Darden strives to identify and cultivate leaders who follow their purpose. At this stage, how would you describe your evolving leadership style and please provide an example. (200 words)
“Evolving leadership” is a deliberate choice. They could have said “what’s your leadership style”? This plays right into our hands… our favorite device when it comes to developing KICKASS business school applications: EXAMINE THE DELTA.
Let’s put it this way, if your current leadership style is EXACTLY unchanged from how it might have been five years ago, or 10 years ago, or 20 years ago (wait, how young are you?)… then you may THINK you have a natural-born leadership talent because you’ve been succeeding and crushing it all these years. But it COULD also be a signal that you haven’t really… learned much, or cared to learn, or improved, or pivoted, or pushed yourself. Any of the above is bad. Evolution here is a KEY WORD. Shows that you have a lust for getting better, improving. That you’re humble enough to feel as though there are still things you can learn, from experiences, others, mentors, failures even. This is a hallmark quality of bankably successful people. And guess what, business schools love that guy.
So your first order of business here is to figure out how, over the course of maybe two or three TOP leadership experiences, your leadership STYLE changed. Think about it very carefully, before committing pen to paper. What decisions did you make in Leadership Story 1 that went differently from, say, your decisions in your most RECENT “top of the chart” leadership story? What’s behind that difference? What changed? Why did you see things one way earlier on, and how do you see them differently today? A truly effective tool here is to relive that initial story IN REAL TIME, and try to remember and justify all the decisions you made then (as a leader). Sure, you may have evolved and know of a better way TODAY, but allow yourself to come to the same conclusions you did way back when. Then, take us through the thing(s) that IMPROVED your algorithm, your instincts, your moral center, whatever it was that shifted, even if ever-so-slightly, such that the NEXT TIME you were in a similar position, you acted better. Walk us through all of that. And if you can, do it a few times. No more than three.
At the end of this, we should be convinced (among other things) that you possess an impressive capacity to self-examine, and a very healthy appetite for betterment. This is equally important to “the actual insights we gain into your leadership style itself.” Too much of one and not enough of the other is no good:
- Can’t just keep hammering home the idea that you love improving! That won’t work if we end up not getting any insights into what you’ve actually DONE as a leader.
- Similarly, not all that helpful SIMPLY to get a sense of your leadership style, without knowing how that came to be. It won’t pack as much punch.
Here’s an example structure:
- Walk us through two, maybe three experiences that paint a picture of some kind of leadership style ARC, where there are clear and meaningful differences (if even just to you). [100-125 words]
- Try to sew it all together and describe what this style is, what it is you aspire to, what it is that motivates your leadership approach. Deliver a sense of what it is YOU might do in a situation that’s different from “the next guy.” We should leave this section knowing how to “cast” you if we were handing out leadership roles that required different styles. [50-75 words]
- What is it you’re hoping STILL to develop? Where are you weak still? Where are you inexperienced? What are you hoping the Darden experience will help you develop? [50 words]
You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of Darden’s MBA application essays.
Learn more and explore each step of the Darden School of Business full-time MBA application process here.