Every year millions of high school students apply for college. And every year, at least one of those colleges requires a leadership essay.
While you may have never served as a manager, fought against injustice, or led a rebellion, you have at least some inklings of leadership inside you. After all, one of the greatest fictional leaders, Daenerys Targaryen, didn’t think she was much of a leader at first either.
The point of the leadership essay is to bring those qualities out and show you—and your readers—how you can be a mother of dragons, breaker of chains, and master of essays.
So it’s time to stop looking up to other people—at least for a little while—and start seeing yourself in a new light. If you’re not totally convinced, I’ll help you dig deep and write a leadership essay that’s bound to lead the pack of other applications.
What Is a Leadership Essay Anyway?
In short, a leadership essay seeks to do two things:
- Define leadership
- Show how you are a leader
The best way to do this is to list characteristics that successful leaders have and show your reader how you exemplify these traits.
Leadership essays, in general, are going to be pretty different than the essays you’re used to writing for class. Instead of focusing on literature, authors, or literary devices, leadership essays focus on your personal qualities.
More likely than not, the first (and possibly only) time you’ll encounter a leadership essay is when applying to a university or for a scholarship. It seems a little unfair because you don’t have a whole lot of practice writing these types of essays, but that’s why I’m here.
Let’s dive a little deeper into how to write your leadership essay.
Elements to Consider When Writing a Leadership Essay
Now that you have a rough idea about what a leadership essay is, you can start writing it, right?
First, let’s review a few things you should keep in mind as you write. These elements will help you stay on track and find inspiration so that you can really wow your readers.
- Write about yourself.When some students hear the word “leadership,” they’re inclined to think this kind of essay is similar to or the same as a hero essay. But hero essays focus on other people. Leadership essays are all about you.
- Be honest. The point of any leadership essay is to let the admissions faculty know more about you. Yes, you can (and should) get creative in your essay—but don’t lie about who you are or what you’ve accomplished. If you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything, just wait until you get to the brainstorming stage. Ideas will just start flowing.
- Don’t list leadership skills you don’t plan on explaining later. Your definition of leadership shouldn’t be one you find in a dictionary. Instead, think about the leadership skills you possess, and list those so that you can explain them later in your essay.
- Leadership essays aren’t like other essays. They don’t have to (though they can) follow the five-paragraph format. They are a little more informal, more like a story. You can either use one story to explain all of your leadership skills or use different examples for each skill. Either way, make sure it all flows together logically.
- It’s okay to write in first person. This isn’t academic writing. Plus, you’re talking about yourself. First-person writing makes it personal.
Steps to Writing an Awesome Leadership Essay
Okay, I know you’re itching to get to the good stuff. So here are all the details about how to actually write a leadership essay so that you can get started ASAP.
Before you start trying to think of the specifics or the structure of your leadership essay, you need to know a little bit more about the leadership characteristics you have. Brainstorming techniques are perfect for helping you identify your leadership characteristics.
Think about any leadership situations you’ve been in—the leader of a group project or sports team, any position within a school club, showing leadership among younger siblings. Really anything can be turned into leadership experience as long as you worked with other people.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be someone’s superior to be a leader.
Let’s say for the sake of giving examples that Khaleesi herself was writing a leadership essay. Her brainstorming might include the following traits:
- Stand up for what I believe in
- Kind but tough when I have to be
Having trouble coming up with a list? Try reading what other students have to say about their leadership in these example essays.
Once you have some ideas of what leadership qualities you possess, it’s time to start organizing them and creating the structure of your essay. Do you plan on writing one story or giving several different examples?
Whatever the case may be, you’re going to have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The difference is mainly what you do with the body paragraphs.
Daenerys’s outline might look something like this:
- Thesis statement
- Freeing the Unsullied
- Loyal and stand up for what I believe in
- Punished/killed slavers and vowed to free slaves around the world
- Rescuing baby dragons from the House of the Undying
- Fearlessness and determination
- Ignored distractions like the Iron Throne and Khal Drogo hallucinations to rescue dragons
- Took control of the Dothraki people
- Used diplomacy whenever possible but was stern when needed
- Killed leaders who were talking about harming me and arose from the ashes unburnt—for a second time
Write your introduction
You’ll notice on the outline that I have a hook and thesis statement under the Introduction section.
A hook is a way to get your readers’ attention and make them want to keep reading. Unlike your teacher who has to read your essay to give you a grade, admissions staff don’t have to read anything they don’t want to. So make sure your intro really hooks them and draws them into your essay.
One of the best ways to write a hook is to start at the climax of your story. This shows readers the excitement of your essay and makes them curious as to how you got to that point. Other types of hooks might be to include quotes or clearly set up your story from the beginning.
A thesis statement tells the reader what your leadership essay is really about. In this context, it’s just a mini-outline of your leadership essay. You can be more creative here than in other essays, so play around with it a little to see what feels right.
Let’s see how Daenerys may write her introduction:
As I stepped out of the burning hut, I thought this was what I was born to do—lead the Dothraki across oceans and all the way to the Iron Throne, where I would take my rightful place as leader of the Seven Kingdoms. While leaders come in many forms, truly great leaders have loyalty to their subjects, courage and determination in the face of adversity, and the sense to know when to forgive and when to punish. In my rise to Khaleesi and beyond, I have acquired these very traits.
Can you spot the thesis statement?
That’s right, in Daenerys’s thesis statement, she outlines the characteristics of leadership that she’ll address in the body paragraphs (loyalty, courage and determination, and balancing forgiveness and punishment).
Write the body paragraphs
The meat of your essay is all in the body paragraphs. This is where you show your readers what a great leader you are. Use descriptive language and vivid examples.
Don’t just say, “I show courage by doing this.” Instead, your descriptions of events should give the reader a clear picture of how you demonstrate courage, or any other leadership trait you have chosen.
One of Daenerys’s body paragraphs could go like this:
I went through a series of rooms, each one more difficult to get through than the last. The first was my true end goal—the Iron Throne. It’s what I dreamt about constantly, and now it was right in front of me. I could see it, feel it, but it wasn’t what was important at that moment. I heard my dragons calling for me, and I knew I had to press on if I was going to get them and myself out alive.
Wrap it up
The final step is to write your conclusion. Let the reader know the impact your leadership has had on others or what you’ve learned about yourself in terms of your leadership.
Here’s what Daenerys’ conclusion might look like:
Although I grew up being told my brother was the last dragon, I realized in time that title was meant for me. Slowly, I became bolder and stronger in my convictions, helping to save the lives of thousands and realizing my role as the Mother of Dragons.
See? It’s not that hard to write a leadership essay, is it?
Here at Kibin, we consider our editors to be leaders. They fearlessly fight grammatical errors and work hard to make students’ essays shine. So if you’re not sure that your writing is up to par with that of a leader, we’re happy to take a look and make suggestions.
Now take a good look at yourself and all the awesome leadership qualities lying within, and bring them out on paper. Good luck!
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Application Essay Guidelines
We aspire to develop engineers and managers who can be leaders in our industry. To help ground so broad a term, the Past President of the SANS Technology Institute, Stephen Northcutt, wrote a Leadership Essay to help characterize and expand upon our definition of leadership. Please read his essay and explore some of the resources he suggests. Then, write two to three single-spaced pages in your own words about your own preferred definition(s) of leadership, some competencies where you believe you have strengths, and also the competencies you would most like to develop. Relate each competency to personal and/or professional experience, or discuss how you intend to use the master's program and your work experience over the next three years to further your leadership goals. Include a discussion of why 'leadership', rather than just 'engineering' or 'management', is particularly important in the information security field at this time.
By Stephen Northcutt
AbstractLeadership is a broad term, open to interpretation. However, it is the core focus of the SANS Technology Institute's mission. The purpose of this essay is to define what we mean by leadership, express the core compencies you will be exposed to in the program, and discuss what leadership means in the context of information security.
Definition of Leadership
A leader is a person who guides or inspires others within an organization or community to achieve a goal. Leadership development begins with the simple realization that you want to be a leader. Life has many opportunities to press forward and take charge of a situation, or conversely, to shrink into the background. This is why we ask prospective students to write an essay about demonstrated leadership when they apply to our school.
Leadership and Competencies
What does leadership mean, how do you measure leadership? One approach is through management and leadership competencies. We define competencies as measurable skills, knowledge, and abilities that identify successful managers in the information security discipline. In your graduate program, you will be exposed to core competencies. They are covered in your required course, ISE 5600: IT Security Leadership Competencies or ISM 5400: IT Security Planning, Policy, and Leadership. Some of the competencies that you will be taught are reinforced by specific course work and exercises:
- Team Development and Relationship Building: This will occur when you attend a SANS conference and interact with fellow students, and as a result of both of your group projects.
- Importance of Communication: The presentation skills course, ISE/ISM 5000 (SANS MGT 305), will help you develop your oral and written communication skills.
- Self-Direction: We will monitor your progress throughout the program, but it will be up to you to register for and complete courses within the allowed time at a proper level of quality.
- Coaching and Training: One of your final degree requirements will be to teach a Security Awareness course in your own community.
- Leadership Qualities: The faculty you will work with are leaders in the field of information security. Look to them to model leadership in the information security field.
- Vision Development: As a graduate student, you will be required to present original, creative work through the research papers.
- Project Planning: You will learn about Project Management Planning in ISE/ISM 5800 (SANS MGT 525) and a project plan is a requirement of one of the group projects.
Other competencies listed below will be taught in your required courses:
- Conflict Resolution
- Employee Involvement
- Change Management
- Motivation of Employees and Teammates
- Leadership Development
- Leading Tribes
- Leading Change
Two competencies are more important than all the others. How does a leader guide or inspire? They have to be great communicators. Therefore, two of the most important skills you will work on are:
- Ability to communicate well orally
- Ability to communicate well in writing
Leaders in information assurance often have different goals. Some leadership roles in information security are similar to other disciplines, others are unique. A few examples of security leadership roles are listed below:
- Manager, team leader or project manager
- The technical "go to" person
- Thought leader, often through writing and speaking
- Instructor, mentor
- Tribe leader, someone that can build a large following to accomplish a goal
- Change Agent, someone who uses their thought leadership position to alter the way we look at technology or process
- Technical tool author who creates or leads the team that develops a security tool whether open source or commercial
What is the difference between a manager and a leader? A successful leader needs all of the same competencies as a manager, but some of the competencies must be more developed. For instance, vision. You can be a successful manager with a minimal capability for vision. In fact, that is something Human Resources may look for in an industry that is based on repeatable tasks. However, you cannot lead without vision. The Security Thought Leaders interview series introduces a number of visionary leaders in the information assurance industry. In addition, you must have power beyond your positional power, the authority that comes with your role or job description. For many students in the MSISE program, this will lead to something called expert power  people will want to be on your team partly because of your knowledge of technical security. Our goal is for you to be able to work at the highest technical level in your organization. The students in the MSISM program will also receive courses and assignments to develop expert power, people will want to work with you because they feel that you have both programmatic skills and a strong understanding of technical issues. They will look for you to be a bridge between management and technical groups in your organization.
Senior Leadership and Statesmanship
One reason to start focusing on your leadership skills today is that leadership is learned over years, not months. The best way to become a senior leader is by studying competencies and having the discipline to make them become habits and tools in your life. We can define a senior leader as someone who attains a highly respected rank, examples include:
- CEO, CTO, CSO, CISO
- Board member, Chairman of the Board
- President, Vice President
- Bishop, Cardinal
- Mayor, Senator, Representative
Perhaps the highest level of leadership is the statesman, a respected leader in national or international affairs, a person that devotes some or all of their energy to public service and to improve the common good. They have mastered the management, leadership and governance competencies and use the experience from a long and respected career to benefit others.
References1.http://resource.udallas.edu/132/bases_of_social_power.pdf link was visited 9/14/2011
Leadership Essay Version 1.8
Other Related Articles in Leadership Lab: Management Competencies
- Leadership Essay - Feb 7th, 2012