Developing Leadership Skills


5 minutes

Whether your program is 3 months or 18 months long, you are going to come away from this experience in the U.S. with more skills and cultural understanding than when you first arrived. Once you return to your home country, others may turn to you for guidance or help based on your recent experience in the U.S. It is good to start thinking now about how to utilize your J-1 program to develop your leadership skills. When you return to your home country to continue school or start a job, how will your J-1 program contribute to your performance? What are some things you can do now to start tapping into your leadership potential?

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." --John Quincy Adams

Keep a positive attitude.

Positivity is infectious.  Not only does it motivate others but it also affects others' perceptions of you. In the same way that host employers will comment on negative attitudes in their evaluations, they comment on positive ones as well. That means that your disposition and your general attitude influences how others see you. Living abroad can be stressful and frustrating, but practicing positivity will go a long way in allowing you to have a fulfilling experience and showing others you can handle yourself in new and challenging situations. When you return to your home country, you may discover things that use to annoy you do not seem important anymore.

"We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot." --Eleanor Roosevelt

Take initiative and share ideas.

When asked why they host international interns and trainees, most host employers will comment on the new ideas and perspectives the interns and trainees bring to the workplace. How cool is that? Your perspective is not only appreciated but also valued. You bring a whole new set of experiences that your American coworkers do not have, so you may have ideas that no one else would have contributed. Go above and beyond your current position, and participate in discussions and share your opinions. Your American coworkers want to learn from you just as much as you from them. Share your ideas, but also remember to listen. Practicing listening and then expressing your ideas in English will make you a strong leader during and after your J-1 program. You bring a unique perspective to your workplace.  Take advantage of your special role!

"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent." --Douglas MacArthur

Use critical thinking skills constantly.

Leading and learning go hand-in-hand, so it is important to constantly be engaged with what you are doing and why you are doing it. Asking questions goes a long way in understanding something more and in impressing your supervisor and coworkers. That not only applies to your professional development but to U.S. culture, too. You came to the U.S. to learn more about the culture, so take advantage of your time here and experience and analyze as much as you can. This will benefit you when you return to your home country and are able to articulate differences and similarities between the U.S. and your home country.

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." --John F. Kennedy

Become a mentor.

Want to get a head start and put your leadership skills to the test?  Join Career Training USA's Peer Mentor program! We are always looking for more mentors who are willing to be available to new participants to answer any questions and offer guidance. InterExchange is always happy to advise and support our participants, but sometimes hearing about the program and adjusting to life in the USA from someone who has been there before is just more effective. It's a great way to meet new friends, too! Check out our Peer Mentor Guide for more information.

"As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." --Bill Gates

Some practical examples for you to start practicing leadership TODAY:

  1. Attend professional networking events: Check out our networking blog for ideas on where to find events in your local area.
  2. Volunteer: Check out VolunteerMatch, Idealist, HandsOn Netowrk, United Way, and Red Cross for opportunities near you.
  3. Develop time management skills: Time management will increase your efficiency and reduce your stress allowing you to do more, higher quality work.
  4. Practice goal setting: Goal setting helps you focus your energy and stay motivated to accomplish what you want to do. A useful way to make your goals more powerful is to make them S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely).
  5. Get a mentor for yourself: Becoming a mentor is a great way to practice leadership, but becoming a mentee is also beneficial for your leadership development. Ask someone you respect and look up to if they would be willing to mentor you and chances are they will be honored you asked.
  6. Start a language exchange at your workplace or with friends: A former intern once started a lunchtime language club at her host employer where she would lead her coworkers in a daily Spanish lesson. Think about starting something like this at your own workplace or with your American friends!
  7. Organize a sports team: Sports teams are a great way to meet new people while doing something you enjoy. If a team does not exist already, start one yourself! Company sports leagues are very popular at workplaces.
  8. Schedule informational interviews: Informational interviews are a great platform to learn how people in leadership roles got to where they are. Unlike job interviews, informational interviews are simply used to gather information and advice about a chosen field or career path.
Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

Career Training USA
Career Training USA

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