Columbia MBA Essay #3: Who is a leader you admire, and why? (250 words)
You don’t have to search for the generic leadership traits.
We have captured 9 qualities that Columbia Business School expects in the ‘leader you admire’ essay.
1. Passion/ Dedication/Commitment/Ownership
Passion, dedication, commitment, and ownership are synonymously used for leaders and for a good reason. Passionate leaders dedicate their time in achieving and exceeding the expectations of the team and the organization. The commitment and complete ownership of the tasks, the outcome of the team and the client experience are only reflected in the way in which the ‘leader’ occupies the room.
If you are uncertain of the ‘leader’, most often, it is the person quietly cutting off one high-priority task after another, momentarily smiling then going back into the ‘zone’. The burden of ownership is visible if you pay close attention. The leader is not complaining. She is just fulfilling an objective as the source for achieving the organizational and team goals. The ego is visible only to pick up the team from setbacks. The rest of the time, she is driven and locked in on the problem.
Leadership is a sacrifice.
A 1997 image of Jeff Bezos stuck in an office with wires knotting itself to infinity near the power outlet has become legendary for would-be entrepreneurs and dreamers. The bulked-up image of Bezos is an ‘after’ photo of the millions of problems he solved to reach the ‘leader’ status.
3. Team before Self
A leader prioritizes team over self or any individual. The learned habit is visible in every decision he takes. It could mean short-term protests or expression of discomfort from the team but the steely resolve with which the leader continues with ‘unpopular’ decisions would make sense for the team when the goals are achieved.
Leaders are rarely the most likable group of people. They can’t be pushed around on individual whims and preferences. The untiring pursuit of team and client goals is another trait that separates a leader from the follower.
4. Socially Conscious
With profit-motive driving capitalism, socially conscious business decisions have slowly but steadily merged into routine corporate decisions, far from the past decade’s characteristic of assigning corporate social responsibility as a tax-saving and PR stunt.
Embracing automation at the expense of lower-skilled workers have led to predictions of a potential class war. Companies can no longer ignore the consumers who are losing jobs, eco-system, or need massive retraining to remain competitive. With pro-active educational programs sponsored by business, leaders have embraced social consciousness as a pillar for long-term growth and a uniting factor for the teams to solve inter-generational problems.
Social consciousness need not be only focused on issues that have caught the attention of the media. It could be an issue that is relevant to your community, family, or neighborhood.
5. Emotional Intelligence (Calmness under Pressure)
Wearing your emotion on the sleeves works in sports for the superstar player who is not responsible for the team but for all the qualities that we value in a leader, stoic disregard for setbacks and the calmness to see through the chaos when everybody is losing their composure is a trademark characteristic of a leader.
First, emotional outbursts rarely address the core problem and become an outlet of the person leading to display frustration or anger. Once the team recognizes the frustration, then what? Leaders who learned to manage their emotion would convey the discomfort in the most subtle or in a direct manner without too much emotionality attributed to the situation.
Second, an emotionally charged leader is rarely the person you go for counsel when things go wrong or when the next step seems daunting. Through the expression of excess emotion, the leader creates a circle of defense that discourages interaction with him that eventually leads the team to lose trust in his capability to solve interpersonal problems.
6. Vision (Long-term thinking)
Leaders are chosen to achieve goals that have value for the team/organization in the short-term, but as she learns the interplay of products/services, markets, client requirements and the value the company is offering, ideas to leverage the short-term value to long-term impact becomes an extension of her thought process.
If you have seen what your current Employer could iterate with the current project for a larger impact in the market, you are already thinking like a leader. Not many professionals outside consulting and Business development do that. They are lost in the minutiae of implementing a solution.
Imagining an outcome and taking baby steps to translate an idea is a reality for most managers working in the corporate environment. What separates leaders that we admire from Managers is that the vision has not been attempted before or has a track record of repeated failure.
Creating a mass market for battery-driven cars capable of competing with oil-guzzling cars is the fruition of a leader who is thinking long-term. The essay doesn’t require you to quote leaders who had visions that you didn’t have, but it helps to address the long-term thinking they had while making tough decisions.
7. Customer-centric excellence
If you are quoting Leaders in Business or a Community, their obsession with serving the customer/citizens and seeking feedback from them to improve the policy, service or product should be an explicit part of the narrative.
The reason why the admission team asks for constructive feedback and your response to it in the recommendation letter is to measure your ability to seek feedback. Without collecting and developing a sense of what customer/citizens/community want, you would be creating products/services just to fulfill your ego and not to serve and bring ‘real change’ to the market.
8. Risk Taking
One common thread in all our ‘leaders you admire’ sample essays is that all the leaders took a risk that could have impacted their finance, mental health, physical well-being or status. Without risking at least two of the four pillars of their existence, it would be extremely tough to capture the ‘essence of a leader’.
Leaders are defined by risks. Not the excess risks at the cost of taxpayer’s money that drowned economies but ownership of risks that could obliterate the leader out of existence.
We look up to Leaders because they are not dreaming of achieving 20% year or year growth or complete the project before 5th September. They are obsessively solving problems that would change how we communicate, travel, transact, trade, consume, or even age.
With the market constantly blowing up negative news, Ambition becomes the only fuel to persist in the path of repeated failure.
We have captured 5 Sample Essays for the Leader You Admire Question in our Columbia MBA Essay Guide
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