Describe your key leadership experiences and evaluate what leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experience.
That’s Kellogg’s leadership question for MBA applicants. Simple enough, right? Well, yes and no.
Yes, it’s simple if you take a by-the-numbers approach to the first part of the question, merely restating bullets from your resume in sentence form: “My key leadership experiences include leading a four-person team of engineers to develop a new quality assurance process for a multimillion-dollar client and mentoring three new hires about our policies and practices.”
But taking the “simple” route guarantees a flat essay unlikely to stand out. Instead, you should take a strategic, more story-oriented tack, grabbing them with a concise but rich tale of leadership trials and triumphs: “When I was asked to take over a $1.5 million consulting project for a major new client, I inherited a four-person team of demoralized engineers who were already 50% behind schedule.” Then you’d go on to relate how you led that demoralized team to a positive result, highlighting how you overcame major task-related and interpersonal obstacles along the way with problem-solving creativity, coaching, and persistence.
But that’s just one leadership experience, and the question asks for “experiences,” so I counsel my clients to include two to three such compact stories of leadership, ideally in different domains: professional (usually the easiest one to find examples of), extracurricular (community service, cultural organization, and sports-related experience), and even personal (such as helping to lead your family or a small group of friends to solve a difficult problem or navigate a difficult time).
After presenting the stories you can “sum up” the key leadership skills you’ve gained—developing a vision and rallying others around it; bringing out your team’s strengths and providing development opportunities for them; resolving conflicts; many others—and mention briefly (no room for more stories) how you use these in other roles and contexts such as X and Y.
But that’s only half the question.
The second half is about the “leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experience.” “But I just told them how great a leader I am on all these dimensions, so what do I write here?” my clients sometimes say. It’s true that you’ve just related many dimensions of your leadership strength through the stories, but I doubt you’ve addressed everything. A typical area of development involves “soft skills” such as coaching individual teammates and giving feedback, especially of the “constructive” variety. Kellogg is renowned for its people-focus, so these are always worth mentioning. Even if you feel you’ve covered hard and soft skills with your stories, you can always benefit from developing the ability to create/sell higher-level visions (where to take your company, rather than where to take your project), negotiate much higher-stakes deal, and resolve conflicts among groups/units rather than just among individuals. So talk about that stuff. If you have space, even present a real-life scenario from your work where such skills would have been useful.
Now you’ve addressed both parts of the question, so you’re all done, right? Well, no. The key part my clients are most likely to leave out is naturally the part that doesn’t appear in the question: How can Kellogg’s specific offerings help you develop into a stronger leader? Here, in the last part of your essay, you need to map the leadership areas you wish to develop onto Kellogg courses, seminars, workshops, and clubs. Go to Kellogg’s website and find three or four specific ones that relate strongly to your leadership goals, then write about them. Briefly. It also never hurts to mention how much you’ll learn by leading your highly diverse study teams at Kellogg.
Now you’re all done, right? Right.
But remember, if you don’t want to go it alone, my fellow Accepted editors and I can help you craft compelling Kellogg essays and those for other programs.
By Dr. Sachin Waikar, Accepted Editor