MBA Candidates, Read These Quotes for a New Perspective on Leadership

"Leadership" might very well be the most "cussed and discussed" (hat tip, Harry Truman) word in the MBA landscape, given the prominence given to the concept by schools and candidates alike.  But what I find surprising is that the word - which can be viewed so many ways - often takes on this strange meaning in b-school contexts, which is sort of a stand in for "accomplished."

The idea of leadership has become titles and roles and responsibilities and kudos.  Sort of a "he who has the most ribbons is the leader" kind of a dynamic.  And while I will be the first to admit that leadership can indeed sometimes be about accolades (often leadership qualities get people recognized and/or recognition can give someone a platform from which to lead), it sort of misses the point.  And nothing hammers that home like the Golden State Warriors, who were recently crowned and then dethroned as NBA champs. Regardless, of the results, the type of leadership displayed on the court is a point worth examining further. 

Now, in one way, the Warriors actually solidify the very perception of leadership I was just talking about, in the form of NBA MVP Steph Curry. 

He's the best player on the team and you often hear that he "sets the example" and he's a "great leader."  And I actually believe that he is - both because of his talent (and therefore his platform), but also because he seems to have innate leadership gifts like servanthood, empathy, compassion, listening, consensus building and so forth.  So in a way, the Warriors don't tell us anything new.  Except that it appears, from many accounts, that one of the most crucial leaders on that team is NOT the best player Steph Curry, or the most veteran player or the most tenured player or the highest paid player ... but rather just A player.  That player is Draymond Green, a guy who stepped up and started leading the minute he got there, as a rookie who was a second-round pick (i.e, barely expected to make the roster), and who hasn't stopped leading.  Why?  Because he has innate leadership qualities.  Put another way: he is a born leader. 

Consider these quotes from a recent piece by Zach Lowe of Grantland: 

- They knew the team had a leadership void. “You don’t get appointed that role,” Myers says. “It’s an innate thing. It has to be authentic and genuine, and it is with him.”
- “You could tell right then he had something in him. It was impressive."
- “There are people who simply have the propensity within their being to be special,” says Ron Adams, one of Golden State’s lead assistants. “The person that has some talent, maximizes that talent, and shapes it into something that contributes to winning. That’s what we all look for in players. That’s who Draymond is.”

Ladies and gents, when business schools say they are looking for leaders, THIS is often what they are talking about.  

Not leading a team of five and beating a project deadline.  Not giving a great speech.  Not being appointed or awarded a title.  They are talking about innate abilities, things inside of you, and that make you special ... and that maximize success ("winning").  

So when you examine your strengths and weaknesses, don't just think "yeah, I've had leadership roles, people have looked to me, I'm good" - dig deeper and ask yourself if you have innate, special qualities.  

And then advertise those.  And if you don't?  That's okay too, because not everyone is a born leader and even the most "leadership" of schools like HBS would say that the world needs a blend of Draymond Green's and other types of players.  Some people are implementers or connectors.  You don't have to base your entire story on leadership if that's not who you are. 

But if you DO go all-in on leadership, make sure to consider just what that might mean.  And then be honest with yourself, read those quotes, and ask: could someone say that about me? 

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Future MBAs? Steph Curry and Draymond Green has the type of leadership that top business schools want to see in their applicants.

Future MBAs? Steph Curry and Draymond Green has the type of leadership that top business schools want to see in their applicants.