Leadership is one of the most sought out traits in b-school applicants. As an aspiring b-schooler, you must demonstrate your leadership capability through the resume, essays or recommendations.
In this post, we will list down some of the leadership characteristics that matter. Even if the essay questions do not explicitly ask you write a story based on these characteristics, you must try to include the relevant ones into your narrative.
Problem solving- As a business leader you will always be faced with a myriad of problems. As the operations manager of your manufacturing plant, you could wake up one morning to find that a tiny machine is not working, jamming the assembly line. Or the software product that you recently delivered to a fuming client, may have a bug in it, creating a face hiding situation for you.
Problems don’t come in isolation- typically one problem has a set of smaller problems interlinked to it and requires you to use many skills in solving it. You are required to take a structured approach in analyzing problems, find out the corrective course of actions and implement them. For example, as a team leader in a financial services company, you could be told to downsize your team. You will have to solve the problem of not just determining which people to let go by analyzing previous performance records, but also of communicating your decision to them, and possibly finding them another suitable position internally.
Essay questions in the application often ask about process that you adopted in solving a problem. Remember, b-schools care to know not just what the problem was, but what was your thought process in solving it process by which you solved it and why!
Related skills: creativity, analytical ability, out-of-the-box thinking, working in ambiguity
Decision making – Decision making and problem solving go hand in hand. Once you have analysed the problem, you would evaluate the options and take the right decision to implement the solution. Carrying forward the examples from above, your decision to let go of a certain people has to be a sound one as you are going to affect many people’s livelihood. Moreover you would need to take a just decision, so as not to let go of any real talent but only the non performers.
Decisions can be based on factual analysis or intuitive. In the application, make sure that you do not just say “ I took X decision”. Go a step ahead and explain what factors drove you to take that decision. B-schools are concerned about the thought process that goes in your problem solving and decision making, so do not leave these important elements out of your storyline.
Related skills: critical thinking, assertiveness, dealing with ambiguity,
Motivating and influencing others– We recently worked with a client who had joined an IT organization along with thirty other first time recruits. The team was asked to transition thousands of customer service requests to the Indian office within a short period and with no supervisor to guide them. In the absence of any senior leadership, our client stepped up to the occasion, learned the new technology himself and then mentored the rest of the team to complete the transition on time. He was self motivated and also had the capability to motivate others.
This is a common situation MBA applicants face at the work place. Motivating oneself and others leads to the team achieving their business objectives, personal gratification, and a desire to continue outperforming onself.
In the application, do not make your example too centered around yourself (your greatness). Explain how your actions led to the larger purpose being accomplished – which is meeting your end goal.
Related skills- persuading, taking initiatives, team building, managing, mentoring,
Adaptability- We are living in a dynamic world where ideas and processes change every few days. Are you able to change with this changing environment? Adaptability is a must have skill for a leader today. You have to walk out of your comfort zone and learn the new processes and enact the new ideas.
In the b-school application, there is another way to showcase adaptability. Applicants working in multinational companies often work in geographically spread teams. Good communication is the crux of a smooth working environment. You may find yourself in a team which has people from Argentina, Spain and China – all culturally diverse, and with a different interpretation of small work processes. Working in such teams help you to adapt to other people’s styles and learn a thing or two from their cultures.
At business schools, you will have term or year-long learning teams of 5-6 people. To maximize your exposure to different perspectives, these teams are comprised in a way that you will have team members representing different industries, functions and countries as compared to yours. Having an open mind and the ability to adapt to your team member’s perspectives are crucial attributes required to sustain in a b-school.
Related attributes- flexibility, cultural sensitivity, managing change
Listening and communicating – Being an effective manager you will require excellent oral and written communication skills. Whether you are dealing with blue collar workers on the shop floor or you are assisting your boss on a high profile M&A deal, you will need to communicate in a clear and precise way. A leader with good communication skills is also able to manage discord, thereby improving team relationships and enhancing work productivity.
Moreover, you must be able to listen to what the others are saying. Communication is a two way channel. Listening to others and incorporating their feedback are just as important in the process of communication.
In the application, your recommenders are the right individuals who can speak to your communication skills.
Challenging the status quo – Every organization follows processes that help it to function smoothly on a day to day basis. However, sometimes, these processes become out dated or cease to be relevant with constantly changing work dynamics/ technology. But they are already so ingrained in a firm’s structure that it requires a leap of faith to change them. Your idea may face resistance, initially in being accepted and later, in being implemented. You will also face the risk of failure, and a real failure may lead to your negative growth in the company.
Despite the drawbacks, challenging the status quo demonstrates your gutsy attitude, your initiative taking capability and your penchant for innovation and process improvement. This is among the most important traits in a leader’s arsenal. Most b-schools value this very highly.
In the application, paint a picture of what you were staking, both personally and professionally by challenging the status quo. Demonstrate your risk taking capacity!
Related skills- risk taking, assertiveness, initiation, innovation, motivation