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Discussing Humble Leadership in MBA Essays

October 24, 2018 :: Jacob Allison

Management Experience | Admissionado

A recent Financial Times article by London Business School Professor of Organizational Behaviour Daniel Cable argues that today’s MBA graduates need to adopt the idea of “humble leadership.”

According to Professor Cable, humble leaders put aside older dictatorial business leadership styles in place of an approach that nurtures and supports the employees that MBA graduates will be leading. He writes that this new approach is needed in our complex, tech-driven economy, where managers likely don’t have the same kind of expertise as the teams of technologists they are leading. Cable argues that humble leaders that allow the tech experts they’re leading to experiment and take risks will create workplaces that produce more innovative and productive ideas than older top-down methods.

Technology management is one of the hottest buzzwords we’ve seen flying around the MBA admissions space in 2018, and we think that Professor Cable may be on to something with this idea. Below, find two ways that you might be able to communicate that you’re a humble leader in your admissions essays.

Humble Leadership in a Goals Essay

Almost every MBA applicant’s goals essay touches on the experiences in their past that have prepared them to take on their ambitious post-MBA goals. These past experience examples offer applicants a great opportunity to communicate their humble leadership style to adcoms.

Let’s say you recently led a team of junior consultants to analyze operational inefficiencies at a central bank. While you should certainly write about the challenges you led the team to overcome and what skills you developed from the experience, there might also be an opportunity to demonstrate your humble leadership style. Did you learn anything from your junior consultants on this project? Did you help any of them develop and implement an innovative idea? If so, what did THAT experience teach you about humble leadership? What did it teach you about leveraging the talents of the people you’re leading? Keep these questions in mind as you’re writing your MBA essays and they could help you add depth to the description of your leadership style.

Humble Leadership in a Failure Essay

Another great place to highlight your humble leadership approach could be in a “Failure/Lesson-Learned” essay. Lots of schools’ applications feature these essays, including INSEAD’s second motivation essay:

“…describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned.”

These types of essay prompts offer the perfect opportunity to not only show that you respond well to feedback, but that you are the kind of person who is humble enough to learn in unexpected ways. Perhaps your failure story is about how you were put in charge of a project with a super tight deadline. Instead of delegating and trusting your team, you took more work on your shoulders than you needed to, thinking that only you knew how this process needed to be done. As the deadline approached, the project got out of hand, and your supervisor stepped in, effectively delegating the work to your team and avoiding a disaster.

Once you’ve outlined how you messed up, it’s time to talk about what you learned and how you’ve changed your approach in these situations. As you’re doing that, keep humble leadership in mind. Could you have trusted your team more? Could you have been more humble in the amount of work you thought you could personally take on? Have you become better at delegating? Showing the adcoms that you’ve learned this important lesson about humble leadership could make for a very powerful failure essay.

Whether or not you agree with Professor Cable’s prediction that the old way of MBA leadership is on its way out in modern businesses, top MBA programs are starting to hint that they’re prioritizing humble leaders. For example, Berkley’s Haas School of Business asks that applicants keep in mind their principle of “confidence without attitude” as they’re writing their essays. We think that effectively communicating that you employ a humble leadership style can help you add a unique differentiator to your MBA application essays.


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