This is the last post in a 4-part series that examines INSEAD MBA’s admission criteria.
INSEAD is not unique among MBA programs in desiring leadership potential in applicants. All do. It is unique in how it characterizes leadership and leadership potential.
The adcom has a two-pronged view of leadership:
• factual (what you did, your experience that reflects leadership) and
• qualitative (the values, character, and vision that inform your leadership, and its nature, impact and significance).
So, in this framework it’s not enough just to have impact or to drive change – it’s what kind of impact and why you pursue it; what specific change – from what to what and why.
Let’s focus for a moment on the word “potential.” The adcom doesn’t just say “leadership” for the criterion. Potential is forward focused. You may have led a big project to success, but if your application indicates that you aren’t reflective, engaged, and interested in growth, your potential – future – leadership may be limited. So, this criterion must resonate with the other elements of your application to show (ideally) a mature, open, curious, intellectually agile, personally reflective nature. Such a nature will, when leading, provide quality leadership.
How do you show that you meet this criterion?
First, obviously, present experiences (through example, anecdote, and resume points) that clearly portray your leadership roles to date. These may be formal (where you were a designated leader AND met the responsibilities of the role) or informal (where you identified the need for and stepped in to tactfully provide leadership in a given situation, e.g. resolving a conflict among teammates).
In presenting these experiences, keep “quality” on the radar screen and strive to weave in aspects of the experience that include this dimension.
Second, through essays, resume, interview, etc., discuss experiences that convey elements of leadership. For example, you might have maturely handled an ethical challenge that didn’t necessarily involve leadership, but still showed qualities, such as courage, moral compass, willingness to prioritize values, etc., that one wants in a leader.
There are an infinite variety of such elements – they include things like ability to motivate and/or inspire people, ability to persuade, willingness to take a stand for a value or an idea, ability and/or willingness to make tough decisions and forthrightly address the consequences, openness to appropriate risk-taking, etc. Bring them to the foreground when you describe an experience in an essay. In the resume, sometimes you can work it in contextually.
Third, I’ll mention a factor too little used by applicants IMHO. When a good opportunity presents itself, mention (in essays and/or interview), a leader you admire and from whose example of leadership you are learning and growing. It may be someone you know at work, or a figure out in “the world.” No need to go on at length about such exemplars – but devoting a couple of lines in an essay or a sentence or two in an interview to such a mention is a great way to show leadership potential: you are thinking about leadership, you resourcefully gain insight from prevailing circumstances and apply it to your own situation, and you have the grace to elevate another.
I hope you’ve found this series helpful!
I am always thrilled when I get an “I’m in at INSEAD!” email. I welcome the chance to help you show you belong at INSEAD and receive such an email from you in the future.
Cindy Tokumitsu has advised hundreds of successful applicants, helping them gain acceptance to top MBA and EMBA programs in her 15+ years with Accepted. She would love to help you too. Want Cindy to help you get Accepted to INSEAD? Click here to get in touch!