A Leadership Story Essay question asks you to to share stories about your leadership achievements. To score top marks, you'll be expected to show the admissions committee plenty of evidence that you have an ability to rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal. This Essay Professor lecture takes a closer look at the Leadership Story Essay and provides you with the insights, tools, and examples you need to succeed.
First, we'll talk about why the admissions committee asks these kinds of questions and we'll share the characteristics of an outstanding answer, which we've summarized for you in an Essay Professor Scoring Chart™.
Second, we will provide you with a set of Content Building Blocks for crafting a unique and powerful essay response of your own.
Finally, in the self-study materials you'll find an example essay, building block templates, and a scoring chart that you and your essay reviewers can use to evaluate your essay and plan your next draft.
You will have everything you need to create an outstanding essay,
So let's talk about the Leadership Story Essay.
Your Leadership Stories are the collection of past experiences, initiatives, and accomplishments that are indicative of your leadership strengths. B-School admissions committees want to know about your past leadership experiences to assess your potential for future leadership.
Some candidates are initially intimidated when they come across a leadership essay question in their application. They don't think they have any leadership stories to tell. Admissions committees understand you are early in your career and don't expect you to have founded a not-for-profit or saved a village -- they appreciate that your leadership stories may have taken place on a smaller scale -- that might include leading a classroom, spearheading a fund-raiser, or coaching a little league baseball team. Leading in "ordinary situations" but doing it "extraordinarily well" is what admissions committees are looking for.
Let's look at the characteristics of an outstanding Leadership Story Essay.
The Essay Professor Scoring Chart™ will help you understand the characteristics of an outstanding Leadership Story Essay. You should pause the video, and download the scoring chart for this essay now.
You will use the Essay Professor Scoring Chart™ in two important ways. First, you should use it to help you choose between the various essay topics you are considering. Second, after you've selected your essay topic, you will use the Scoring Chart at each stage of your writing process to identify opportunities for improvement. You should continue your drafting until you've created an essay that you deem to be "outstanding."
Let's briefly review the characteristics on the scoring chart for this essay.
First, your leadership story should provide evidence that you have an ability to rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal. Many candidates make the mistake of telling a story about an individual accomplishment when asked for a leadership story. The whole point of a leadership story is that you couldn't have achieved what you did on your own.
Second, Admissions committees want to see evidence that you can work collaboratively as part of a team. If your leadership style appears authoritarian or self-serving you may be passed over for candidates with more team-oriented leadership styles.
Third, stories in which everything went smoothly and as expected aren't as powerful as stories where you faced challenges and obstacles and found creative solutions to difficult problems.
Fourth, when selecting among potential stories ask yourself which leadership experience ended up being a defining experience – one that taught you a great deal about what it meant to lead.
Fifth, it's always better to choose a leadership story that was meaningful to you – for example, leading a fundraiser for a non-profit that you truly care about.
Sixth, results matter – the ad comm wants to know what kind of impact you had as a leader.
Finally, good leaders put the needs of others and the organization ahead of personal ambitions. If you helped others excel and contributed to their success then you'll have a much stronger essay.
In the self-study materials, you will also find some guidance to help you brainstorm your leadership achievements and a Leadership Capabilities Dictionary that lists 30 distinct leadership capabilities.
With the Essay Professor Scoring Chart™ and self-study resources at your fingers tips you'll find it much easier to brainstorm your leadership stories and select the one that provides the most convincing evidence of your leadership potential.
We recommend that you pause the video at this stage and start to brainstorming possible leadership stories. Once you have selected the Leadership Story you want to tell, restart the video and proceed to the Content Building Blocks for the Leadership Story Essay.
You will use the Content Building Blocks we'll talk about now to craft a unique and powerful Leadership Story Essay.
We will even show you an example of how an MBA Prep School student assembled these content building blocks to create an outstanding essay response.
As we pointed in the Essay Writing 101 lecture, Leadership Story Essays are Narrative essays – invitations to tell a story. Therefore, the content building blocks for these types of questions are geared toward helping you to craft that story.
The first principle they teach you in a creative writing course is that a good story has a beginning, middle, and end.
I'm going to introduce the building blocks for those three parts of your Leadership Story Essay, define them briefly, while also sharing an example of how another candidate created and assembled his content building blocks.
The beginning of your story should include a Hook and a Lead.
A hook is what it sounds like: an opening that engages your reader and builds interest in hearing your story. The best hooks are unexpected and build anticipation. You'll see an example of a hook in the completed sample essay.
The next building block is the Lead -- A story lead summarizes what the story is about and gives your reader a sense of why you are telling this story.
You have only a few seconds to captures your reader's attention – so you want to get to the lead of the story as quickly as possible – the lead gets your reader on board and silences that internal voice that's wondering – "What's this story about? Is it going to answer the essay question asked?"
With our listener hooked and on board we're ready to tell our story. The content building blocks for the middle, or body of the story, should follow the STAR Framework that we introduced in Essay Writing 101. You may remember that STAR is an acronym that stands for -- Situation - Task - Action - Result.
The best way to think about the STAR outline is that it is the structure that most stories follow.
You begin by providing the Situation of the story – which orients the reader to the setting and introduces the conflict or complication.
Next, since story essays are about you – you need to let the reader know what your Task was – this is generally your role in the story and your specific goals or objectives.
From there, it's time to share the Action or what you did. It's important to remember that everything leading up to the action (situation and task) is just set-up and you want to get through that set-up as quickly as possible so that you can concentrate on action. Action is what admission committees are interested in -- not exposition. Therefore, on balance "action" should take up about 75% of the word count of every story you tell.
Your story ends when you share the Results or resolution of the story.
Let's take a look at the 4 content building blocks in the STAR framework in more detail and look at example content building blocks for an essay a candidate wrote about leading a team in a marketing field study project they worked on during college.
The S in STAR stands for Situation
This is the time and place and context of the story -- you can think of it as the setting but it should also include the challenge or conflict you or the group you were part of faced.
For our example applicant, the Situation was that during his "Senior year in college, he assembled a team of marketing and industrial design students that co-designed a pair of sneakers for Nike."
Next, we move on to the T in STAR == the Task.
The Task tells the reader your role in the story -- and often takes the form of a goal or objective statement.
In the Nike example, the leader's Task was:
"To assemble the team and get them to work cooperatively and design a pair of sneakers"
The next step in the STAR outline is Action.
Action is what you did to resolve the conflict, fulfill your role, and achieve your objectives or goals. Keep in mind that the ACTION is the most important of all the content building blocks. The reason for this should be obvious. The body of the the story is your chance to feature your leadership qualities and strengths in action and show the admissions committee what you are capable of.
When it comes to action, the more specific you can be the better. Generic action statements such as I assembled the team, got them focused, and we achieved our goal aren't sufficient. Tell the reader about the obstacles you faced as a leader and the creative, clever, and even unexpected ways you overcame them.
Outlining the action is an important moment in testing the quality of your leadership story -- If there's not enough leadership action then the story probably won't work and you should choose another story to tell.
The team leader in the Nike Story decided to focus the action of the story on the things he did to get his teammates to bond and work together to achieve their goal. Pause the video for a moment and read the writer's notes about what he plans to discuss in the action section of his story.
Finally, you're ready to outline the Results of the story.
Results are the impact of your actions and the final resolution of the complication. Evidence of results is almost as important as action when you're judging the quality of your story – a positive outcome and happy ending will make the story that much more powerful.
Regarding results, if your story doesn't "pay off" it may not fly. That's not the same thing as saying that you have to have achieved what you set out to. The pay off might be the lessons your learned or how you grew from the experience
In the Nike Story, the team delivered the marketing plans and sneaker design for a skateboard shoe. Another result is what the essay writer learned from the project. Pause the video, if you'd like to read the example of the results more carefully.
The STAR outline provides the raw materials of the body of your Leadership Story Essay.
The essay writer now has the building blocks for a leadership story that will result in an outstanding Leadership Story Essay. Let's take a look at the assembled building blocks for the Nike Story.
Voila. The setting of the story, his goal, what he did, how things turned out, and some notes about what he learned from the experience are now filled in so he has almost all the elements of an effective Leadership Story Essay
But before we finish, there are two more building blocks that will make your Leadership Story Essay even more powerful.
All good stories must come to an end. I think the most powerful story essays "echo" the lead and offer the reader a few Key Takeaways – what you took away from the experience but also what you want your reader to "takeaway" from your answer. Sharing what you learned and the universal lessons you drew from the experience can turn a good story into a great story.
As you'll see in the excerpt in the Nike Essay found in the self-study materials, the writer ended his story with what he learned about working with team members who were different than him -- the design students.
Don't worry about the hook, lead, lead echo, and key takeaways until after you get the story outline on paper. Once that's done, your can improve upon the story and the clarity of its message by adding those other elements.
In the self-study materials you will find an excerpt of the essay that resulted when these content building blocks were assembled. Review the sample essay carefully and then you can get to work outlining, drafting, scoring, and rewriting your own essay until you and your advisors feel you have an outstanding Leadership Story Essay for your application.
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
Tool: Essay Professor Scoring Chart: Leadership Essays
Tool: Leadership Story Outline Template and Sample Essay
Tool: Brainstorming Your Leadership Achievements
Reference: Leadership Capabilities Dictionary