Sunday, September 1, 2013

Am I a Leader?

An applicant recently, was worried that his profile does not show any leadership experiences so would that affect his chances of MBA admission. And surely he is not the only one with such doubts. Perhaps many of you may have the same fears – ‘I am just a team member at work. I might get to lead a team only after another year or more’. So should you all wait till you become team leaders in your careers before thinking of applying for MBA?

Well look at it this way – most MBA aspirants are in the first few years of their working careers so very few might have had the opportunity of formally leading their teams. Some others might have been Captains of their college football or some other teams. But the large majority would be neither team leaders at work or past captains of sports teams. So where does that leave us? Are all Business Schools filled only with those who were team leaders at work or past sports captains?  NO? Then, if it is true that all Business Schools want students with leadership qualities, where do all these leaders who fill their classrooms each year, come from?

To find the answer, take a look in the mirror my friends. Do you recognize the leader you see there? Because they all come from amongst you. They are just like you for the most part. And leadership? Well, leadership qualities assume many different forms in different people. Leaders are not only those who actually lead teams – whether at work or on the sports field or elsewhere. Leaders are people who take initiative. Leaders motivate others. Leaders are passionate about what they do. Leaders are prepared to take risks. Leaders work hard. Leaders persevere when others have lost hope. Leaders do ordinary things – extraordinarily. Leaders step up to take charge in a crisis. Leaders are persuasive. Leaders also make mistakes but they learn from them, move on and improve. Leaders think out of the box for innovative solutions. Leaders have self-belief. Leaders are not afraid to admit their mistakes. Leaders have the courage of conviction to defend their beliefs and opinions. Leaders are not scared to take sides rather than just sitting on the fence. Leaders see opportunities where others might see only an obstacle. Leaders also fall down but they just get up and start all over again.

One candidate narrated this story. At a cousin’s wedding the previous year, a typical north Indian wedding where the Baraat (bridegroom’s party) dances its way to the marriage venue, just as the Baraat was about to reach the entrance to the venue, it was discovered the bride was not yet back from the makeup parlor and, there being just the one entrance to the venue, it would be rather awkward for her to walk in after all the guests had arrived. Amidst frantic phone calls and counting of minutes to reach, this guy stepped out to where the Baraat had reached – about 200 mtrs from the entrance, and challenged those dancing to dance against him, knowing full well that he was a lousy dancer. A few minutes were spent in confusion as the dancers sized him up to decide whether they could accept his challenge and a few more while it was debated who would dance first. Well, he lost the bet within three minutes flat thereafter but had already bought the critical few minutes to allow the bride to walk in unseen and save major embarrassment. Surely this was smart out of the box thinking and he took the initiative to carry it out. That too is leadership!

Most of us have experienced some events when we did something different and many of these instances might illustrate some leadership trait. So these are the events to dig out from your memory in order to show you have what it takes to be a leader. Did you ever motivate a friend not to be depressed over some failure but to take heart and move on? That was the leader in you showing through. Did you step out of your car at a jammed intersection to direct traffic for a few minutes to clear up the jam? That too is leadership.

So, rather than losing sleep over the fact that you were never the real leader of a group of people at any time, use your energies to think of various events and instances where you demonstrated traits of leadership. Make a list of all these. Take your time over making this list because many such instances might be lost in the mists of memory. And once your list is made, you might find that some of these instances were really too small or too ordinary to really add value to your profile. So you need to sift through your list to pick up those events where your actions had some impact on those around you. And then use these events in your application to illustrate to the Ad Comm that you too have leadership qualities so that they will recognize you as the candidate they are looking for, among all those who have applied.

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