How should you talk about your leadership experiences in an MBA interview? My research has focused on the leadership conceptualization process, and the way in which people talk about leadership is contextually bound (Knight, 2015, 2017). In other words, the way in which you talk about leadership depends on many things including your education, your experiences, who you are talking to, and why you are talking about leadership. You exercise your freedom to choose how to talk about leadership.
What is leadership?
You may have heard the saying that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders. I would take this a bit further by saying that one person may talk about leadership in many different ways. An overall definition of leadership may state that leadership involves being a change agent; i.e., the leader changes the situation and the way that others think about the situation. In your MBA interview, you may want to frame yourself (i.e., cause others to see you) as a leader, who is able to achieve change in a group and in an organization.
Framing yourself as a leader
In my previous Agos blog post, I wrote about the STAR/CAR frameworks for which the parts are Situation, Target, Action, and Result (STAR) and Challenge, Action, and Result (CAR). These two frameworks (used to respond to behavioral interview questions) are excellent ways to highlight your actions as leader who introduces and achieves change. For example, let’s say that an interviewer asks you to talk about a leadership experience. You could take that opportunity to first define leadership and then to give a STAR/CAR example that illustrates your definition of leadership and highlights your actions and results as a leader.
How should you define leadership? “Influence” and “direction” are often key words associated with leadership. I see leadership as creative action that is represented by the following quotations:
- “Leadership [is] a communication process consisting of two parts: 1) communicating to create a vision and 2) communicating to achieve a vision” (Knight, 2013).
- “Leadership is making real a vision in collaboration with others” (Knight and Candlin, 2015, p. 36).
My personal conceptualization of leadership came from my own leadership research and experiences, and it fits nicely into the STAR/CAR frameworks. However, you may have different ideas about leadership. You need to identify your own beliefs about leadership and how you can show (in an MBA interview) that you are a leader.
Who are your leadership models?
As you reflect on your leadership beliefs, you should try to identify your leadership models. Consider the following questions:
- Who do you see as leaders?
- Describe their leadership styles. (How do they influence others and achieve their goals?)
- What can you (and have you already) learned about leadership from these leaders?
I would also encourage you to talk to as many good leaders as possible about leadership. Such interactions can help you to grow as a leader and provide you with content for your MBA interviews.
Learn leadership communication from leaders
Another benefit of talking to good leaders is the opportunity to learn how leaders communicate. My advice would be to study the communication of leaders, who are very effective in influencing others and achieving their goals, and learn how they utilize their communication skills. In your MBA interviews, you want to display your outstanding leadership communication skills. I look forward to helping you to share your leadership experiences in your MBA interviews!
Knight, K. (2013, December 3). Looking at communication through a leadership lens [Web log post]. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.
Knight, K. (2015). Analysing the discourses of leadership as a basis for developing leadership communication skills in a second or foreign language. Sydney, AU: Macquarie University.
Knight, K. (2017). Exploring leadership conceptualizations in semi-structured interviews from multiple perspectives. In C. Ilie, & S. Schnurr (Eds.), Challenging leadership stereotypes through discourse: Power, management, and gender.Singapore: Springer.
Knight, K., & Candlin, C. N. (2015). Leadership discourse as basis and means for developing L2 students into future leaders. In P. Shrestha (Ed.), Current developments in English for academic and specific purposes: Local innovations and global perspectives (pp. 27-50). Reading, UK: Garnet.