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Leadership Essays: Tell, Show, Explain

One way to blow your MBA essay on leadership is to talk about your leadership skills in general terms without providing examples or elaboration. When answering the leadership question, your goal should be three-fold: Identify your specific leadership traits, show examples of those attributes, and reveal the impact you had.

1. Identify Your Leadership Skills

First, look critically at your experiences. Can you think of instances in which you led people to action? In what ways did you motivate? Have there been situations when you’ve stood up, taken the reins, and won the trust of others? What steps did you take? What specific talents and qualities did you access to inspire and persuade? Don’t think about the broad term, “leadership”; focus on 1-3 of leadership’s sub-qualities: initiative, vision, integrity, empathy, listening, responsibility, reliability, planning, etc.

2. Show How You Lead

When detailing your leadership experiences, feel free to think outside the box…er, the office. Not every example needs to originate at work, and don’t concentrate solely on classic hierarchical situations with titles. Instead, consider less obvious examples, like inspiring your college cheerleading squad or coaching your brother’s Little League baseball team. Still drawing a blank? Have you ever initiated and organized a clothing drive? Managed a band? Led a fundraising initiative? Campaigned for a local politician? Strong leadership examples come in all shapes and sizes.

3. Reveal Your Impact

Top MBA programs want to admit people who make a difference, who leave a void when they depart. The recent outpouring of tribute to Steve Jobs at his resignation from Apple testifies to his super-sized contribution to his company, his industry, the world. You don’t have to reveal that kind of impact. However, the best way to show potential for significant impact in the future is to show you have contributed in the past.  How did your leadership make a difference to individuals? To your organization? To your community? What was the impact of the experience on you? How did you grow from it?

These three elements comprise the essentials in a strong MBA leadership essay. Include all three to craft a winner. Leave one or two out, and well, you could be blowing it

By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the soon-to released book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.  Linda has been helping MBA applicants gain acceptance to top MBA programs since 1994.

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