Category Archives: Leadership

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful MBA Applicants

Happy Thanksgiving! To celebrate, here’s one from the files: American icon Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” sold over 20 million copies in 40 languages. It has its critics too. Nevertheless,  the soundbite “seven habits” has become synonymous with success-lingo, so I created my own Seven Habits of Highly Effective MBA Applicants. These are:

Habit 1. Know thyself. This is of course the Oracle at Delphi, but Covey wasn’t original either. The fact remains that self-knowledge, particularly in this case knowledge of the parts of yourself that count for MBA admissions—and being able to find these attributes in your profile—is the core of MBA admissions success.

Habit 2. Be yourself. Another old saw, but no less true for being so. If you don’t apply as “you,” you lose the authentic power of your own voice. Many applicants try to apply as someone else, or the “ideal” applicant. Being dinged for being you is hard. Being dinged for being someone else is pathetic.

Habit 3. Gain and demonstrate experience. Successful applicants have sought out and embraced significant experiences (work and other.) You don’t need to have traveled to the International Space Station to have had a significant experience. You just need to have taken the life chances that came your way, and be able to talk intelligently about them.

Habit 4. Develop and demonstrate character. Experiences, particularly challenging ones, create character. Good character is not just good ethics. It is the fully rounded resource base for individual decision-making and action that leads to positive choices for the individual and those around him/her.

Habit 5. Assume and demonstrate seniority. Successful applicants have reached for opportunities to become senior in their spheres of activity. Seniority is not a job type or a salary level; it is any position that implies responsibility, influence, and leadership of others.

Habit 6. Be bigger than you. Successful MBA applicants have walked the walk of doing something that is not entirely self-oriented. As I’ve written elsewhere, you don’t have to have fed the starving in Ethiopia: almost any form of unpaid community involvement counts.

Habit 7. Simplify. Push yourself to know what’s really important to say in your application, and say only that. Don’t throw everything at Adcom and hope something sticks.

Habit 7+1. Covey added an eighth habit, see below. My eighth is: A touch of class. You don’t need to listen to Dvorak while pruning your bonsai and sipping chai tea (see Habit 2.) But if your favorite book is Harry Potter and your favorite show is Phantom of the Opera and you spend a lot of time on your sun tan… while there’s nothing technically wrong with this, you leave your competitors a lot of room to beat you.

For the record, these are Covey’s seven: Be proactive. Begin with the end in mind. Put first things first. Think win-win. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Synergise: learn to work with others to the benefit of all parties. Sharpen the saw: keep yourself physically, mentally and spiritually refreshed through such things as exercise, reading, prayer and good works. He later added the eighth: find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.

MBA Admissions: About You. About More Than You

The military style of management is usually best avoided in MBA admissions because it is not subtle or complex enough for civilian organizations.

MBA Admissions  committees are interested in your leadership style with respect to how you are able to motivate people without resorting to chain of command. To go up to someone’s desk and scream in their ear is hardly going to work in the office. In business, pulling rank usually does more harm than good.

However, occasionally there is something to be gleaned from the military, and here is a video worth two minutes of your time. It features Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, now  Governer-elect of Missouri.

In it he describes his epiphany during ‘Hell Week’ when it dawned on him: “This isn’t about me. This test is about my ability to lead and be of service to the people who are in that tent right now.”

Here’s the point from an MBA admissions perspective:

A lot of applicants describe corporate hazing of one type or another. That is, the 80 hours a week worked, vertical learning curves ascended, all-nighters pulled, jet-lag endured, and so on — in terms of personal gain. “I suffered, I showed perseverance and came though it, and learned a lot, and now I’m a better and stronger person.”

That’s okay as far as it goes.

But the real admissions jackpot comes from being able to see it and frame it in cohort terms. How the pain was all about bearing the load with and for the rest of the group, towards achieving goals for the group.

That is, how your effort was about more than just you. Therefore implying what you will do with your MBA will also be more than just about you.

In this regard, note how often MBA admissions instructions from Adcoms conspicuously remind you how leadership is about collective responsibility.

Here’s one from MIT Sloan a few years back: “We seek to enroll well-rounded individuals with the following characteristics:

  • Success in your professional endeavors (whether you are well into your career or a college senior)
  • Ability to collaborate to accomplish a common goal
  • Drive to inspire others to achieve success
  • Vision to seek alternative solutions to existing challenges
  • Pursuit of meaningful goals.”

Why A Bad Boss Can Make For A Good MBA Admissions Essay

Unless you are independently wealthy or have been lucky enough to work for yourself all your life, chances are you’ve had a bad boss or have a partner or friend who has had.

You know the type: the boss who sets stretch tasks and but witholds the team resources to achieve them. Who talks about you taking more responsibility and the micromanages you. Who offers a grunt when you ace a project, but chews you over for 20 minutes because of a minor error. Who takes credit up the chain for great work you do, but won’t cover for you when deadlines slip…

I wrote about this here on this site years ago, and  was reminded of it again due to leadership sites I follow. At the time, my client had been doing everything right, killing himself to complete complex operations-IT projects, plus studying nights for an MS degree and managing a young family.

His boss committed all of the above evils and more. She would casually set him ‘by-close-of-business today” tasks late in the day, interfere in carefully nurtured team relationships he had built up over months, use fear of termination to crack the whip… and the list goes on.

At the first possible moment, he quit. Yay.

Listening to this phase of his life, I could at least offer some consolation. After the event, what he had was fabulous experience for his future role as a manager and leader, all of which would play well in an MBA admissions essay.

Why? Because if you have experienced having your motivation sapped, having to walk on eggshells around an idiot who controls you, having to grind your teeth in frustration at not being able to implement an obvious innovation — that is, if you have been poorly managed yourself, you have excellent insight into what not to do.

And therefore, reversing all that a bad boss does, you have a good idea what kind of leader you should be, and therefore are likely to be.

And for MBA admissions essay or interview purposes, your bad-boss story is a “proof event” showing you have been through real learning about management and have developed insights into how to handle people under you, and are therefore ready to manage effectively when your turn comes.