What does it mean to be a leader? Can leadership be measured by the number of awards you accumulate? Do you need an official job title (like Head of X or VP of Y) to prove you can lead?
Here are some of my thoughts on what it means to be a leader and the way you should present your own leadership in your MBA application:
- Prove stature, not status. Adcoms are looking for true leaders, people who don’t just hold impressive awards and elevated titles (i.e. people with status), but people who can demonstrate through specific examples and achievements that they are leaders (i.e. that they have stature, regardless of formal designation).
- Indicate the 7 I’s. How have you made a difference? Leaders don’t just get things done in order to cross them off their to-do list; they have vision, and motivate others using their keen INTUITION, to help them fulfill that vision and leave an everlasting IMPRESSION. Don’t just say that you led a team of X number of people on a recent marketing project, but indicate the IMPACT that the completion of that project had on your company, your community, or the world. What INSPIRED you to INITIATE your INVOLVEMENT in this project? Were you pleased with the results? What did you learn about leadership over the course of the project? How much INFLUENCE did you have over the people you managed? What did they learn? (Did you catch the 7 I’s? To sum up, they are: Intuition, Impression, Impact, Inspiration, Initiative, Involvement, and Influence.)
- Avoid leadership clichés. Terms like “vision,” “buy-in” “motivate,” and of course “leadership” are a dime-a-dozen in essays on leadership. And it’s true that each of these words can legitimately fit in a leadership essay. However, if they are not backed or even trumped by your leadership example, they descend into the realm of the hollow, overused, tired cliché. Use the terms sparingly; demonstrate the qualities generously.
- Tell your leadership story. Detailing your leadership history and achievements in an MBA essay should read more like a story than a resume – after all, you have your MBA resume which should read like a resume. You’ll have an easier time imparting your impact (see #2) if you give concrete experiential examples.
For more insights into the leadership essay, please read Accepted.com’s free special report, Leadership in Admissions.