Business school applicants often think that to demonstrate leadership qualities they must cite their achievements. However, displaying leadership in your MBA application is not about titles or lists of achievements. A successful applicant must recall their past experiences carefully to identify and explain in detail the leadership challenges met and overcome.
Just because one achieved something outstanding does not always mean leadership skills were involved, especially if one did most or all of the work alone. An ability to rally people to accomplish a specific goal is key to displaying leadership abilities. Describing events in which a candidate was able to get a group of people to work together towards something greater than themselves is leadership.
What to write about
Questions such as: “How you identified/defined a problem or an end result to be achieved”, “How you thought out of the box and went on without looking for precedents in previous years and trying to replicate same processes”, “How you motivated your team to contribute their unique gifts”, “How you identified the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and made use of the team strengths to cover and overcome the team’s weaknesses”, “How you brought about a consensus in approach and processes”, “How you maintained a high level of energy and passion among the team especially as the project drew to a close” – these testify to strong leadership qualities in an individual. Write about these situations.
Write about the challenges you faced and overcame, Team issues, stakeholder issues, customer/client Issues, finance Issues, ethics issues. Write them in such a way that you don’t define yourself as the only driven person, but rather as someone who led a team to the solution. Give credit where it is due! There must be heroes and heroines other than yourself in your story. This will enable you to display two important themes, your latent leadership qualities and your potential for development as a leader in larger business roles.
Four leadership qualities
The May-June 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review listed four leadership qualities that were found during a 10-year study of the highest-performing CEOs. These four things that HBR cited could be great themes for you to describe your leadership qualities and aptitude in your MBA applications.
- Ability to engage others (Keep the energy and passion levels high)
- Ability to adapt well to change (Steer a path away from the routine)
- Reliability (Give results on time)
Besides all the above you are advised to do the following and display these in your CV as proven experiences, to beef up your profile.
Improve your public speaking skills. Join the Toastmasters club. Make a point of doing as much public speaking as possible, addressing activities in your school or work situations. Though you may falter initially, when you do it often you will find a newfound confidence and ability to speak in public. Mention these in your application.
Improve your command of English, both spoken and written. Read the New York Times and several articles of varying content regularly. It will automatically improve the way you use your words and grammar. This will also improve your writing skills without any extra effort.
Mention places you have visited other than your hometown, or even home country. You will have been exposed to different people with different cultures, norms and behavior patterns and etiquette. This will enable you to appreciate diversity in a very different way.
Mention your Volunteering experience in School, in the workplace. Volunteering experience teaches much about leadership and management which the Business Schools find attractive.
Mention your favorite sports or games which you played or still pursue. Sports and games teach much more about teamwork, leadership than many business degree programs as they all involve leadership in action, teamwork in action.
Mention your facility in languages other than English. It will demonstrate your perseverance and your willingness to learn. These are important leadership qualities.
Mention (if you have) any start-up work experience. It will demonstrate your ability to work in situations where there are no designated procedures or processes as well as your ability to think on your feet, your ability to handle ambiguities and uncertainties and your ability to take risks.
Wherever possible take part in cross-functional and cross-organizational activities at work. This will demonstrate your ability to plan, coordinate and delegate work without any formal structure. Help your company in their recruitment process. You can participate in the selection interview and work closely with HR and other cross-functional teams.
Be active in Social media, maintain a blog, share on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.
Mention articles you have written in journals, magazines etc. This will demonstrate your ability to express yourself clearly without any ambiguity.