If you were applying to art school you'd be expected to present a portfolio of your artistic work so far. Similarly, business schools are interested in your "Leadership Portfolio" – the collection of leadership accomplishments that are indicative of your leadership capabilities and leadership potential.
We designed this video and its accompanying "Leadership Story Analysis" exercise to help you to discover your Leadership Capabilities and to help you to identify the key leadership stories that make up your Leadership Portfolio.
If you have your sights set on a top tier business school you must demonstrate your leadership potential.
We have designed a "Leadership Story Analysis" exercise to help you answer this crucial question. You'll assess your leadership portfolio to identify your core leadership capabilities and your key leadership stories.
So let's start building your Leadership Portfolio.
Your Leadership Portfolio has two primary components: Your Leadership Capabilities and Your Key Leadership Stories.
Your Leadership Capabilities reveal how you lead and the kinds of leadership situations you're best suited for. It's a misconception that Leadership is a single capability – as you will see in a moment, there a number of distinct styles featuring your own unique combination of Leadership Capabilities is a way to differentiate yourself from other applicants.
Your Leadership Portfolio also includes Your Key Leadership Stories -- the collection of past experiences, initiatives, and accomplishments that are indicative of your leadership strengths. B-School admissions committees will be reading about your past leadership experiences for evidence of potential and the promise of great things to come.
Some candidates are initially intimidates when asked to share their key leadership stories. They don't think they have any stories to tell because they haven't founded a not-for-profit or saving a village in Africa - Business schools admissions committees understand you are early in your career and they appreciate leadership stories that take place on a smaller scale - that might include leading a classroom, directing a combat squad, or coaching a little league baseball team. Leading in ordinary situation but doing it "extraordinarily well" is what admissions committees are looking for.
So let's look at the Leadership Story Analysis exercise.
You may be too close to the action to see your Leadership abilities clearly our Leadership Story Analysis exercise is designed to help you take a step back so you can see your leadership capabilities more clearly. I'll explain the steps in the exercise, and then walk you through an example of how another applicant used the exercise to discover her own leadership capabilities.
Begin by brainstorming a list of your most significant leadership achievements thus far. Get as many ideas down on paper as possible – the times you've:
Spotted a problem and coordinate efforts to solve it, convinced people to follow you in a new direction, led a team, and mentored others inside or outside of work is what you're looking for.
Think about times you've harnessed the energy of other people, generated results, and made difference.
Once you've written your ideas down, you need to chose your seven best leadership stories – You should remove any individual accomplishments like pulling a week of all-nighters alone in your cubicle building the ultimate financial spreadsheet. Keep the stories when you combined and directed the energy of other people.
Rank the experiences you enjoyed at the top of your list. Nature has hardwired us to enjoy the things we do well. So, if you're having fun it means you are using your core capabilities.
The next step in the exercise is to create an outline of your favorite leadership achievement story. I'll show you an example of what your outline should include in a moment.
After you've outlined your first leadership story, you you're going to analyze it to see what it has to say about your Leadership Capabilities. In the self-study materials listed below this video, you will find a Leadership Capabilities Dictionary that lists 30 different leadership capabilities. If you haven't already downloaded the dictionary, pause the video and do so now. You'll find it will be much easier to understand the rest of the instructions for this exercise with the dictionary in front of you.
With your Leadership Capabilities Dictionary in front of you, you are going to analyze each of your leadership stories carefully and put a check mark next to every Leadership Capability that you demonstrated in the story.
It will get easier once you get the hang of it. Repeat this process for your remaining six stories.
As a final step you want to review the Leadership Dictionary and list the capabilities that have the highest number of check marks.
There will be two outputs from this exercise:
A clear understanding of your Leadership Capabilities and a collection of leadership stories that you can draw on for you essays and interview answers. Knowledge of your leadership capabilities will be very valuable when it comes time to define your career goals in the next exercise in this series.
Let's look at an example of how another applicant selected, outlined, and analyzed her leadership stories to identify her leadership capabilities.
You can see how the applicant filled in the situation, task, action, and results of a story about leading a team of software designers and coders. Please pause the video and read through the example. When you have finished reading the example, please restart the video.
Having written down her favorite leadership stories, the next step was for her to analyze them for Leadership Capabilities against the dictionary we've provided in your self-study materials. She read through the list and put a star next each capability she felt she demonstrated in the leadership story being analyzed.
I won't present her complete analysis but just show you three of the Leadership Capabilities that earned "stars" in her favorite leadership story.
The first check mark was the Adapting to New Situations capability – An Adaptive Leader responds nimbly to the demands of the moment, excels at working with people who are different than themselves, and doesn't have or need a "comfort zone." Recall the Situation of the story – our hero was the youngest person on the team by a factor of 10 years and was also the only female on the team. Clearly, she had to adapt to this unfamiliar situation to succeed, she had to excel at working on a team where the members weren't similar to hear at all. Not only did she have to adapt, she had to convince them to follow her lead.
Her second check mark was the Inspiring Others with Words capability. She succeed in large part because she helped clearly communicate high expectations and inspired her team by helping them to see that their work really mattered.
Third, she demonstrated that she has a capacity for Mentoring & Developing People. She spent time with each team member learning about their individual goals and brainstorming with them on how they might achieve them within the context of this project. That's the role a strong mentor plays.
If you were to analyze this story for her, you'd probably identify other capabilities in the dictionary that I didn't mention. When you're analyzing your own stories check all the Capabilities you find evidence of. The Capabilities Dictionary might even help you to think of some things you did well as a leader that you forgot to include in your outline.
When you're done analyzing your first leadership story – outline and analyze your second one and so on. I think that seven stories should suffice but keep going if you want to.
I know this may seem like a great deal of work, but I hope you'll find it interesting figuring out where your Core Strengths lie. I can promise you that knowing what your central Leadership Capabilities are will definitely pay dividends when it's time to prepare your application – You'll have identified some great content for your essays and interview responses. Not to mention that knowledge of your leadership abilities will make you a more effective leader in business school and beyond.
OK! Now it's your turn. Let's begin the Leadership Story Analysis exercise.
From the self-study area, download the materials for this exercise. This includes a copy of the work steps shown on your screen, a list of the characteristics of leadership achievements, a blank STAR template for you to outline your leadership stories, and the leadership capabilities dictionary to help you when you are identifying your leadership capabilities.
Take as long as necessary to complete this exercise. Good luck!
In addition to our core videos and transcripts, as a free registered member you can:
- Track your progress through each application module;
- Follow our specific "Next Step Actions" to keep you focused on the most critical tasks each step of the way;
- Receive our Essay Writing Bootcamp email course; and
- Listen to recordings from our Premium Member Q&A sessions.
Reference: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes
Reference: Guidance for Brainstorming Your Leadership Achievements
Reference: MBA Prep School Leadership Capabilities Dictionary
Reference: Leadership Story Analysis Process Steps
Tool: Leadership Story Analysis (STAR) Template (PDF format)
Tool: Leadership Story Analysis (STAR) Template (Microsoft Word)