One of those “Hey EssaySnark gimme some help and do it for free!” requests came in the other day and we were like, “PEOPLE DON’T YOU KNOW THAT THE DEADLINES ARE HERE?!??” We really don’t have time to do these free reviews right now. We’re kinda busy supporting all you Brave Supplicants who are actually…
A Brave Supplicant working on the Kellogg essay asking you to talk about “a recent and meaningful leadership experience” asked us this question recently: Hi ES, How do I know what’s my best leadership story? Leadership is bringing about change, measured through impact, right? Any impactful story that I have might have at work in…
Ostensibly, bschool will teach you to be a leader.
Of course, schools expect you to already be one, at least somewhat, before you apply.
HBS is known to emphasize leadership over all else in its evaluation of candidate profiles.
What does leadership actually mean? It comes up often enough in bschool essays. We mention it all the time on this here blahg. While it’s true that like beauty, leadership is in the eyes of the beholder — “I”ll recognize it when I see it” is often an accurate attitude — it is a worthwhile exercise to consider what leadership is, and what a good leader does. There are myriad definitions and countless examples for this, and there’s not one “right” answer. If you’re saying you want to go to bschool, you’re saying you want to progresss in your career, and in order to progress in your career, you’ll likely either be managing others (which is not, by itself, leadership) or at a minimum, trying to influence them with your ideas and plans and goals for the enterprise or your team, or at least win the “where should we go for lunch” debate, if just once.
Well, today we’re not going to shed any mystical light on the topic of leadership. Instead, we’re offering a very long essay which is very worth reading.
It was published in The American Scholar (that right there may scare some of you away) and it was written by William Deresiewicz, and no, we did not know who he was, either. Apparently he is an “essayist” (aren’t you thrilled to know that you can make a career out of writing essays?!?) and a critic (but not an “essay snark” — apparently he knew that job was taken). This article was actually delivered as a lecture to the “plebe class” (nope, don’t know what that is either) at West Point (oh yeah! Those military cadet dudes and dudettes in upstate New York). It’s called “Solitude and Leadership” and it’s not nearly as boring as the title suggests. (OK maybe parts of it are.) Not only does he talk about West Point and leadership in the military, he also talks about how it’s taught at schools like Yale (where he’d spent 10 years) and he talks about serving on the Yale College admissions committee and…. OK, enough of our Cliff’s Notes, go read it for yourself.
Yes, we warned you that it’s long. But give it a shot. Exercising those mental muscles will be good for you. Remember, if you’re saying you want to go to bschool, you’ll be signing up for an awful lot of reading — yes it’s true!! — should they decide to admit you.
This leadership thing is fascinating. Americans are enamored of it. Good ones are hard to come by. Unsure how much it can be taught; it likely more needs to be experienced, with enough bumbling failures and episodes of not-leadership, and then perhaps you’ll find a rhythm with people.
But as promised, this was not meant to be the ‘Snark’s essay on leadershp. We could never come close to as solid a treatment of the subject as Mr. Deresiewicz has.
HBS had this awesome article on their Working Knowledge website last month which we invite you to read. It’s about power and leaders who go bad. It uses the examples of the IMF guy and some polticians who were at the top of their game and made a blunder (gee there are so many examples…
Saw a great question on a GMAT forum recently from someone asking how to answer essay questions on leadership when they work at a small company and have never had the chance to manage others. Nobody to “lead.” What should they do with those sorts of essays?
Great question, Brave Supplicant! Here’s part of our answer to them:
Leadership is not the same as managing people. You need not have direct reports to show that you are a leader in whatever context you’ve been working in.
The MBA application process is a chance to do a lot of reflection on various topics, one of which being the whole notion of leadership. Bschools teach many things, leadership skills among them, and their role (at least partially) is to produce leaders in business and society. By applying to bschool, you’re saying you want to be a leader… and the application is a chance to show how you already have been one in various capacities in your life to date.
So, you can start by simply reflecting on what the word “leadership” means. It’s a nebulous concept and has lots and lots of definitions, none of which are more “right” than any other. Leadership for you might be more about influence, or taking the initiative, or progressing the team or the company in some way. The size of the firm is absolutely irrelevant in this context.
Also, keep in mind that leadership doesn’t have to be only from work experience. You can be a leader in other areas of your life. Obviously community service is an ideal place to start. If you don’t currently have any great volunteer experiences to talk about in your application (and you’re reading this around the time it was originally posted), you still have time to dive in and get involved with a nonprofit in your area. Look for one that is about to launch a new initiative or project — or even better, get more involved with one you’ve already got connections with, and FIND WAYS TO SUGGEST A NEW INITIATIVE FOR THEM. And then lead it. And get some results for them.
Results are really key in this context. Leadership is often best demonstrated through IMPACT. Meaning, what did you do to improve a situation, help things out, make them better? Where have you made a difference for other people? In volunteering, then it’s almost always about other people — the consituents being served by the nonprofit itself in executing its mission, and the contribution that you made with your project there. But it also doesn’t have to be that big or grandiose.
You could show that you are a leader simply by talking about how you’re the guy who boosts morale on the team when you’re all under fierce deadlines and everyone’s stressed out of their gourds. Or you’re the one who decided to grease the squeaky wheel on that thingamagjig machine that was driving everyone nuts.
Okay, so that last example is a little small. Not really essay-worthy. But our point is, if you’ve been the guy who’s gone out of his way to fix something, who has always found ways to improve the lot of your peers, who didn’t just sit back and wait for someone else to take action and do it, then you’re a leader — check out this book for what we mean by this.
>We’re in Graduation Season now. At colleges and universities all across America, gowns are being donned (and stepped on — they’re always too long, aren’t they?) and caps perched precariously on heads (when are we supposed to throw them in the air?). And the ceremony goes on. And on. Seems interminable. Nobody really listens to…