As a Harvard Business school graduate, I often get asked how to get into the premier business school in the world. Typically the answer revolves around grades, work experience, and leadership qualities. Interestingly enough, the current dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria answered the question in a recent interview with Business Insider.
Whenever someone says they’d like to attend HBS, Nohria told Business Insider, he asks them to consider one question:
“What is it that other people would say that would describe you as a leader?”
Nohria said HBS wants to help candidates explain “in what ways they have already exercised leadership and how they hope to exercise leadership in the future.”
Somewhat frustratingly, Nohria added that there’s no single type of answer that will win over the admissions staff. “We will take people who have very different passions,” he said.
Nohria breaks down leadership into two components — competence and character — and he said HBS students learn to develop both.
Competence is about getting people to trust you and your decisions: “It’s not like you can call yourself a leader just because you have an important position,” he said. Character is about your values, and your ability to make ethical decisions.
Ultimately, HBS doesn’t want students to be carbon copies of one another, especially in terms of their leadership experience.
“We are excited about leaders of all kinds,” Nohria said. “They just need to be people who are pursuing a particular passion in which they are likely to be very good leaders.”