For two months this summer, I worked as a research intern at Rural Women New Zealand in Wellington, NZ. It would take a great amount of explaining for someone to fully understand the research project, but basically the goal was to discover what modern rural communities in New Zealand are (their composition, wellbeing, resilience, etc.) and where the gaps in the knowledge are.
Before I left for NZ, my boss and contract stated that I would work as a Special Research Project Manager. However, when I arrived in Wellington, it turned out that she had hired another employee to work on the project with me as the head report writer. This was a little disappointing, as I had imagined being able to utilize my leadership skills much more. However, I was still able to use my skills in various ways. I led our conversations with researchers and took charge in explaining our research status during meetings with our boss. I explained our project to a new employee and found a way for her to contribute. Whenever she had questions, she came to me and I was always able to help.
In one particular instance, my coworker became a bit overwhelmed and lost control for a moment. He cursed and threw some papers, but instead of allowing this to affect me, I told him words of encouragement and offered to complete the assignment that had overwhelmed him. This experience taught me that stress can sometimes get the best of us, but maintaining a positive attitude is always beneficial. It is important to raise the spirits of those around you and to help out in any way possible. In my case, I was able to help lessen his workload. It just so happens that this particular coworker is triple my age. While he certainly served as a mentor to me, I discovered that being older than someone does not necessarily mean they must lead you.
In general, my time at RWNZ has helped me realize how I can apply my leadership skills at any time and in small ways. People often think that being a leader is about leading a huge group of people, but that is not always the case. I was able to be a leader to just one person at times. This way of thinking has not only changed the way I think about leadership, but has helped me grow into a more effective leader, as I now know how to apply my leadership skills during times when I did not even think it was necessary.
I had the best two months of my entire life. I miss RWNZ and NZ more and more every day.
By Melissa Deneau