Writing about Leadership
Last week we talked about how to approach the “Why get an MBA now?” question. Today we’re going to explore the leadership essay.
Most people who are applying to a top MBA program have at least one instance of leadership on their resume, and often more than one (even if they don’t realize it). In interviews, it’s not uncommon for a candidate to mention his or her leadership skills in response to a question about strengths. In short, “I’m a strong leader” are common words out of the mouth of an MBA applicant.
Then why is it that the leadership essay trips up so many applicants? The main reason for this is probably that leadership is a difficult concept to describe. So yes, it’s easy to say, “I’m a strong leader,” but what exactly does that mean? What have you done that merits such a lofty title? Would others agree with you?
Saying you’re a strong leader is a lot easier than showing that you can truly lead. And that is the point you need to get across in your MBA leadership essay. But how?
Let’s start at the very beginning, with a definition. A leader is somebody who moves other people to action. This person must be trustworthy, reliable, and consistent if he or she wishes to effectively inspire others to get a particular job done, to lay the groundwork out for a specific mission or project, or even to get them to adopt certain ideas or ideals.
Next, look at your experiences and think of cases in which you led people to action. An obvious example would be serving as team leader at your current job and producing the increased revenue at a lower expense faster than the speed of light. A less obvious example, though also impressive, would be acting as team captain of your college ultimate Frisbee team, or better yet, creating your university’s first ultimate Frisbee team. Can’t think of an example with the word “team” in it? That’s okay too – you may just need to think outside the box a bit. For example, organizing a fundraiser, planning a wedding, opening your own business, or taking an initiative in your church, ethnic group, or community could all be used as examples of experiences in which you stood up, took the reins, and encouraged the people around you to get moving…and to achieve great things or even just things that needed to happen.
Finally, think of (and then mention) ways in which your leadership skills will help you in the future. Do some of your goals require strong leadership skills? Are you going to take advantage of the school’s leadership development program? You do know that your target school has a leadership development program, don’t you? How do you see it helping you as you go through your Top Choice School and then enter your career?
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Leadership essays explore the concept of leadership. They can take multiple formats. You may be asked to explore an approach to leadership, describe a time when you took on a leadership role, or describe your experience with a leader that you admired. You may also be asked to describe a failure in leadership, whether yours or someone else’s. You might be asked to select a leadership style and explain why it is the best approach you can take for your future or simply why it is superior to other approaches. Therefore, although your essay may be labeled a leadership essay, it could actually fit one of the basic formats for essays: persuasive (sometimes called argumentative), narrative, expository, descriptive and how-to essays are all standard essay approaches that can be used in writing a leadership essay. Understanding your assignment will help you decide which approach to take.
You may not have any experience writing a leadership essay. In fact, many college students, especially those who have not previously studied leadership, have a difficult time identifying leadership skills and experience from their own daily lives. We encounter leaders every single day, and even the most timid among us has displayed our own leadership skills. If you are asked to write about a personal experience with leadership, think about your extracurricular activities, any volunteering you have done, the peers you admire, and the adults you wanted to be like when you became an adult. When you start thinking about those things, you will probably begin to see instances of leadership in your daily life. Once you have begun to contemplate your own personal experiences with leadership, you may find yourself in a better position to write your essay.
Still feeling uncertain? Do not worry; we are here to help you. This guide provides you with simple steps to follow to write a leadership essay. If you are uncertain of your essay-writing skills in general, check out our more in-depth essay writing tutorial. If you use the tools we provide, we are confident that you will improve your writing and be able to write a compelling leadership essay.
Understanding the Task
One of the most frequent problems we see among our students is that they begin writing their papers before thoroughly understanding the assignment. That is why we always stress that the first step in writing an essay should be to understand the assignment. The general topic is leadership, but as we have already covered, there are many different type of leadership essays. What is your professor seeking with the assignment? Is the goal to demonstrate that you have mastered knowledge about certain leadership theories; to show that you have acted as a leader in your own life; or to reveal that you recognize leadership in others? Thoroughly read the assignment; if you are uncertain what the professor is seeking, ask him or her for clarification.
Persuasive or Argumentative Leadership Essays
In a persuasive or argumentative leadership essays, you will be asked to take and defend a position about something relevant to the subject of leadership. Oftentimes, the format of this essay will require you to choose between different approaches to leadership that you may have studied in class or explored in your reading assignments. There are a number of different well-known leadership theories. These include: the Great Man Theory; Trait Theory, Behavioral Theories; Contingency Theories; Transactional Theories; and Transformational Theories. In addition to these theories, many leadership courses focus a significant amount of attention on the concept of servant leadership. In an argumentative essay, you may be asked to defend why you think one of the approaches to leadership is more appropriate for a particular scenario or to defend why you believe that certain leader embodied a particular leadership style.
Narrative Leadership Essays
In a narrative leadership essay, you are going to be asked to describe an event that occurred and this even will somehow relate to leadership. If you are given a broad range of topics and can choose a leader from your personal life, it may make for a more compelling essay than an essay about a well-known leader, simply because your audience has probably already read similar narratives about the well-known leader. What makes a compelling leadership story? Of course a leader that gets people out of peril and to safety makes a compelling story, but most of us do not have stranded-in-the-wild narratives that we can relate. Therefore, think about a situation where there was conflict, but one person’s leadership led a group to unite and work together instead of fight with one another. The leader in the narrative can be a designated leader, such as a teacher, principal, parent, scout troop leader, or athletic coach. However, leaders are often found outside of leadership roles; peers, siblings, and underdogs all make great lead characters in a leadership essay.
The other part of a narrative essay is that it needs to contain a story. Think about every story you have read since childhood. The parts may be labeled differently, but stories all have three parts in common: the introduction or lead up to the action (rising); the action itself; and the conclusion (falling) at the end that tells the result of the action. You want to ensure that your narrative actually tells an entire story. The reader should be able to answer: who, what, when, why, where, and how questions about the story once he or she has finished reading your narrative.
Expository Leadership Essays
In expository leadership essays, you will be called upon to describe something about leadership. These essays are most likely to focus on a core learning concept from a leadership class, whether it is describing a leadership theory or common leadership scenarios. Expository essays are best when they are focused on ideas, which makes them a great format for a leadership essay. However, because discussion of different leadership theories often involves comparing and contrasting them with other theories, you must be careful not to turn your expository essay into a persuasive or argumentative essay.
Descriptive Leadership Essay
A descriptive essay asks you to describe something; a person, place, time, thing, or experience. The goal is to create a deeply involved experience for the reader. It can be easy to confuse narrative and descriptive approaches when writing leadership essays, because you may use elements of a narrative in the leadership approach. A great way to differentiate between the two approaches is to outline your essay before you start. If you are describing a great leader, then you are going to have more than one story in your essay; it might be a descriptive essay. However, if you are going to describe a time that a leader was great, it would be better suited to a narrative approach. If you are going to write a descriptive essay, the reader should be able to close his or her eyes and picture whatever it is that you are describing. If you are writing about a person, thing, or place, if photographs or other images are available, use those to form your physical description, rather than relying on the words of others. Describe a person’s voice, the smell of a room, and the texture of an object. Perhaps most importantly, be very aware of the connotation and denotation of the words that you choose. Adolph Hitler and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both well-known world leaders who were usually seen in suits, had mustaches, and maintained a well-groomed physical appearance, however, in addition to having extremely different ideologies and leadership styles, their physical appearances were significantly different. Do not hesitate to use the descriptive words that help distinguish your subject. For example, you might describe Hitler’s suits as “militaristic” in contrast to describing King’s suits as “conservative.” Both men were powerful orators, but their speaking styles were very different. When excited, Hitler was known to speak in staccato bursts of words, while King had a booming voice and controlled the rise and fall of his words to match the rising and falling action in his speech. Therefore, always consider both connotation and denotation when writing a descriptive essay.
How-To Leadership Essay
Perhaps the most difficult type of leadership essay to write, the how-to essay’s goal is to explain how to do something. In the context of leadership essays, the something in question is probably incorporating some leadership style into your approach to leadership. The good thing is that there are a number of sources on the internet that tell you how to be various types of leaders. Finding information on them, to read and help you develop your own how-to is as easy as running a Google search with the query, “how to be a _______ leader.” For example, QuickBase provides a four-step tutorial on how to be a transformational leader. Similar tutorials are available across a variety of websites for all of the different leadership approaches. Websites focuses on leadership and/or organizational psychology are a great resource to help you on how-to essays.
Leadership Essay Topics
Leadership essays may be written on different leadership approaches, leadership successes, leadership failures, and leaders. We have already discussed the main theories about leadership, and there are some very famous leaders that dominate much of the discussion about leadership. However, you can find topics that are not as common, but are still excellent topics for a leadership essay. Every year, Forbes Magazine composes a list of the 50 top world leaders. If you are looking for a relevant, modern example of a great leader, that list is a wonderful place to start. Then, of course, there are historical leaders. Keep in mind that in order for someone to be a powerful leader and to be a good topic for a leadership paper, it is important that people follow him or her, but it is not as important where they follow them. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Osama Bin Laden may be among the world’s most well-recognized villains, but they were undeniably able to motivate large groups of people to take action to meet the leader’s goals. Therefore, you do not want to exclude people who are considered “bad guys” when you are looking at topics. You also do not want to sugarcoat over some of the negative information you may hear about the “good guys.” For example, there is a significant amount of negative press about Mother Theresa, of all people, including allegations that she prolonged the suffering of some of the ailing people that she was supposed to help. Now, these allegations are contested, but you want to look at them if you are writing a paper. You also want to keep in mind that a person can be a great leader, doing good things, and still have flaws as a person. You may want to explore those flaws if they help explain the leader’s approach to leadership. The website 100 Leaders in World History is a wonderful place to start if you want to find suggestions for fascinating world leaders who were successful at implementing their own agendas, but who may or may not be seen favorably from a modern perspective.
We cannot have a topic section about leadership without discussing the concept of servant leadership. Servant leadership has been one of the most discussed approaches to leadership for the last few decades, with Robert Greenleaf’s approach to leadership being seen as an ideal one for a wide variety of scenarios. We agree: servant leadership is wonderful. However, you want to be very careful when writing about servant leadership. The scholarship you will find about it may be either very religious or very secular, and, depending on the type of essay you are writing, some of the sources may not work. For example, if you are writing a story about Gandhi, it is natural to compare him to Jesus Christ, and to describe them both as servant leaders. However, if your class is a secular one, then biblical references may not be acceptable. Likewise, if you are discussing servant leadership in a religious-based course, some secular examples of servant leadership may not be the best fit. Therefore, why we strongly encourage you to include servant leadership in your essays, when applicable, we want you to be aware of that potential pitfall.
Leadership Essay Thesis Statements
Once you have decided what type of leadership essay you are going to write and then the topic of that essay, you need to write your thesis statement. A thesis statement is a short one or two-sentence statement that gives the reader the goal of your paper and tells them how you are going to achieve that goal.
Some thesis statements for leadership essays could be:
-Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stay in the Birmingham jail was a transformational period in his role as a leader of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, because it demonstrated that, even as a leader, he was willing to face incarceration in order to fight for equality.
-Queen Elizabeth the first is known as one of the most powerful monarchs in modern European history and she maintained that reputation by refusing to dilute her influence through marriage or other similar alliances. In fact, her ability to seem as if she could be an ally to anyone without sacrificing power to anyone was the key to her being the most powerful queen in English history.
-While Susan B. Anthony is known for her role in getting the right for women to vote, her tireless work on behalf of women’s rights resulted in a number of lesser-known advances for women in America.
-Abraham Lincoln is frequently miscast as an aggressive fighter who was eager to plunge the country into a civil war; however, he was actually very reluctant to engage in military action and sought reconciliation of the opposing sides before, during, and after the war.
-One of the less recognized leaders of the 20th century, Walt Disney helped transform worldwide pop culture in a way that no other single figure had done before him.
-Like many great leaders, there were allegations that Joan of Arc suffered from mental illness; however, the very things that supported the allegations that she was crazy were also the ones that made her an effective and compelling leader.
Leadership Essay Sources
We have already covered some great resources for your leadership essay. You will frequently find yourself writing about people when you approach a leadership essay. Therefore, you really need to be aware of bias in your writing. Is the source historically accurate? Do other sources verify the information found in that source? The reality is that you are going to find good things about awful people. Hitler was wonderful with dogs, a non-drinker, and did not have any extramarital affairs. Be careful not to confuse honest assessment of a person with praise. Likewise, you are going to find awful things about good leaders. Many historic leaders had a number of extramarital affairs or engaged in sexual or romantic behaviors that we deem unacceptable in modern times. For example, many members of various royal families engaged in incest. A reliable source will mention these negatives, but probably will not draw negative conclusions about the person because of them. You may have to do additional research to discover what the historical norms were during the lifetime of the person you are researching. This is particularly important for leaders who are either still alive or who are still celebrated by some segment of society. Our experience has been that there are a lot of biased websites, books, journal articles, magazine articles, and newspaper articles for many of the top 50 leaders of the past 100 years. Evaluate your sources carefully.
The general rule is to use current sources (no more than 3 years old, when possible), from reputable sources such as academic publications, newspapers, magazines, and .org or .com websites. You may also want to use contemporaneous sources if discussing a historical figure that was written about during his or her lifetime. Those sources may be older than 3 years.
You may have heard not to use some sources like Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. The reality is that these resources, which are much more carefully controlled than they were when crowd-source wikis first came on the scene, can provide you with excellent information and a great list of references to explore. You may not want to use them as cited sources, but you can still use them to get an overview of your topic. Google Scholar is a great resource when looking for high-quality scholarly or academic writing. Biography.com is a wonderful place to find biographies on world leaders. Mindtools has many articles and tools for career enhancement and leadership skills, as does Forbes.
Citing Sources in Leadership Essay
Even if you are writing a narrative essay, you will want to cite academic sources to back up any assertions you make about a particular leadership style. If you are writing an essay that contains figures, dates, or lesser-known facts, you are going to want to cite your sources. You may be instructed which style or format to use, or you may be permitted to choose which format. The three most frequently used academic writing styles for undergraduate level writing are Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago Manual of Style (also known as Turabian) and American Psychological Association (APA). Unless your instructions specify which format to use, choose the one you find easiest to use or the one that is most appropriate for your subject area. You can use our citation generator and citation guideline article to help ensure your work conforms to your selected style.
“Every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted” (RAINN, 2016).
Source Format for References:
RAINN. (2016). Victims of sexual violence: statistics. Retrieved September 30, 2016 from
RAINN website: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence
Estimates of the number of women raped each year vary from 300,000 to 1.3 million (Chemaly).
Source Format for Works Cites/Bibliography:
Chemaly, S. “50 Actual Facts About Rape.” The Huffington Post. October 26, 2012. Web, 30
September 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/50-facts-rape_b_2019338.html>.
“Every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted” (RAINN 2016, n.p.).
Source Format for References:
RAINN. “Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics. Accessed September 30, 2016.
Leadership Essay Examples
For many people, the best way to understand an assignment is by examining successful examples of that assignment. We have a wide variety of leadership essays available for students who want to see how to write a successful leadership essay. Two of our most popular ones are available in the links below:
Leadership Definition Essay -total of 6 pages with 8 sources that discusses what Leadership is , the different types of Leadership, and their relationships.
Leadership Theory in a Changing and Globalizing Marketplace Essay – this 20 page paper with 20 sources discusses Leadership theory related to a global marketplace.
Write My Leadership Essay
Now that you have read this article and all of our tips for writing a leadership essay, we hope you are feeling confident and totally capable of attacking your project. However, we know that some of you are still feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the task ahead. We are here to help. Our tutors can help students at any stage in the writing process, whether it is brainstorming ideas or writing a custom example essay on your chosen topic. If you want to learn more about this very popular student assistance program, click here.