Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

September 28, 2007

How to write an MBA Leadership Essay

You can find my analysis for Fall 2009 Admission here.

In this post, I will specifically refer to Harvard Business School Essay 3a for Fall 2008: Discuss a defining experience in your leadership development. How did this experience highlight your strengths and weaknesses?

HBS is about leadership. The HBS mission statement makes that clear: The mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. As such HBS places a very high premium on applicants' leadership potential:
A Habit of Leadership
We recognize—and welcome—leadership that may be expressed in many forms, from college extracurricular activities to academic or business achievements, from personal accomplishments to community commitments. We appreciate leadership on any scale as well, from organizing a classroom to directing a combat squad, from running an independent business to spearheading initiatives at work. In essence, we are looking for evidence of your potential — a portfolio of experiences, initiatives, and accomplishments that reflect a habit of leadership.

Harvard thus has a very open-ended conception of leadership, but they are rigid in the necessity that applicants demonstrate it. I think this is true for other schools to a varying extent as well. For example, like HBS, "INSEAD is looking for applicants who can demonstrate their potential as leaders." Even if a set of business school essay questions does not necessarily explicitly ask for you to show leadership, it had better be expressed.

Leadership is no easy thing. Nor is it obvious. The worst possible thing is to conceive of leadership as simple formal responsibility or a title because this conveys nothing about the person in that position. While some applicants will, in fact, have held formal leadership positions, many will not have.

Formal leadership positions are great to write about if they involve the applicant actually having significant impact, making a difficult decision, being a visionary, showing creativity, or otherwise going beyond their formal responsibility, but the same is true for those showing leadership without having a formal title.

If you are having difficulty really understanding leadership, I have a few suggestions.

First, one great place to read about leadership, and business in general, is Harvard Business School Working Knowledge. The last time I checked there were 159 articles on leadership posted there.

Second, find out what kind of leader you are by taking this quiz based on Lewin's classic framework. I think leadership is more complicated than Lewin's framework, but this quiz is a great way to get you started thinking about yourself, a key part of answering any leadership essay question effectively.

Third, if you have not done so, I suggest reading relevant essays in 65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays: With Analysis by the Staff of the Harbus, The Harvard Business School Newspaper. Reading through the essays on leadership should help you to understand the great diversity of topics that are possible.

OK, now that we have grounded ourselves in understanding the importance of leadership and begun to develop some possible leadership stories, how does one proceed?

I have developed the following grid to help you outline your leadership story. The categories this grid employs may go beyond any particular schools essay requirements. Filling it out completely will help you write about your leadership in a way that will help convince admissions of your leadership potential.
CLICK TO ENLARGE. EMAIL me at adammarkus@gmail.com if you want the original excel version.

How to use the grid:
1. Decide a specific story
2. Identify the most significant things you did in the situation, these are you action steps.
3. For each action step identify
a. What skills or qualities you demonstrated to complete this step.
b. The strengths and/or weaknesses you demonstrated to complete this step.
c. The kind of leadership you demonstrated.
d. What you still need to learn about leadership.
4. Think about the results and identify how they relate to your action steps.
5. After completing the chart you will see that some aspects of your action steps maybe repeated. If there is a total duplication and nothing new is shown, you need to try and think more. Either you need to redefine the action step or you may decide not to focus on it very much.
6. Once you think you have two to four fully worked-out action steps, start writing your essay. In the initial draft get everything in.
7. Next start re-writing. Eliminate duplicate points made between action steps. Make choices about what parts of each action to step to highlight. Given that there are usually word limits, you will have to some decisions.
8. Finalize. For purposes of HBS question 3a- Discuss a defining experience in your leadership development. How did this experience highlight your strengths and weaknesses?- ask yourself the following questions (the questions you ask at this stage will vary depending on the exact wording of the essay):

1. Is this essay about one experience? That is to say, one story?
2. Why is this a defining experience? What does your essay really reveal about you?
3. What strengths as a leader have you discussed?
4. What weaknesses as a leader have you discussed?

Finally, thinking and writing about leadership is an important part of preparing for interviews because you can be certain that you will have to talk about leadership.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

ハーバード, ビジネススクール, 大学院入学, 合格対策, エッセイ,
Real Time Web Analytics