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Omari Bouknight & Scott Shrum -- What is Leadership?

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We recently heard from a 2006-2007 MBA applicant who wanted us to evaluate his chances at the typical top business schools. After looking over his profile, I remarked to him that he was weak in the area of leadership experiences. "But look at all of the organizations I've joined and all of the events I've attended over the past three years," he said. My response was what I tell the majority of applicants who come to us for advice: Quality matters 100X more than quantity. It's not enough to just "show up" to events, be a part of the team, etc. You need to actually show some leadership.

So what is leadership, and how do adcomms spot it in an MBA application? To show leadership, you need to show how you made a *positive impact* on the world around you. Put another way, demonstrating leadership means accomplishing things that would not have happened if you hadn't been there. This applies to experiences on the job as well as experiences outside of work.

For every example of "leadership" in your application, look at it through that lens. Ask yourself, "What did I do -- that was so special or different or challenging -- to make that happen?" Very quickly you'll start to recognize the difference between times when you really made things happen, and times when you were merely a willing participant.

B-schools see a lot of the latter, and not enough of the former. Keep that in mind when you think about how leadership will come through in your application.