Like beauty, leadership is often desired but hard to figure out for those who do not have it.
Even among experts, the exact definition of leadership is quite murky, like the exact expert definition of beauty. Entire careers have been dedicated to the study of leadership and it is probably a concept that changes depending on the context. Military leadership, for example, is probably quite a different matter from business leadership or intellectual leadership, despite areas of possible overlap.
Nonetheless, every business school will list leadership as the quality that is most important in their recruits. But what is the best way to get some if its definition is so elusive?
Unless you have some other distinctive area of leadership experience (such as military leadership), it is probably easiest to operationalize this leadership concept for business schools in the following way.
Leadership = the ability to convince others to give you large amounts of money.
Now let us see how you might demonstrate it. By this definition, starting a company is not a sign of leadership, but having a paying customer is. Similarly, starting a charity is not a sign of leadership, but having significant donations is. Thus, if you started a non-money-making company just developing products without sales or a charity that has no sizable donations in money, then you may be impressive in other ways, but your acts do not really show leadership according to our definition.
How about leadership at your job? By this definition, the bigger the budget you manage to claim, the more you have demonstrated leadership. What? You have no discretionary budget in your job to spend on things like subordinates or external consultants? Then, unfortunately, you have had little leadership. Similarly, if you increased sales a lot, you showed leadership. If you just processed sales orders, you did not really show leadership. And ultimately, at the end of the day, if you are paid a lot, you showed leadership. If you are paid little, you did not show as much leadership.
Obviously, leadership is not money — people we call leaders have convinced entire nations of their ideas and thinking in non-monetary domains. But for many practical purposes in commercial contexts, including demonstrating leadership qualities to business schools, leadership equates fairly well to convincing people to give you money. Money is, after all, one of the prime reasons for commerce.
So go out and show some leadership.
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This Veritas Prep GMAT instructor received a degree in Economics from Princeton, and is currently pursuing a PhD. He has worked as a business consultant, research analyst, and adjunct faculty member at various institutions.