Park Perspectives: Leveraging ambiguity during my summer internship

By: Park Perspectives
Jessie Anderson Featured Photo

By Jessie Anderson, Two-Year MBA ’19

Park Perspectives are authored by Johnson’s Park Leadership Fellows.

I just wrapped up what I can only describe as one of the most challenging yet rewarding summers as an Operations Pathways Manager Intern at Amazon. Throughout the summer, I leveraged many of the lessons that we learned in Park Leadership sessions and in the classroom to succeed in my internship. As a result, I learned a tremendous amount about my own leadership style through learning in the presence of ambiguity, realizing the importance of understanding people, and having courage to push back on decisions.

“You’re the subject matter expert (SME)”

When Amazon says that they bring in interns to solve problems that they have not been able to solve, they really mean it. One of the constant themes that I experienced this summer was ambiguity. While in prior work experiences I faced some uncertainty, most often I had a subject matter expert upon whom I could lean to better understand the problem. In the beginning of my internship, I thought that there was a magic solution to solve my project topic and viewed the task at hand as a test upon which I was being graded. It wasn’t until my week six check-in that my manager told me “you’re the SME.” In that moment, I realized that this truly was a problem that no one knew how to solve. It was my responsibility to solve the issue, despite having limited experience in operations. While in the beginning the ambiguity frustrated me, it became a tremendous source of empowerment and confidence for my final five weeks.

Balancing people and numbers

Another challenge with which I grappled was balancing people and numbers in devising solutions. Although my project was cost-oriented and required me to immerse myself in the numbers, the site at which I worked had limited automation. I constantly had to revisit how practical my solution was, not just in light of the numbers but also how realistic it was that people would be on board with my solution. In that sense, people became another data point. It became as important to get to know associates as it was to fully understand the mechanics of the operation.

In better understanding people, I leaned heavily on the Park Leadership session that Laura led on personality type and preferred communication style utilizing Myers-Briggs personality types. In those moments where I felt that I wasn’t being heard or understood, I took a step to evaluate individuals’ personalities and perceived values and priorities. This allowed me to reframe my message in a way that would be better received. After all, it’s truly not what you say, it’s how you say it, and learning to shift my message based on my audience made me much more successful.

Disagree and commit

One of Amazon’s Leadership Principles is “Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit,” and it was tremendously useful for me this summer. Normally, I like to make sure that I am 100 percent correct before I push back or question what someone has to say, but my position as SME and short nature of my internship required me to push back almost immediately. While this wasn’t always comfortable, it drove me to prepare for meetings well and trust my intuition when I was unsure. More times than not, my pushback was well-received. Even in those times where my thinking was faulty, being encouraged to disagree made me more confident and encouraged me to not become paralyzed with uncertainty.

Implementing these lessons in everyday life

While the summer was by no means easy, I am excited about the lessons that I learned along the way and look forward to sharing this with my classmates. Johnson encouraged me to develop my leadership style, and my summer internship was a natural extension of this. After becoming an SME in a mere eleven weeks, I learned the importance of diving into challenges, even when uncertainty exists. A mentor in my former position at Delta Air Lines always encouraged me to identify a “board of directors,” or mentors in various aspects of life and career, to help navigate personal and career challenges, and this became crucial for my success at Amazon. My advice to everyone, especially prospective interns, is to quickly identify this board of directors both inside and outside of the company at which you work in order to provide support. Not only will this allow you to ramp up more quickly, but it will also allow you to form strong personal bonds with like-minded individuals. As I look ahead to my final year at Johnson, it is my goal to not only apply these lessons to my own life but to also encourage others to embrace uncertainty and to view ambiguity as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

Link to learn more about the Park Leadership Fellows program
Portrait of Jessie Anderson, Two-Year MBA '19

About Jessie Anderson, Two-Year MBA ’19:

Previous Academic Institution(s): Duke University
Previous Employer: Delta Air Lines, Inc.
Internship: Amazon
Interests: Technology, Consulting, Travel, Hiking, Aviation/Tourism