Leadership in a Virtual Setting: Final Reflection

My internship at Virginia Gourmet was a perfect opportunity to develop my business acumen and employ leadership strategies in a realistic work environment. Although this internship at Virginia Gourmet wasn’t at the top of my desired internship list, it was a valuable business experience and essential moving forward in my career.

Throughout my summer internship, I learned much more than I had anticipated. My primary goal in my personal plan paper was to secure an internship that challenged me, and at the same time immersed me in a challenging business experience. While I wasn’t as involved in the day to day business activity as I would have liked to be, I learned how to manage my expectations. Since my internship was an introductory level position, it was accompanied by introductory level work. As a result, I spent the majority of my time with the company working on small projects within the organization that were tedious and less conceptual. This was slightly discouraging, yet informative. Moving forward into a real entry level job, my experience at Virginia Gourmet will allow me to have realistic expectations, and be more prepared for the type of work I will be doing.

Although I was doing entry level work, I was still able to grapple with some of the building blocks of business. By being proactive, and asking the right questions, I was still able to interact with some of concepts I mentioned in my personal plan paper. The first concept I wanted to explore through this internship was to understand how new businessmen and women recognize opportunity within industries. While working on product price comparisons on excel didn’t exactly flourish my understanding of this topic, asking why and how my work fit into the grand scheme of the company was greatly revealing. I learned that if you want something in the workplace, you have to actively pursue it. Given my entrepreneurial background and mindset, I wanted to learn how to recognize opportunity. If I hadn’t been persistent in pursuing this information, I probably never would’ve learned it. I would’ve been stuck doing tedious work in excel not learning much of anything.

At the same time, I learned that I had to be realistic with the desires and goals I pursued. In my personal plan paper, I wanted to gain experience with business deals and negotiation. However, this opportunity was too far outside of my job description. With this goal, actively pursuing it didn’t allow me to cover any ground towards understanding it. Though I asked my boss if the notion was possible, he explained that the nature of the business was currently too fragile to allow it. Securing business deals and negotiations was too important for the company to include an intern in the process. If the company was more established and had more leeway, this might have been possible. While I wasn’t able to develop experience with business deals and negations, I still learned that one has to pick their battles in the workplace and pursue the goals that make sense.

On the contrary I was able to interact deeply with pricing templates. Understanding how products were priced was my third goal within my personal plan paper. By conducting a price comparison between Virginia Gourmet products and Amazon products, I was able to further understand where the prices came from. More specifically, I was able to analyze how product mark-up were determined. In this area of study, my previous work with excel in the spring internship class was extremely useful. In the food industry, products are put through a pricing template that factors in production costs, real value, and perceived value. A program then calculates a reasonable mark-up. This process is especially true for a large company like Amazon. For Virginia Gourmet, this pricing template is used, but prices have to be marked-up slightly higher or revenue wouldn’t be high enough to support the business. This strategy is widely used in specialty goods, but is less prevalent within other product classes. Understanding pricing strategies was by far the skill I developed the most during the internship.

Though only one of the three skills that I wished to develop during the internship was satisfied, my internship fulfilled what was described in my student learning contract. During the course of the internship, I reviewed over 200 product price comparisons between Virginia Gourmet and Amazon, worked with brick and mortar business strategies, and enhanced the company’s virtual presence. Throughout this process, I also learned how to augment the company’s SEM and SEO and digital marketing in terms of social media. These skills weren’t on my preset list within my personal plan paper, but looking back now, I wish they were. Grappling with the virtual side of business processes is invaluable in our digital era. Nearly all levels within companies require some level of technological experience. I am glad that I was able to work within the digital branch of the company, and introduce myself to the technological side of business.

However, my development throughout the course of the internship didn’t always come easily. I relied heavily on the leadership concepts and theories I learned in my previous leadership classes to serve as a decisive compass along the way. Though all the theories that I introduced in my reflections were important, the theory that stood out the most to me was Terror Management Theory.

Immediately upon starting my internship I was introduced to a company culture that I had to find my place within. Consequently, I had to determine how the company culture aligned with my own, and use these similarities to solidify my sense of self within the organization. After I was able to do this, I felt much more comfortable in the work environment and was able to play a more meaningful role in the company. Luckily, the majority of the attributes and characteristics I subscribe to from my experience as a student athlete and past learning experiences were also present in the company culture. Characteristics such as consistency, attention to detail, and patience were shared and built upon during my internship. This helped solidify my identity within the company, as well as helped me to become more effective in my work. When I was unsure of something I was supposed to accomplish for the day, I leaned on these principles to lead me in the right direction; pushing me to ask questions, and receive meaningful answers.

My definition of success in life was also reinforced during the course of my internship. There was a significant learning curve during the course of my internship in which I encountered failure. In multiple instances, I completed spreadsheets incorrectly or failed to follow directions. In fact, for one of the sections of my excel sheet for my price comparison project, I had to redo the entire entry three times. However, my definition of success is failing time and time again, but refusing to give up. Because I was able to manage and reinforce the culture that defines me, the project was eventually completed and completed well. If I hadn’t known before the internship started to rely on the character traits that solidified my self-esteem, and overall sense of self, the virtual internship process would’ve been much more difficult.

The next leadership theory that I relied on was less abstract. I utilized Persuasive Leadership Theory and principles of reciprocity often within my internship. Studying PLT in class inspired me to apply the theory within my group of virtual interns, which had a significant impact on our group productivity as a whole. PLT premises that the leader ensures that all opinions are heard, fully assessed, and that the final decision is satisfactory to the majority of participants. I used this theory to work with my fellow interns and develop a strategy to effectively complete our work. Moreover, I used the sub-theory of social proof to spark social validation amongst our group members. This in turn increased both motivation and confidence within our group, aiding the overall productivity of our group immensely. For example, when one of my co-workers would make a suggestion, I went out of my way to make sure they felt their opinion was valued. This helped to create a positive, powerful group identity that allowed us to be creative and productive. When the social validation I offered was reciprocated throughout the group, our team chemistry took off and noticeably became more productive.

The last leadership theory I believe had a significant impact on the way I understood the organization was Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership Theory. As the start of my internship, I was quickly able to identity the transactional leadership style of my boss. His system was based on contingent reward, acknowledging interns who completed work that exceeded expectations in conference calls. As a result, this stimulated both competition and motivation within our group. My boss also employed active management by exception in his evaluation of us. We completed our designated piece of a project, and he directly reviewed and corrected our work when mistakes were made. While there were aspects of transformational leadership within his leadership style, it was overwhelmingly transactional. Previously studying these two leadership styles allowed me to quickly identify my boss’ expectations and act accordingly. If I hadn’t learned these concepts in class, the learning curve within the organization would have been much greater.

In its entirety, my internship with Virginia Gourmet was a valuable experience and I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a part of it. I learned many lessons as I practiced my knowledge of leadership in a real work environment. Moving forward, I will rely on this experience as I continue to hone my leadership skills throughout my career.