead to tremendous growth, like when the 826 Network reached more than 32,000 students!

Acknowledging the Value of Your Team
This one might also seem small, but it has been one of the biggest lessons for me at 826. This summer, my main responsibilities have revolved around the annual Staff Development Conference (SDC), during which 826 staff from all over the country come together to discuss best practices and ensure that every chapter is ready to put their best foot forward in the coming school year. It’s a huge event, and 826 National is responsible for its planning and execution. Crucial to the success of SDC has been my supervisor’s commitment to recognize the vital role, however small, that every person plays in making SDC what it is. This summer, I have watched my supervisor take time to thank every person for their contribution to SDC throughout the process, not just after it was over. Showing her genuine appreciation for the support team makes every person feel energized and willing to do the work, because she makes it clear that their work matters. This leadership trait is a big deal to me because of how easy it is! A simple “thank you” can make a world of difference in team-oriented projects, which, as an aspiring lawyer, I am sure to see many of.

Using Interns Strategically!
Every college intern knows that internships can sometimes feel a little hit-or-miss. Sometimes you land an incredible internship that gives you genuinely valuable skills for the future, and other times it feels like you spent your entire internship photocopying documents. The leadership team at 826 National has done an incredible job making sure interns have the tools we need to learn as much as we can this summer, but also that our skills are being utilized to do meaningful work for 826. Part of that is listening to what interns are interested in with regular check-ins, but another part of it is connecting our work to the mission. Since we are only here for a short time, knowing how our work matters in the long run is extremely motivational. This experience has given me concrete examples of how maximize the use of interns, even when their turnover rates can be a bit discouraging. As a leader, figuring out what skills your interns bring to the table lightens your load while still ensuring that your interns are truly growing during their experience.

I look forward to utilizing these skill for many years to come, as I enter the workforce and maybe even lead a team myself one day!

-KR ‘19