We are often asked how you can prove that you have strong leadership skills when you’re not yet in a position of authority or management in your career. Leadership is not necessarily the same as management. There are plenty of managers who are not great leaders – they do what they are told and essentially follow protocol and report up the chain.
In contrast, examples of leadership include times when you stepped-up to the plate, proactively solved a problem, motivated others to act, or mentored someone. You don’t need to be in a management or even position of authority to do this.
For example, I worked with a client last year who, as a junior-ranking person in her company, realized that a teammate was struggling with certain quantitative aspects of her role as a strategy consultant. My client offered to train this person and ultimately developed training materials that were rolled-out to the whole company.
The impressive aspect of this story was the fact that she took it upon herself to help solve an issue that she’d recognized, even though training her peers wasn’t part of her job. Further, in her interviews, she often told this story and described how she had been careful not to deflate the confidence of this person. She focused on building him up while recognizing where he needed improvement.
That’s leadership. And that proactive drive is what is attractive to potential employers and graduate programs.
To emphasize your leadership skills and potential, be sure to focus your resumes and interviews on stories where you went above and beyond like the story above. Focus on things you improved, changed, or fixed.
And of course, the best leadership stories involve the people aspect – motivating, persuading, and inspiring others. These stories can be about your relationships with clients, vendors, extracurricular organizations or even peer-to-peer.
There is no need for you to be in a formal management position to be a leader and, in fact, some of the most impressive leadership stories are those where you have had to lead naturally.
Meredith Shields is the co-founder of Vantage Point MBA Admissions Consulting, a boutique, full-service MBA admissions consulting firm that advises applicants to the top MBA programs in the world. With Vantage Point, Meredith and her co-founder, Melody, have developed a unique 360° approach to the application process, delivering the perspectives that matter from not only experienced consultants and former admissions directors from top 10 MBA programs but also current MBA students and post-MBA professionals at some of the top companies in the world. By providing its clients firsthand insights from people who understand the process from the inside out, Vantage Point helps each candidate develop the most competitive and differentiated applications possible, maximizing his or her chances of admission to the most selective MBA programs.