You do not need a title to lead. Eisenhower defined leadership as the “art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” No mention of title or hierarchy there.
What you do need to have, however, are followers. Being a leader or possessing leadership skills is worthless if you have not motivated people to follow you. Leadership does not exist in a bubble.
You lead when you take on responsibilities and motivate other people to act or think in a certain way. You lead when you propose a new policy to higher-ups, gather support, and then get your proposal accepted. You lead when you influence the behavior of others.
In general, applicants tend to think of leadership in narrow terms: title, underlings, and reports. It is far broader than that. Admissions committee members recognize that breadth. So should you. And then portray it.
In more practical terms, in what ways have you acted as a mover and a shaker? Of course, you should mention any job titles or positions you’ve held that specifically denote leadership, but you should also discuss other experiences in your life in which you’ve stepped up, acted passionately and convincingly, and moved others to act. And of course, when you had the title, what did you do with it? How did you earn it? How did you act on it?
Perhaps you’ve honed your leadership skills in the office by developing a more efficient way of running meetings (and then implementing it), or perhaps your role as Little League coach has taught you what it means to be a leader. Perhaps you were in the military—you should have no trouble coming up with leadership examples there.
Remember the three essential ingredients of leadership – motivation, responsibility, and followers – and make sure that your application reflects them.
By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of Accepted.com, the leading MBA admissions consultancy, and co-author of the new 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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