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Kellogg MBA Leadership & Teamwork: Essay1 Tips

kellogg essay adviceKellogg School of Management has two essays for all Full-time MBA applicants. One essay measures the applicant’s leadership & teamwork skills while the second measures the ability for career progression and growth.

Kellogg MBA Essay 1: Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience. Describe a recent and meaningful time you were a leader. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)

Leadership might have become a clichéd essay topic but not for Kellogg. Even their core curriculum has a mandatory course in Leadership (Leadership in Organizations). Since leadership has several contexts: personal responsibility, overcoming a personal setback, domain expertise, overcoming a team setback, motivating the team, and leading the team towards a goal, pick the most relevant context.

If you are not sure about the context, Beth Tidmarsh - Director of Admissions for Kellogg’s Full-Time program has shared what the admission team means by leadership in Essay 1.

“What challenges did you face? Oh yes, we want to understand the challenges for your team. (You had a team, right? Because you were a leader, there must have been some other people involved.)”

With a little bit of sarcasm, Beth is hinting that personal leadership journey is not what Kellogg MBA Admissions team is expecting. You have to think about your professional journey where you have led a team with more than one other person.

Don’t worry if you don’t have such experience in your work. The admission team also accepts examples of leadership outside work as hinted by Beth.

“people choose one area to take on a significant leadership role and do it well – whether professionally or maybe in an activity outside of work – and you need some space to tell us about that.”

The only time guideline that you have to keep in mind while mentioning Leadership Experience is

Professional > College> Pre-College

Admission team would prefer that you cite a work experience that highlights leadership, over a college leadership experience, but clearly discourages applicants from writing about leading a team during school projects.

Titles are Not Everything

Even if you were the President of a charitable organization or led a team in your company, the admission team wants to see how you articulate leadership. Business Schools have a tough time figuring out leadership potential in an applicant just by looking at GMAT, GPA or even titles mentioned in the resume.

We are a blend of three leadership styles: Autocratic, Delegative, and Democratic. When we face an existential crisis, the autocratic style takes precedence. It is a natural reaction.

How did you overcome the temptation of taking decisions on your own, and received inputs from the team, cutting across skill levels, and hierarchies?

Highlight how you had listened to your team members, gained multiple perspectives about the problem, reviewed different solutions, and picked the one solution that solved the problem, giving your team/company a strategic advantage.

How did you align the two goals?

Motivating the team is tough. Unless you sell your ideas convincingly and align the team’s personal goals with your project goal, they are unlikely to be mesmerized by your vision.

How did you evaluate the team’s personal goals?

For some, it is career progression while, for others, it is the title, and for a select few, it is a performance-based bonus. Leaders have the ability to customize the message according to the team member’s motivation.

After aligning the personal goals, how did you make the project goal precise, clear, and measurable?

If a team member is a design expert, the measurable goals would be about the aesthetic value of the product. After one iteration of the design, let’s assume that you had recorded the feedbacks from customers and played it back to the designer.

• How did she react to the feedback?
• What disappointed her about the feedback?
• How did you motivate the designer to keep repeating the good work?
• How did you listen?
• Did you offer constructive advice?
• How did you help her focus back on the project goals?
• How did you bring the best out of her?

With just 450 words, you cannot write about your entire team. Pick a person with whom you have worked closely. Explain how you influenced the person to give her best.

Four Examples of Leadership

1) Handling Constraints


Leadership roles comes with constraints - small budget, limited human resource, lack of motivation, lack of trust in your leadership (your first project as a leader), or a culture that believes in the status quo. How you navigate the constraints with a clear strategy will highlight your leadership skills.

Focusing on goals despite constraints has been written to death, but a different way to write about goals is to differentiate between survival and growth goals. In any project, there are Minimum viable performance indicators – minimum number of sales, minimum acceptable feature list, minimum number of marketing channels to propagate your brand message, or minimum number of prospects you approach before a sale. Whatever job function you might have led, communicating survival goals is key to motivating the team.
We as individuals are easily distracted. When we are stressed, the tendency to seek distraction is at the highest. This is the time when we need a leader to guide us towards one unifying goal. Explain how you guided your team towards that ‘one’ goal. If you are writing about budget constraints, demonstrate how you asked the team to focus on that ‘one feature’ that allowed a sign off for the first phase of the project.

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The above post is an excerpt from F1GMAT's Kellogg MBA Essay Guide


"The four leadership examples shared in the essay guide is a template that fit my experience. I had the opportunity to work on projects with limited resources and a challenging team. Communication framework, leadership examples, strengths/weakness and goals influence learning experience. Great read. " - Verified Purchase (2nd November 2016)

Download Kellogg MBA Essay Guide


Kellogg MBA Essay 1 Tips

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