One way or another, if you apply to business school, you’re going to need to demonstrate that you’re a leader. While this is being asked less explicitly via essay prompts these days, you’re almost guaranteed to be asked about your leadership skills in your interviews. You’ll also want to highlight them in your résumé and online forms, plus have your recommenders underscore them.
Many of my clients are initially concerned that they have big strikes against them in the leadership department because they’ve never had direct reports. “I’m not leading anyone,” they lament. “How am I going to answer these questions?” (The truth is, most MBA applicants don’t directly manage people, though a good percentage get to have some influence over the work of interns, new analysts, support staff, and the like.) But as I tell them, I’ll tell you: “Fear not!” Leadership encompasses a lot more than just having a bunch of people under you.
DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?
For example, do you have a knack for seeing where your organization could go, say five, 10, 20 years down the road? Have you sensed greater possibilities, whether based on research or even hunches? Have you helped set a new direction for a group or organization? If so, you have vision. As we all know, Steve Jobs was a visionary master, anticipating products people would love before they even knew they needed them.
Vision can be strengthened or supported by applying systems thinking, an ability increasingly valued by business schools. Do you tend to look at the bigger picture and take the longer view, paying attention to the levers driving a particular system or taking into the account the health, or lack thereof, of the ecosystem in which your organization is operating? Do you have a good anecdote to share about that? To give a simple example, consider the problem of hunger that faces many developing countries. For decades, wealthier countries assumed that the problem was just one of scarcity and that simply shipping tons of food to countries’ main ports of entry would suffice. However, in many nations, other factors were at play, including vast amounts of corruption (officials might take food for themselves or try to resell it at exorbitant prices), and inadequate infrastructure and transportation (so food might spoil long before it could get to its destination). A lot of food never made it to those who most needed it. While always important, this kind of thinking is critical in an age when we think technology is the solution to everything — sometimes it is, but sometimes the roots of the problem lie elsewhere and throwing technology at a problem masks it.
You can have all the wonderful visions or ideas in the world, but if you can’t get others on board, who cares (unless you are a dictator!)? Consequently, another critical leadership skill is being able to persuade others, and this can often require courage and persistence. Now, you don’t need to create a reality-distortion field as the previously mentioned Steve Jobs was known to do, but you do need to have conviction and be a compelling communicator.
For example, a client of mine named Arjun* was working for a leading PE firm that had just abandoned a deal because, based on their valuation of the company in question, buying it didn’t seem worth it. Disappointed about not closing the deal, Arjun grabbed some KFC on the way home to assuage his sorrow the fatty fast-food way. While digging into his bucket of chicken, he reflected on the franchise business model — and suddenly something clicked! He realized there was a way they could value the business they’d just passed up using a franchise multiple, and this made purchasing the company look very attractive. He excitedly took his innovative idea to his managing director, who practically ridiculed him for it. But Arjun persisted, refining his pitch, and he eventually sold the investment team on the idea. This turned out to be a coup, because soon afterward they were able to sell off the company for double what they paid for it.
MAKING IT SO
You can also have great ideas or vision but do nothing about it. True leaders take initiative and make the things they envision happen. Peter, for example, had found it very challenging to break into PE and felt moved to make the journey easier for others. While he simply could have talked about doing something but not followed through or even proceeded to mentor one or two people, he actually launched a nonprofit PE-mentorship organization. He and his business partner developed resource materials (including practice LBO models, an interview guide, and résumé book); established a recruiter database and contacts; attracted and onboarded mentors; and hosted regular events such as mock interviews, modeling exams, and case studies. Now that’s implementation for you! So as you work on your application, think about mentioning situations in which you’ve crushed execution.
One quality that can help ensure success when taking action is resourcefulness. Quite often we don’t have exactly what we need at our fingertips to pull something off. This might be money, for example. Some of my clients have faced such situations and they had to get clever to resolve them, offering things like free publicity, trades, shared-income opportunities, etc., to potential vendors. Or they may have had to rethink their outreach, switching from paid media to social media. John worked for a particular group in his manufacturing company that had very few dedicated employees, so he often had to pull in engineers from other groups to staff his projects. These people had no obvious incentive to give up their time to him. He quickly learned that he could enroll them by discovering the ways they wanted to develop and giving them opportunities to do that on his project. (I’ve heard that chocolate chip cookies can work in some cases, but I wouldn’t count on that strategy!)
And can you keep people on board — maintain morale — when the going gets tough? Nazir faced this situation when his company in India was bought by a U.S. competitor, and its ranks had shrunk by 50% because of layoffs and attrition. Determined “to improve the situation rather than be a mere observer,” he urged India leadership to develop a “people team,” as their acquirer had to conduct employee-attitude surveys, brainstorm ways to resolve issues, and organize bonding activities such as lunches and off-sites. Discovering that lack of recognition and opportunities to showcase thought leadership were two areas of concern, Nazir presented possible solutions to the people team. As a result, the U.S. counterparts were asked to actively observe and recognize India associates through an employee-recognition feature, a cash reward recognizing exceptional work was instituted, and project work and reporting were redesigned to increase the visibility of the India team’s contributions.
Sample MBA Application Essay - After
EssayEdge significantly improves each essay using the same voice as the author. The only way to evaluate editing is to compare the original essay with the edited version. We significantly improve essays both for clients who write poorly and for clients who write well.
Essay 1: Discuss a situation, preferably work related, where you have taken a significant leadership role. How does this event demonstrate your managerial potential?
Aquent was in a perilous condition. The 1,800 sales representatives at the company had contracted far too many high-risk, low-profit project orders related to network construction. The resultant deficit at Aquent, one of the world's biggest communications companies, had swollen to nearly $150 million and threatened to bring the company down. To combat this problem, I joined a sales reform taskforce that implemented "Project Forward," a new oversight committee that would investigate the profitability of project orders and decide whether or not to accept them. It was a huge responsibility, and I was given the task of formulating the procedures that Project Forward would recommend to all sales divisions.
Despite a flurry of activity, two months went by with no results. The sales divisions failed to enact the new procedures I had designed, and the company amassed an alarming number of high-risk project orders. With implementation problems mounting, I knew it was up to me to find a solution.
One executive manager, angry over the lack of sales cooperation, proposed putting Project Forward into operation by force. Believing that we needed to grasp the cause of Project Forward's failure before we could implement an adequate solution, I proposed a different approach. I suggested that we simply ask the sales representatives why they neglected to carry out the new measures. After interviewing thirty-six sales representatives from all sales departments, I discovered that, broadly speaking, sales representatives did not understand the goal of Project Forward. Two other Business Process Reengineering (BPR) projects were competing for their attention, and the sales representatives did not know which projects pertained to their work. Moreover, since the members administering Project Forward each had their own existing posts and roles, they were too busy to manage Project Forward effectively.
Having identified the problem, I designed a solution. I created a task list that assigned roles to the project members. Then, I assimilated the other two BPR projects into our own, integrating all three into one, centrally-administered program. After creating an integrated process flow that was easy for sales representatives to understand, I held joint meetings to introduce the new measures to the sales people. In addition, resource managers were directed to assign two people to manage Project Forward full-time in each sales division.
Finally, I used motivational techniques to ensure that Project Forward was executed with vigor. Since I observed that we could not successfully implement the measure without changing the sales representatives' minds about the council's usability, I enthusiastically discussed the purpose of Project Forward at the joint meetings and through our mailing list. I showed the sales division that they owned Project Forward and should share in its establishment. As a result, the motivation exhibited by these representatives grew more and more intense.
Solving this problem taught me several essential traits that a leader must exhibit. A leader must clearly identify the problems that are hindering a project's success, and then he must address those issues by making every team member a stakeholder in the project's success. By raising awareness of a project's goals and purposes, a leader can then motivate his teammates to contribute. Leadership is centrally interactive, and only by working in harmony with an organization can a leader guarantee long-term success.
Essay 2: Describe your most challenging team-building experience. What insights did you gain as a result of this experience?
In April of 2001, two colleagues from Ota-ku and about one hundred volunteers gathered in Tokyo to address a growing problem in Japan: the "Digital Divide." Our plan was to establish a course in information technology and to leverage the 54.5 billion yen endowment of a national movement in order to train Japanese citizens in the usage of on-line resources. At the opening of the meeting, however, I was surprised to learn that the Ota-ku personnel who were to be managing the IT course did not have their own email addresses! They proposed to correspond by mail, not by email, and from that point forward, I knew that I had my work cut out for me.
To overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge, I first assessed my resources. I analyzed the specific skills of each volunteer so that I could give them appropriate roles in setting up the course. Conducting this research, I found that the one hundred volunteers, unlike my colleagues at Aquent, had very diversified levels of training; some volunteers taught computer classes daily, while others had only recently mastered the basics of email. Despite differing levels of experience, all volunteers shared a common goal--to conquer the Digital Divide.
After investigating all of the members' skills, I created teams from small groups of volunteers, carefully distributing teammates so that their skills were equally divided amongst groups. Next, before the course began, I arranged for the teams to gather several times so that the team members could become acquainted with each other. Gradually, throughout the course, I continued to build unity within each team, and I watched team consciousness bud with each successive meeting.
The first course lasted for two days and taught essential IT skills to about thirty participants. An experienced computer teacher and I acted as the main lecturers while three other volunteers supported the students. Since many of the participants were women who did not work during the day, my first lesson addressed how to acquire restaurant coupons on-line. As one of our older volunteer lecturers described sound and picture files, and taught participants how to attach them to email, I noticed that the students were already realizing the pleasure of the Internet.
As the course progressed, I ensured that each lecturer contributed to the lessons by discussing his or her area of expertise. At one point, a volunteer became worried because he doubted that he could contribute. During the second session, I asked him to act as the main lecturer for the next class. Although he turned me down at first, he finally accepted my offer on the condition that I teach him lecturing techniques before the next class. Ultimately, he finished splendidly. Since his IT skills were not strong at first, he understood the fear and confusion that many of our beginners experienced, and was therefore able to deliver effective instruction to a wide audience.
By drawing on the unique talents of each volunteer, I succeeded in crafting an IT course that was richer than I had imagined. From the first time the volunteers shared their skills with the group, through each volunteer's turn lecturing, I cultivated a constructive atmosphere in which every team member could play an important role. As a result, each member was able to build on his strong points and to find an indispensable unity in the team. Today, I look forward to joining the community at XXX, another environment in which diverse individuals, with distinct talents, come together for the shared goal of their education.
"Frankly, I wouldn't even consider submitting an essay to any top school without submitting it to your service first. EssayEdge has done a tremendous job with my mediocre writing style to create powerful and concise essays. I can't thank you enough. There is nothing about the service I would change. The information gathered from the critique is essential, but the outstanding aspect to this service is that changes and corrections, additions and deletions are made directly to the document. This is invaluable considering the time frame most of us have to work with. Additionally, I have already looked at these essays so many times, mere suggestions would not have been nearly as helpful, and my language choice would have remained bland and not as effective. I couldn't be more happy with every aspect of this service. I can honestly say that my chances for admission have nothing short of doubled (considering the importance of the essays in the admission process) as a result of using your service."
Click Here for the Edited Version.
These essays are well organized and contain the perfect amount of concrete detail. Allowing the reader to learn about you by illustrating your qualities through relevant memories is a very effective technique in essay writing. In addition, your use of one professional and one personal narrative gives the reader a strong sense of your character, both in and out of the workplace.
I made a few important changes to the overall structure of your essays, and I made a number of sentence-level adjustments. In addition, I corrected all grammatical errors that I found, including misused articles, verb conjugations, and prepositions. Although I have not cited each specific change, these revisions were an essential part of my editing--they ensured that your essays to XXX were as formal and rigorous as possible.
I also adapted sentence structure, vocabulary, and syntax in many places, always with the goal of improving clarity and readability. Although I did not encounter any major problems with your word choice or level of English (something you were concerned about), I have nonetheless offered alternative wording choices so that your essay can be as effective as possible. See the text of each essay for examples of the changes I propose.
Here are my specific comments pertaining to each individual essay:
The most significant problem with the wording of this essay was the conclusion, which contained the following phrases:
"...resolving critical issues..."
"I want to make the most use of my nature and experience by learning knowledge..."
"...and to grow up to be a true leader..."
These phrases do not do adequate justice to the individuality of your essay. All leaders "resolve critical issues," and all XXX applicants want to "learn knowledge" and to become "true leaders." Consequently, these assertions do not separate you from other applicants.
In the revised conclusion, I have more carefully described the unique elements of your leadership philosophy, including your willingness to work with others, your emphasis on shared goals, and your ability to delegate authority and to motivate your teammates. Your essay does a good job of illustrating your use of these techniques, and I have given them greater prominence in my edit.
"I carried out the following points as a leader."
This is an awkward transition because it is too obvious. See the subtler transition sentence that I have provided.
Finally, please note that I replaced instances of the pronoun "we" with "I," since this essay is about you. It is perfectly acceptable to highlight your own accomplishments, especially since these accomplishments are more impressive than those achieved through collective effort. Never be afraid to make yourself the central character in your essays.
In contrast to your first essay, the second essay required a more engaging introduction. An effective way to grab the reader's attention is to drop him right into the story. See the narrative device I used to introduce the reader directly into the drama.
In addition, please note that your original first sentence sounded too much like a thesis statement. It is not necessary to outline your argument explicitly in the first paragraph, and I have shown how you can develop your story gradually to build suspense. By describing your goals after outlining the nature of the new IT course, you can whet the reader's appetite and draw him into your essay.
Also, "Digital Divide" was not clearly defined in the introduction, so I added new details to ensure that any reader will understand what you mean. You should always explain terminology that might be unfamiliar to a reader.
In the interest of readability, this should be rewritten as: "54.5 billion."
"The administration of Japan is really behind in IT area."
This sentence is too informal for use in an application essay.
"I learned the importance to strengthen union in a team."
The phrase, "I learned," is overused in application essays, and it drains the power out of effective descriptions. I have restricted the use of this phrase to the conclusion, the only position in which it is truly effective.
"By assigning suitable role for each member, the person can demonstrate his or her power to the maximum extent."
The use of the word "power" is incorrect in this context. I have reworded this sentence to make it flow better.
"I chose XXX because of its culture, which regards teamwork as important."
This detail is ineffective since it is obvious that XXX would regard teamwork as important.
"...the diversity environment..."
Allusions to "diversity" are often overused in application essays. I have retained your core idea but have reworked it to make your language fresh and engaging.
Your essays now read much better and will leave a more lasting impression on the admissions committee. I wish you the best of luck in the application process.
Your EssayEdge Editor
See how EssayEdge experts from schools including Harvard, Yale and Princeton can help you get into business school! Review our services.
See this essay before the edit.