Leadership essays explore the concept of leadership. They can take multiple formats. You may be asked to explore an approach to leadership, describe a time when you took on a leadership role, or describe your experience with a leader that you admired. You may also be asked to describe a failure in leadership, whether yours or someone else’s. You might be asked to select a leadership style and explain why it is the best approach you can take for your future or simply why it is superior to other approaches. Therefore, although your essay may be labeled a leadership essay, it could actually fit one of the basic formats for essays: persuasive (sometimes called argumentative), narrative, expository, descriptive and how-to essays are all standard essay approaches that can be used in writing a leadership essay. Understanding your assignment will help you decide which approach to take.
You may not have any experience writing a leadership essay. In fact, many college students, especially those who have not previously studied leadership, have a difficult time identifying leadership skills and experience from their own daily lives. We encounter leaders every single day, and even the most timid among us has displayed our own leadership skills. If you are asked to write about a personal experience with leadership, think about your extracurricular activities, any volunteering you have done, the peers you admire, and the adults you wanted to be like when you became an adult. When you start thinking about those things, you will probably begin to see instances of leadership in your daily life. Once you have begun to contemplate your own personal experiences with leadership, you may find yourself in a better position to write your essay.
Still feeling uncertain? Do not worry; we are here to help you. This guide provides you with simple steps to follow to write a leadership essay. If you are uncertain of your essay-writing skills in general, check out our more in-depth essay writing tutorial. If you use the tools we provide, we are confident that you will improve your writing and be able to write a compelling leadership essay.
Understanding the Task
One of the most frequent problems we see among our students is that they begin writing their papers before thoroughly understanding the assignment. That is why we always stress that the first step in writing an essay should be to understand the assignment. The general topic is leadership, but as we have already covered, there are many different type of leadership essays. What is your professor seeking with the assignment? Is the goal to demonstrate that you have mastered knowledge about certain leadership theories; to show that you have acted as a leader in your own life; or to reveal that you recognize leadership in others? Thoroughly read the assignment; if you are uncertain what the professor is seeking, ask him or her for clarification.
Persuasive or Argumentative Leadership Essays
In a persuasive or argumentative leadership essays, you will be asked to take and defend a position about something relevant to the subject of leadership. Oftentimes, the format of this essay will require you to choose between different approaches to leadership that you may have studied in class or explored in your reading assignments. There are a number of different well-known leadership theories. These include: the Great Man Theory; Trait Theory, Behavioral Theories; Contingency Theories; Transactional Theories; and Transformational Theories. In addition to these theories, many leadership courses focus a significant amount of attention on the concept of servant leadership. In an argumentative essay, you may be asked to defend why you think one of the approaches to leadership is more appropriate for a particular scenario or to defend why you believe that certain leader embodied a particular leadership style.
Narrative Leadership Essays
In a narrative leadership essay, you are going to be asked to describe an event that occurred and this even will somehow relate to leadership. If you are given a broad range of topics and can choose a leader from your personal life, it may make for a more compelling essay than an essay about a well-known leader, simply because your audience has probably already read similar narratives about the well-known leader. What makes a compelling leadership story? Of course a leader that gets people out of peril and to safety makes a compelling story, but most of us do not have stranded-in-the-wild narratives that we can relate. Therefore, think about a situation where there was conflict, but one person’s leadership led a group to unite and work together instead of fight with one another. The leader in the narrative can be a designated leader, such as a teacher, principal, parent, scout troop leader, or athletic coach. However, leaders are often found outside of leadership roles; peers, siblings, and underdogs all make great lead characters in a leadership essay.
The other part of a narrative essay is that it needs to contain a story. Think about every story you have read since childhood. The parts may be labeled differently, but stories all have three parts in common: the introduction or lead up to the action (rising); the action itself; and the conclusion (falling) at the end that tells the result of the action. You want to ensure that your narrative actually tells an entire story. The reader should be able to answer: who, what, when, why, where, and how questions about the story once he or she has finished reading your narrative.
Expository Leadership Essays
In expository leadership essays, you will be called upon to describe something about leadership. These essays are most likely to focus on a core learning concept from a leadership class, whether it is describing a leadership theory or common leadership scenarios. Expository essays are best when they are focused on ideas, which makes them a great format for a leadership essay. However, because discussion of different leadership theories often involves comparing and contrasting them with other theories, you must be careful not to turn your expository essay into a persuasive or argumentative essay.
Descriptive Leadership Essay
A descriptive essay asks you to describe something; a person, place, time, thing, or experience. The goal is to create a deeply involved experience for the reader. It can be easy to confuse narrative and descriptive approaches when writing leadership essays, because you may use elements of a narrative in the leadership approach. A great way to differentiate between the two approaches is to outline your essay before you start. If you are describing a great leader, then you are going to have more than one story in your essay; it might be a descriptive essay. However, if you are going to describe a time that a leader was great, it would be better suited to a narrative approach. If you are going to write a descriptive essay, the reader should be able to close his or her eyes and picture whatever it is that you are describing. If you are writing about a person, thing, or place, if photographs or other images are available, use those to form your physical description, rather than relying on the words of others. Describe a person’s voice, the smell of a room, and the texture of an object. Perhaps most importantly, be very aware of the connotation and denotation of the words that you choose. Adolph Hitler and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both well-known world leaders who were usually seen in suits, had mustaches, and maintained a well-groomed physical appearance, however, in addition to having extremely different ideologies and leadership styles, their physical appearances were significantly different. Do not hesitate to use the descriptive words that help distinguish your subject. For example, you might describe Hitler’s suits as “militaristic” in contrast to describing King’s suits as “conservative.” Both men were powerful orators, but their speaking styles were very different. When excited, Hitler was known to speak in staccato bursts of words, while King had a booming voice and controlled the rise and fall of his words to match the rising and falling action in his speech. Therefore, always consider both connotation and denotation when writing a descriptive essay.
How-To Leadership Essay
Perhaps the most difficult type of leadership essay to write, the how-to essay’s goal is to explain how to do something. In the context of leadership essays, the something in question is probably incorporating some leadership style into your approach to leadership. The good thing is that there are a number of sources on the internet that tell you how to be various types of leaders. Finding information on them, to read and help you develop your own how-to is as easy as running a Google search with the query, “how to be a _______ leader.” For example, QuickBase provides a four-step tutorial on how to be a transformational leader. Similar tutorials are available across a variety of websites for all of the different leadership approaches. Websites focuses on leadership and/or organizational psychology are a great resource to help you on how-to essays.
Leadership Essay Topics
Leadership essays may be written on different leadership approaches, leadership successes, leadership failures, and leaders. We have already discussed the main theories about leadership, and there are some very famous leaders that dominate much of the discussion about leadership. However, you can find topics that are not as common, but are still excellent topics for a leadership essay. Every year, Forbes Magazine composes a list of the 50 top world leaders. If you are looking for a relevant, modern example of a great leader, that list is a wonderful place to start. Then, of course, there are historical leaders. Keep in mind that in order for someone to be a powerful leader and to be a good topic for a leadership paper, it is important that people follow him or her, but it is not as important where they follow them. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Osama Bin Laden may be among the world’s most well-recognized villains, but they were undeniably able to motivate large groups of people to take action to meet the leader’s goals. Therefore, you do not want to exclude people who are considered “bad guys” when you are looking at topics. You also do not want to sugarcoat over some of the negative information you may hear about the “good guys.” For example, there is a significant amount of negative press about Mother Theresa, of all people, including allegations that she prolonged the suffering of some of the ailing people that she was supposed to help. Now, these allegations are contested, but you want to look at them if you are writing a paper. You also want to keep in mind that a person can be a great leader, doing good things, and still have flaws as a person. You may want to explore those flaws if they help explain the leader’s approach to leadership. The website 100 Leaders in World History is a wonderful place to start if you want to find suggestions for fascinating world leaders who were successful at implementing their own agendas, but who may or may not be seen favorably from a modern perspective.
We cannot have a topic section about leadership without discussing the concept of servant leadership. Servant leadership has been one of the most discussed approaches to leadership for the last few decades, with Robert Greenleaf’s approach to leadership being seen as an ideal one for a wide variety of scenarios. We agree: servant leadership is wonderful. However, you want to be very careful when writing about servant leadership. The scholarship you will find about it may be either very religious or very secular, and, depending on the type of essay you are writing, some of the sources may not work. For example, if you are writing a story about Gandhi, it is natural to compare him to Jesus Christ, and to describe them both as servant leaders. However, if your class is a secular one, then biblical references may not be acceptable. Likewise, if you are discussing servant leadership in a religious-based course, some secular examples of servant leadership may not be the best fit. Therefore, why we strongly encourage you to include servant leadership in your essays, when applicable, we want you to be aware of that potential pitfall.
Leadership Essay Thesis Statements
Once you have decided what type of leadership essay you are going to write and then the topic of that essay, you need to write your thesis statement. A thesis statement is a short one or two-sentence statement that gives the reader the goal of your paper and tells them how you are going to achieve that goal.
Some thesis statements for leadership essays could be:
-Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stay in the Birmingham jail was a transformational period in his role as a leader of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, because it demonstrated that, even as a leader, he was willing to face incarceration in order to fight for equality.
-Queen Elizabeth the first is known as one of the most powerful monarchs in modern European history and she maintained that reputation by refusing to dilute her influence through marriage or other similar alliances. In fact, her ability to seem as if she could be an ally to anyone without sacrificing power to anyone was the key to her being the most powerful queen in English history.
-While Susan B. Anthony is known for her role in getting the right for women to vote, her tireless work on behalf of women’s rights resulted in a number of lesser-known advances for women in America.
-Abraham Lincoln is frequently miscast as an aggressive fighter who was eager to plunge the country into a civil war; however, he was actually very reluctant to engage in military action and sought reconciliation of the opposing sides before, during, and after the war.
-One of the less recognized leaders of the 20th century, Walt Disney helped transform worldwide pop culture in a way that no other single figure had done before him.
-Like many great leaders, there were allegations that Joan of Arc suffered from mental illness; however, the very things that supported the allegations that she was crazy were also the ones that made her an effective and compelling leader.
Leadership Essay Sources
We have already covered some great resources for your leadership essay. You will frequently find yourself writing about people when you approach a leadership essay. Therefore, you really need to be aware of bias in your writing. Is the source historically accurate? Do other sources verify the information found in that source? The reality is that you are going to find good things about awful people. Hitler was wonderful with dogs, a non-drinker, and did not have any extramarital affairs. Be careful not to confuse honest assessment of a person with praise. Likewise, you are going to find awful things about good leaders. Many historic leaders had a number of extramarital affairs or engaged in sexual or romantic behaviors that we deem unacceptable in modern times. For example, many members of various royal families engaged in incest. A reliable source will mention these negatives, but probably will not draw negative conclusions about the person because of them. You may have to do additional research to discover what the historical norms were during the lifetime of the person you are researching. This is particularly important for leaders who are either still alive or who are still celebrated by some segment of society. Our experience has been that there are a lot of biased websites, books, journal articles, magazine articles, and newspaper articles for many of the top 50 leaders of the past 100 years. Evaluate your sources carefully.
The general rule is to use current sources (no more than 3 years old, when possible), from reputable sources such as academic publications, newspapers, magazines, and .org or .com websites. You may also want to use contemporaneous sources if discussing a historical figure that was written about during his or her lifetime. Those sources may be older than 3 years.
You may have heard not to use some sources like Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. The reality is that these resources, which are much more carefully controlled than they were when crowd-source wikis first came on the scene, can provide you with excellent information and a great list of references to explore. You may not want to use them as cited sources, but you can still use them to get an overview of your topic. Google Scholar is a great resource when looking for high-quality scholarly or academic writing. Biography.com is a wonderful place to find biographies on world leaders. Mindtools has many articles and tools for career enhancement and leadership skills, as does Forbes.
Citing Sources in Leadership Essay
Even if you are writing a narrative essay, you will want to cite academic sources to back up any assertions you make about a particular leadership style. If you are writing an essay that contains figures, dates, or lesser-known facts, you are going to want to cite your sources. You may be instructed which style or format to use, or you may be permitted to choose which format. The three most frequently used academic writing styles for undergraduate level writing are Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago Manual of Style (also known as Turabian) and American Psychological Association (APA). Unless your instructions specify which format to use, choose the one you find easiest to use or the one that is most appropriate for your subject area. You can use our citation generator and citation guideline article to help ensure your work conforms to your selected style.
“Every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted” (RAINN, 2016).
Source Format for References:
RAINN. (2016). Victims of sexual violence: statistics. Retrieved September 30, 2016 from
RAINN website: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence
Estimates of the number of women raped each year vary from 300,000 to 1.3 million (Chemaly).
Source Format for Works Cites/Bibliography:
Chemaly, S. “50 Actual Facts About Rape.” The Huffington Post. October 26, 2012. Web, 30
September 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/50-facts-rape_b_2019338.html>.
“Every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted” (RAINN 2016, n.p.).
Source Format for References:
RAINN. “Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics. Accessed September 30, 2016.
Leadership Essay Examples
For many people, the best way to understand an assignment is by examining successful examples of that assignment. We have a wide variety of leadership essays available for students who want to see how to write a successful leadership essay. Two of our most popular ones are available in the links below:
Leadership Definition Essay -total of 6 pages with 8 sources that discusses what Leadership is , the different types of Leadership, and their relationships.
Leadership Theory in a Changing and Globalizing Marketplace Essay – this 20 page paper with 20 sources discusses Leadership theory related to a global marketplace.
Write My Leadership Essay
Now that you have read this article and all of our tips for writing a leadership essay, we hope you are feeling confident and totally capable of attacking your project. However, we know that some of you are still feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the task ahead. We are here to help. Our tutors can help students at any stage in the writing process, whether it is brainstorming ideas or writing a custom example essay on your chosen topic. If you want to learn more about this very popular student assistance program, click here.
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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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