Deirdre Leopold, HBS Director of MBA Admissions

BusinessWeek recently conducted an online chat with Deirdre Leopold, HBS Director of MBA Admissions (aka “the one who’s going to decide if you’re in or not”). They also posted the chat’s transcript.

The entire transcript is worth reading, as it includes interesting information for applicants – mainly changes in the structure of application essays and the introduction of an admissions blog.

However, there’s one specific point I’d like to talk about. Ms. Leopold was asked:

ramtelecom: What do you, compared to previous admissions directors, look for in new HBS candidates?

And that was her answer:

HBSDeirdre: I have been thinking a lot about leadership and how to both define and identify it. I think there’s a danger in thinking that there is just one model of a leader—someone who is larger than life and always out in front—who should be at HBS. I prefer to think in terms of an assortment of leaders, some of whom gravitate to traditional leadership roles in an established organization, some of whom like to start things and get them up and running, some of whom motivate small groups, “thought leaders” who provide the unexpected and provocative way of looking at a problem. One of the most exciting ways of thinking about diversity in the case method classroom is on the dimension of leadership styles—bringing together all these folks and hearing how they tackle the real life problems in a case.

This really resonates well with my own thinking, and the way I analyzed HBS leadership essay.

I said there that:

I was a team leader of 5 people, and also managed a couple of global ad-hoc projects, the largest of which included ~10 people. You see the numbers aren’t huge. However, throughout my entire life I believe I showed a lot of initiative, creativity and ability to come up with new ideas and follow them through to successful implementation. I was also a trainer and speaker and had opportunities to lecture and talk in front of large, senior audiences. All of this, in my opinion, is also part of leadership. I believe leadership consists of many implicit things: the ability to convince people in your ideas – your supervisors, your team members and your subordinates, the ability to make people follow you, to inspire your team members, to successfully delegate, to develop your people and keep them happy and motivated, and many other things that together constitute ‘good leadership’ and ‘good management’.

And that was one month before the chat took place :)

So my point here is the same one I made in the essay analysis – many applicants believe HBS only looks for larger than life superman leaders. I don’t think that’s the case, and you shouldn’t be afraid of applying if you don’t posses the supposedly-classic leadership achievements. (of course if you do, that’s great!)

For more, read the essay’s analysis, or my analysis to all HBS essays. HBS hasn’t posted the essays for the 2007 application year yet (they probably will at the beginning of July), but I imagine part of them will remain unchanged.

Here’s another insightful post about What Is Leadership, from the blog of fellow MBA admits.

By the way, during the HBS admit weekend in March Ms. Leopold was one of the speakers, and turned out to be smart, witty and engaging. You can read my admit weekend post here.

3 Responses to “Online Chat with HBS Director of MBA Admissions”

  1. K Says:

    Hey CS,

    I’ll be applying to Harvard, among other schools, for fall 2008. I live in the Boston area and will be very happy to get in touch with you and get your inputs on my application process. Do let me know if you’ll have time to help me out occasionally…


  2. CS@HBS Says:

    No problem – feel free to post your questions here or shoot me an email.
    Good luck!

  3. Reuben Says:

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