Who are the leaders and why are they only taken at Harvard?
Who are the leaders and why are they only taken at Harvard?


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10 Required Student Skills at Harvard University


Skill number 7. Leadership

What is leadership, what does it consist of, and why does every worthy university or company in the United States want to have “leaders” in its ranks?

Leadership takes on different meanings in different contexts. Leadership is often attributed to a person who excels in one area or another. This interpretation is more related to "personal leadership", which involves managing your personal life, setting and achieving personal goals. There are fundamental differences in the concepts of personal leadership and leadership that universities and companies seek.

Unlike personal leadership, leadership is a process in which a person or group of people unites and mobilizes other participants (followers) to achieve a common goal. Effective leadership transforms followers' goals and ambitions, sometimes even their identity, and replaces self-centered behavior with team thinking. According to this definition, personal achievements such as “excelling in class,” “excelling in sports,” or “exceeding sales targets” are not examples of leadership, as in such a context there is no human involvement in uniting and leading the team towards a common goal.

Understanding the nuances of the term will allow you to better determine the expectations of the selection committee of the university or future employer, and give more effective examples from previous experience confirming the presence of a particular skill.


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The desire of the selection committees and companies to see leaders among them is understandable. Leadership requires a candidate to have dozens of other particularly attractive qualities:

  • First of all, leaders are usually driven by a passion for which they do not spare time and energy, completely giving themselves away.
  • In addition, a true passion fosters perseverance and firmness of character, which allows you to stand firmly on your feet and move on despite the difficulties and failures.
  • Leadership requires vision and strategic thinking in relation to achieving the goal. Building a movement towards a goal as a process in which milestones and timelines are present is an important component of success, because passion without a concrete action plan is destined to remain a desire.
  • Going to the goal also requires discipline. The ability to organize itself indicates a high level of development of the executive functions of the human brain, which provide a high degree of self-control and the ability to focus on the main thing, without being distracted by multiple temptations and distractions.
  • And of course, the leader unites others around the idea and leads the team to the goal; he knows how to listen, inspire, unleash potential, communicate effectively, and maintain high motivation of the team even in difficult moments.

Are all Harvard students leaders? To some extent, this is so. Given the diversity of academic disciplines, socio-cultural groups and extracurricular clubs, universities need a leader in each field to ensure sustainable and diverse development of the entire system, which will be effectively supported by the students themselves. Therefore, if at first glance a student seems to you to be quiet and shy, and in principle not very talkative, you should not make hasty conclusions and think that the selection committee has made a mistake. When you learn a little more about how this student spends his extracurricular time, you will probably immediately identify where his leadership is. Therefore, when going to university, do not try to show that you have some "fashionable" hobbies, but focus on your true interests, within which you are free to lead and lead others.


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One of the favorite questions of introductory essays at all levels of education at top US universities, or at interviews in attractive companies, is to tell us about the situation where you have demonstrated leadership qualities. This question refers to the situational type of questions, which requires the analysis of the desired skill through the prism of a specific life experience. I would recommend that you always have this situation in the blank, because when a candidate suddenly encounters him, he often finds himself in a stupor and / or gives an overly general answer.

Reflection-reflection on your “leadership experience” is a useful exercise for analyzing your hobbies, as well as identifying exactly those that you are implementing as a leader, uniting the team. Having identified the range of such hobbies, answer the following questions for each of them:

  • What is the purpose of my team?
  • What life situation has led you to realize the problem / goal setting?
  • How do you see the path to achieving this goal? What are the main steps to go through?
  • How do you attract a team?
  • How do you organize the team?
  • Give examples of the main difficulties in managing a team on the way to the goal, what did you do as a leader to overcome these difficulties?
  • What are the main achievements of the team you can highlight?

Answers to these questions in the context of a certain leadership experience will allow you to build a detailed story about you as a leader who has goals, thinks strategically, takes responsibility for the team and for the result, knows how to assemble and rally the team, and also overcome difficulties.

These questions are applicable to any field and in the context of any professional, academic, sports, extracurricular and other experience. The next time you are asked to talk about leadership experience, you will know that the fact that you were an excellent student in the class or you have the best long jump result, or maybe the highest sales rate in the company - all this relates more to personal achievements, not leadership experience per se.

If you find it difficult to answer the first two questions - then the search for these answers will be a timely and noble goal for the near future!


Author: Evgenia Efremova, graduate student at Harvard University 
and academic director of Global Ambassador


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The article used photos from events from Harvard University, published on sites www.raiseyourhandtexas.org и https://techcrunch.com 

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