Act Like a Leader and You Might Become One

Business schools are looking for leaders and expect applicants to have demonstrated leadership in their work and school history.  Being a leader is so much a part of the MBA framework, in fact that you might be putting too much thought into what you have done and not enough into what you are doing.

A old man once said, you should “fake it till you make it.”  While this may sound disingenuous or even a little crass, there is a strong nugget of wisdom there.  Particularly if you get to the interview stage in the MBA application process, you have to exude leadership in your very presence.  But how is this achieved?

Here are a few tricks of the trade which can help you, and while some may sound silly or frivolous, you may just surprise yourself at how effective they can be in tricking even yourself into becoming more leader-like.

1)      Dress for success

This is a truism that despite seeming obvious, is often overlooked in the ever-burgeoning anything goes culture in which we live and work.  One rule of thumb to follow is the “one-click-up” approach.  Whatever everyone else is wearing, if you dress one level above, you will feel more like a leader.  If everyone is wearing shorts to the golf outing, you wear slacks.  If people are wearing business casual to the office, wear a sportcoat.  If everyone wears sportcoats, wear a tie.  If everyone is suit-and-tied, do the same, but do it well.  You might even consult with an image stylist, which is getting both more common and more affordable.  Another dress tip for men---don’t show your underwear.  I’m not talking about what you wear beneath your pants, I’m talking about your undershirt.  How many CEOs do you see with their t-shirt poking out of their collar?  Speaking of CEOs, are you looking to the c-suite for your dress cues, or to your co-workers?

2)      Always be in a hurry

I am always surprised to see the general pace of people in the workplace. It’s slow, lethargic, and uninspired.  When you walk around the office, do you have an air of urgency in your step, or are you dragging yourself around?  People who move quickly appear to have something important to do, and people who have something important to do will be perceived as important people.  Get it?  This tip alone will not only help you stay engaged in your work by being more alert, it will likely result in better reviews from your bosses and ultimately, better recommendations for b-school applications.  Another way to achieve this is to get a standing work station.  While it may be an annoying trend to some, standing up naturally puts you in a more alert state and helps you remain energized throughout the day.  I have even seen some do standing meetings, which work well for short meetings which are mostly discussion oriented.

3). Be a Reader

Leaders have ideas and leaders have insight.  There’s no better way to remain current on your insight than to be a reader.  At the very least, b-school hopefuls should devour the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times on a daily basis.  Others more enjoy the NY Times or other reputable papers.  Bloomberg Businessweek is a great read as well, and summarizes every article in one or two sentences at the end, called the the Bottom Line.  You can literally read every bottom line in BusinessWeek in about five minutes, after which you could go back and dig deeper into the articles which interest you.  You will shock yourself at how much you begin to quote things you read to others, who will in turn begin to think of you as engaged and knowledgeable. 

There are plenty more tips to consider, but start with these three, and watch how quickly your leadership rating rises!

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