Adcoms’ Must-Reads For Incoming MBAs

McCombs’ Tina Mabley

Start With Why

Simon Sinek

We recommend that aspiring MBAs use their reading time prior to school in two ways. First, read a brilliantly written classic of your own choosing. Getting back into the habit of offline reading is an important part of back-to-school preparation. Enjoy the book, but also, pay attention to the author’s skillful use of language to convey powerful ideas. The ability to communicate with clarity, credibility and passion is often the difference between a competent manager and an inspiring leader.

Second, I would recommend the book Start with Why, by Simon Sinek, which I received as a gift from a graduate a few years ago. The book illustrates how great leaders inspire with ‘why’ before getting to ‘how’ and ‘what’. It is a helpful primer for MBAs to begin to envision the arc of their career in leadership. An essential part of business school is taking time to reflect on what is important to you and how you will have impact. Start with Why explores how knowing your purpose builds trust, inspires loyalty and breeds innovation. It highlights the essential communication skill of listening and how to influence human behavior through inspiration as opposed to manipulation.

Using the concept of ‘why’ as a backdrop to the transformational years of an MBA will help students prioritize what skills to develop during school and how to grow into impactful leaders. Admission applications are essentially the beginning of the roadmap for ‘why’ you are getting an MBA and how you plan to use it.  Whenever I speak with prospective MBAs, I encourage them to deep dive into the reasons why they are coming back to school.  The sooner you can clearly articulate your purpose, the more efficiently you will sift through and capitalize on opportunities in business school and beyond. This book will encourage students to explore ways to transition that personal ‘why’ exercise into developing inspirational leadership skills to drive the purpose of their future organizations.

Tina Mabley

Assistant Dean, Full-Time MBA Program

University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business


Kate Smith, Kellogg’s director of admissions. Photo by Andreas Larson

Fewer, Bigger Bolder

Professors Mohan Sawhney and Sanjay Khosla

In Fewer, Bigger, Bolder, Mohan Sawhney (Clinical Professor of Marketing at Kellogg) and Sanjay Khosla (Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Kellogg) implement a market-proven, seven step program called Focus7 to achieve sustained growth with rising profits and lower costs. Given the right incentives, managers using this program learn how to make fewer but bigger bets, creating a virtuous cycle of growth. The program’s framework shows students how you can drive growth by targeting resources against priorities, simplifying operations, and tapping into the potential of you and your company’s people. The book will make prospective MBA students think about growth in organizations, markets, and themselves — all important tenants that are explored more deeply throughout the Kellogg curriculum. ​

Kate Smith

Assistant Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management


Notre Dame’s Kristin McAndrew

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Daniel Pink

Now Discover Your Strengths

Marcus Buckingham & Donald O Clifton

When talking with our candidates, we find that the decision to start an MBA program is prompted by a number of factors, not the least of which is a desire for personal growth. So while reading up on potential career paths or business fundamentals is certainly important, I’d also encourage an applicant to think more holistically about how the next two years will shape their inner selves as well.

Notre Dame MBAs begin their experience in our Integral Leadership Development (ILD) program. ILD starts with rigorous introspection –  gaining clarity on your personal values, identifying your strengths, and understanding areas for development before the program begins. Books such as Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham & Donald O Clifton, and Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us are a great way to start off that self-reflection and prepare to develop an authentic leadership style.

Kristin McAndrew

Director of Admissions for Graduate Business Programs

Notre Dame University, Mendoza College of Business

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