Essays play a pivotal role in shaping out a candidate’s admission to a good institution. And for students willing to pursue an international MBA, essays around leadership are a must. The admission committees of B-schools (adcoms) hunt for enough evidence to make it obvious that the candidate is well-versed with the idea of leadership, if not a leader already. However, not a single B-school will ask one to write an essay on a vanilla topic of leadership. Instead, they will quiz the candidate around leadership style or ask about a leadership experience or a time when one led a team or to narrate an example of leadership in action from one’s experience.

“This means that like those crafting these essays, you too have to take a nuanced, layered approach to showcase leadership skills while addressing the main thrust of whatever the actual essay prompt might be,” said Manish Gupta of MBA Crystal Ball, an abroad education counsellor. “A quick google search throws up more confusion than answers. Depending on what you read, there could be 4, 5, 7 or even 12 types of leadership out there.”

However, to make things simpler, let’s focus on only three types of leadership that MBA schools want in the essays:

Team leadership

One is accustomed to the designation “Manager”. In simpler term, this leadership is mostly responsible for a team of professionals. “It’s the most straightforward. A simple line in the resume could suffice and then, you can showcase how you’ve been leading your team by narrating one of your biggest accomplishments. Most of the times, if you are a people leader, your biggest achievement would coincide with the team’s achievement and you can use the two interchangeably. It is important to clearly bring out the team size you manage and in case you’ve managed bigger teams, to mention that too,” said Gupta. “Some schools even have explicit questions (Tuck School of Business) on how you’ve helped someone else succeed. Within this could be various different versions. For instance, you could be a leader, who is extremely democratic, meaning you empower and trust your team fully,” However he also cautions that it’s rare to get that designation in just four years of your career. So there are other ways to prove your leadership skill.

Leader without designation

You may be an analyst, a consultant or officer and don’t have a fancy managerial designation. Fret not! MBA Crystal Ball’s research wing, that surveyed top ranking B-school admissions, has deciphered the trend in essays that these schools acknowledge globally.

“This next brand of leadership would be among the most common that typical MBA candidates would have (even if they don’t know) and can showcase. Even if you don’t command a team, you would be interacting with people ~ both in your own team/department and/or outside,” said Gupta. “The way to build leadership quotient if you are in such a situation is to take on opportunities where you become the ‘de-facto’ lead for a project, or take more and more initiative so that you get officially designated as a team leader for a project.”

Be sure to explain how you got such an opportunity and how you managed various team dynamics related episodes. “The point here is to excel, and excel in a way that draws in others, inspires them, and changes/challenges the usual way of doing things, even if you did so in isolation as an individual worker,” said Gupta. It’s more important to develop a thought leadership than being a leader in office space. No matter what, you should breathe like a leader and dream like one when you draft the essays.