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Show Off Your Leadership Skills in Your MBA Application

December 26, 2012 11:24 pm0 commentsViews: 875
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When many prospective MBA students are faced with the typical leadership questions in MBA application essays, they often tend to freak out because they think they need to provide the example that is their greatest personal or professional achievement. However, the reality is that a good answer to this question is not really about some grand gesture or a formal title of leadership. The best way to answer this MBA application question is to show that you left a strong footprint where you worked and that you did an excellent job.

You should think through all of your past experiences and come up with the episodes that demonstrate your leadership skills the best. Keep in mind that the very best examples are not just the first ones that you think of.

The leadership essay that you write often is quite different from the accomplishment or achievement essay you need to write for an MBA application. Just because you have a great achievement at work, does not mean that you always demonstrated leadership skills.

One of the most important aspects of strong leadership is that you can galvanize other people to do good work. You are able to educate them and bring out their passions for their work. You also help them to organize their priorities in new and more efficient ways. And in the end, they share in the achievement that you helped to bring about. That is true leadership, and what you need to write about in your essay.

What a leader does actually activates and improves the work of other people. So, you will want to come up with anecdotes in your background that show this type of pattern.

So, what are the sorts of experiences that will best show off your leadership skills? You need to think about the challenges where some of the following situations may have occurred:

  • Where you had to identify and define a problem
  • Where you resisted a conventional approach
  • Where you needed to provide motivation for others
  • Where you had to make the best use of the talents of others
  • Where you had to be open to new input and information
  • Where you had to build consensus with other stakeholders
  • Where you had to build upon success

You need to remember that good leadership is not just about a title on a business card. Some MBA candidates will build their MBA leadership essay about the fact that they have a position with a lot of responsibility. While that is important, what is even more important is to show what exactly you did in that position.

If you were the editor of a college newspaper, you could write about how you had to always maintain the highest levels of excellence in the editorial department, or how you had to manage staff assignments and hit your deadlines on time. However, if you limit your essay to that, you sound exactly like many other editors that are applying for MBA school.

You should describe in detail the leadership challenges you had to deal with, not the management issues. Did you have to deal with a writer who used fake interview notes? Was there a scandal on campus that meant you had to deal with a serious ethical issue? Did you have to fire any editors? Did you transition the newspaper from a weekly to a daily and have to deal with all of the human resource and scheduling problems that are typical in that sort of transition? Did you have to make any big changes at the newspaper that were controversial?

The key here is that having an impressive job title does not make you a strong leader. You have to help your team overcome challenges to do that.

The best MBA leadership essays are going to have heroes that are not you. If you helped someone in accounts receivable get to their top potential in a project, you can showcase him as a hero in your leadership story. How well that person did on the project you led is a reflection upon you and your leadership skills.

Remember, strong leadership is not a solo effort, and your MBA leadership essay should not be just about you. You will never go wrong if you show how you inspired and led others to achieve their potential.