How to differentiate accomplishment, leadership and teamwork stories

2022 marks my 21st year providing one-to-one mock interview sessions for clients in Japan and around the world. I keep updating my approach as I learn new ways to help my clients answer typical and non-typical questions. This year, I am emphasizing the fact that certain stories can be used to answer multiple questions.

Table of Contents

Clients often ask me about the difference between accomplishment, leadership, and teamwork.

My short answer

If your interview asks for more than one example of your accomplishment, she might be skeptical that you are adding value to your organization.

By extension, she might also be unclear about how you can contribute to her MBA program.

I usually advise clients to mention a recent accomplishment first since you want to show your interviewer that your career continues to improve as you mature and grow into your role.

Similarly, if she is asking you for multiple leadership examples, she probably does not believe that you can achieve your stated goals.

Try to tell leadership stories that demonstrate the core skills that you will build upon at MBA in order to achieve your future career vision. 

Finally, if she asks for multiple examples of team projects, she might be having a hard time imagining you as an effective member who can contribute to project teams and study groups.

Believing that past behavior is the best indicator of future actions, a skilled interviewer asks about teamwork to determine your future behavior in study and project teams.

If asked about teamwork, emphasize situations where you were not the leader, but you still added value to the group.

Most MBA study groups and project teams are flat, meaning that no one is officially in charge.

Still, someone often takes charge because he or she has insight, skills, or charisma that helps the team focus and achieve results.

Try to share examples of teams you worked in that were similar to those at MBA, meaning non-hierarchical, cross-functional, and, if possible, cross-cultural.

How can you organize your ideas?

In addition to taking my small group seminars and one-to-one mock interview training, many of my clients meet each other for peer-to-peer training.

They help each other organize their answers and provide critical feedback on how to make their stories more concise and impressive. Other clients create mind maps. By organizing your ideas visually, you can differentiate between your stories and clarify your keywords and examples.

One client told me that he could imagine his mind map as he answered the interviewers questions. His mind's eye moved to the "goals" section of the physical map he created before his interview. Then, he could move to areas that covered accomplishments, leadership, and teamwork. 

Overall, I encourage you to use your best idea first.

For accomplishment, focus on professional activities. Leadership and teamwork can include non-work activities if they add value and show a different side of your interpersonal skills. Bottom line - with interviews, you will only know if something make sense if you talk about it. Meet with mentors, peers, and counselors to get feedback.

Practice early, and practice often.



Some interviewers will ask you for your definition of leadership. If someone asked me that question, I would mention my favorite leadership model, which is Blanchard and Hersey's Situational Leadership.

In the 1950s, management theorists from Ohio State University and the University of Michigan published a series of studies to determine whether leaders should be more task or relationship (people) oriented. The importance of the research cannot be overestimated since leaders tend to have a dominant style; a leadership style they use in a wide variety of situations. 

Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that there is no one best style: leaders must adjust their leadership style to the situation as well as to the people being led.


VINCE's NOTE: A friend of mine attended Kellogg's MBA program a few years ago. I was directing an educational non-profit at the time. We were chatting on the phone one day, and I asked him the best thing he had learned at school so far. He hit me with the "Situational Leadership" model. I found it immediately useful to help manage my staff, who ranged in age and experience from 15 to 50 years old. I could not possibly be the same leader for everyone on my team. I offer this model to you the MBA applicant not as a "perfect answer", but simply as one more tool to help you dig deeper into your own strengths and weaknesses.

Situational Leadership is a term that can be applied generically to a style of leadership, but that also refers to a recognized, and useful, leadership model.  In simple terms, a situational leader is one who can adopt different leadership styles depending on the situation.  Most of us do this anyway in our dealings with other people: we try not to get angry with a nervous colleague on their first day, we chase up tasks with some people more than others because we know they'll forget otherwise.

But Ken Blanchard, the management guru best known for the "One Minute Manager" series, and Paul Hersey created a model for Situational Leadership in the late 1960s that allows you to analyze the needs of the situation you're dealing with, and then adopt the most appropriate leadership style.  It's proved popular with managers over the years because it passes the two basic tests of such models: it's simple to understand, and it works in most environments for most people.  The model doesn't just apply to people in leadership or management positions: we all lead others at work and at home.


Blanchard and Hersey characterized leadership style in terms of the amount of direction and of support that the leader gives to his or her followers, and so created a simple grid:

Effective leaders are versatile in being able to move around the grid according to the situation, so there is no one right style.  However, we tend to have a preferred style, and in applying Situational Leadership you need to know which one is for you.


Clearly, the right leadership style will depend very much on the person being led - the follower - and Blanchard and Hersey extended their model to include the Development Level of the follower.  They said that the leader's style should be driven by the Competence and Commitment of the follower, and came up with four levels:


High Competence

High Commitment

Experienced at the job, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well.  May even be more skilled than the leader. 


High Competence

Variable Commitment

Experienced and capable, but may lack the confidence to go it alone, or the motivation to do it well / quickly 


Some Competence

Low Commitment

May have some relevant skills, but won't be able to do the job without help.  The task or the situation may be new to them. 


Low Competence

Low Commitment

Generally lacking the specific skills required for the job in hand, and lacks any confidence and / or motivation to tackle it. 

Development Levels are also situational.  I might be generally skilled, confident and motivated in my job, but would still drop into Level D1 when faced, say, with a task requiring skills I don't possess.  For example, lots of managers are D4 when dealing with the day-to-day running of their department, but move to D1 or D2 when dealing with a sensitive employee issue.


You can see where this is going.  Blanchard and Hersey said that the Leadership Style (S1 - S4) of the leader must correspond to the Development level (D1 - D4) of the follower - and it's the leader who adapts. 

By adopting the right style to suit the follower's development level, work gets done, relationships are built up, and most importantly, the follower's development level will rise to D4, to everyone's benefit.

 Another view:

Gaining Broad Perspective on Leadership

What is Leadership? 

Many people believe that leadership is simply being the first, biggest, or most powerful. Leadership in organizations has a different and more meaningful definition. Very simply put, a leader is interpreted as someone who sets the direction in an effort and influences people to follow that direction. How they set that direction and influence people depends on a variety of factors that we'll consider later on below. To really comprehend the "territory" of leadership, you should briefly scan some of the major theories, notice various styles of leadership, and review some of the suggested traits and characteristics that leaders should have. The rest of this library should help you in this regard.

Here’s another definition:

Leadership Defined

Theories About Leadership

There are also numerous theories about leadership, or about carrying out the role of leader, e.g., servant leader, democratic leader, principle-centered leader, group-man theory, great-man theory, traits theory, visionary leader, total leader, situational leader, etc. The following articles provide brief overview of key theories. See

Leadership Theories

Leadership Styles Overview

By Murray Johannsen

When developing your leadership skills, one must soon confront an important practical question, "What leadership styles work best for me and my organization?" To answer this question, it's best to understand that there are many from which to choose and as part of your leadership development effort, you should consider developing as many leadership styles as possible.

Three Classic Leadership Styles

One dimension of has to do with control and one's perception of how much control one should give to people. The laissez faire style implies low control, the autocratic style high control and the participative lies somewhere in between.

The Laissez Faire Leadership Style

The style is largely a "hands off" view that tends to minimize the amount of direction and face time required. Works well if you have highly trained and highly motivated direct reports.

The Autocratic Leadership Style

The autocratic style has its advocates, but it is falling out of favor in many countries. Some people have argued that the style is popular with today's CEOs, who have much in common with feudal lords in Medieval Europe.

The Participative Leadership Style

It's hard to order and demand someone to be creative, perform as a team, solve complex problems, improve quality, and provide outstanding customer service. The style presents a happy medium between micromanaging and not being engaged and tends to be seen in organizations that must innovate to prosper. 

The Emergent Leadership Style

Contrary to the belief of many, groups do not automatically accept a new "boss" as leader. We see a number of ineffective managers who didn't know the behaviors to use when one taking over a new group.

The Transactional Leadership Style

The approach emphasizes getting things done within the umbrella of the status quo; almost in opposition to the goals of the transformational leadership. It's considered to be a "by the book" approach in which the person works within the rules. As such, it's commonly seen in large, bureaucratic organizations.

The Transformational Leadership Style

The primary focus of this leadership style is to make change happen in:

Charisma is a special leadership style commonly associated with transformational leadership. While extremely powerful, it is extremely hard to teach.

Visionary Leadership, The leadership style focuses on how the leader defines the future for followers and moves them toward it.

Strategic Leadership

This is practiced by the military services such as the US Army, US Air Force, and many large corporations. It stresses the competitive nature of running an organization and being able to out fox and out wit the competition.

Team Leadership

A few years ago, a large corporation decided that supervisors were no longer needed and those in charge were suddenly made "team leaders." Today, companies have gotten smarter about teams, but it still takes leadership to transition a group into a team.

Facilitative Leadership

This is a special style that anyone who runs a meeting can employ. Rather than being directive, one uses a number of indirect communication patterns to help the group reach consensus.

Leadership Influence Styles

Here one looks at the behaviors associated how one exercises influence. For example, does the person mostly punish? Do they know how to reward?

Cross-Cultural Leadership

Not all individuals can adapt to the leadership styles expected in a different culture; whether that culture is organizational or national.


A great coach is definitely a leader who also possess a unique gift--the ability to teach and train.

Level 5 Leadership

This term was coined by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: Why Some Company’s Make the Leap and Other Don’t. As Collins says in his book, "We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the types of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one." What he seems to have found is what The Economist calls "The Cult of the Faceless Boss."

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

Adapted from the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision.

Overview of Leadership in Organizations

Adapted from the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision.

Many people today are seeking to understand -- and many people are writing about -- the concept and practices of leadership. There are a great many reasons for the popularity of the topic, including that organizations are faced with changes like never before. The concept of leadership is relevant to any aspect of ensuring effectiveness in organizations and in managing change. This topic in the Library helps you to fully understand the concept and practices of leadership.

There has been an explosion of literature about leadership lately. Leading is a very human activity -- we're all human -- so there are many people who consider themselves experts on leadership. Unfortunately, many people make strong assertions about leadership without ever really understanding a great deal about leadership. Understanding the concept of leadership requires more than reading a few articles or fantasizing about what great leaders should be.

NOTE: Some people use the term "leadership" (the capability to lead) to refer to executive management (a role in an organization). If you're seeking information about executive management, see Chief Executive Role and/or Boards of Directors.

NOTE: There are two closely related topics in the library, including Basic Overview of Supervision and Management (Introduction).

Is Leading Different than Managing? (Pros and Cons)

Traditional views of management associate it with four major functions: planning, organizing, leading and controlling/coordinating. However, many educators, practitioners and writers disagree with this traditional view.

Views that Leading is Different Than Managing

The following articles offer views different from the traditional view that leading is a major function of management.

Management Styles (says they're different and compares different traits)

Focus and Context: The Hub of Leadership 


Management vs. Leadership

Manage Things, Lead People

View That Separating "Leading" from "Managing" Can Be Destructive

Another view is that to be a very effective member of an organization (whether executive, middle manager, or entry-level worker), you need skills in the functions of planning, organizing, leading and coordinating activities -- the key is you need to be able to emphasize different skills at different times.

Yes, leading is different than planning, organizing and coordinating because leading is focused on influencing people, while the other functions are focused on "resources" in addition to people. But that difference is not enough to claim that "leading is different than managing" any more than one can claim that "planning is different than managing" or "organizing is different than managing".

The assertion that "leading is different than managing" -- and the ways that these assertions are made -- can cultivate the view that the activities of planning, organizing and coordinating are somehow less important than leading. The assertion can also convince others that they are grand and gifted leaders who can ignore the mere activities of planning, organizing and coordinating -- they can leave these lesser activities to others with less important things to do in the organization. This view can leave carnage in organizations. Read:

Founder's Syndrome -- How Organizations Suffer -- and Can Recover

How Do Leaders Lead?

The Challenge of Suggesting Which Methods to Use

The particular competencies (knowledge, skills and abilities) that a person needs in order to lead at a particular time in an organization depend on a variety of factors, including:

1) Whether that person is leading one other individual, a group or a large organization;

2) The extent of leadership skills that person already has;

3) That person's basic nature and values (competencies should be chosen that are in accordance with that nature and those values)

4) Whether the group or organization is for-profit or nonprofit, new or long-established, and large or small;

5) The particular culture (or values and associated behaviors) of whoever is being led.

Suggested Competencies Required for Leading in Organizations

The above considerations can make it very challenging when trying to determine what competencies someone should have in order to be a better leader. Perhaps that's why leadership training programs in institutions typically assert a set of standard competencies, for example, decision making, problem solving, managing power and influence, and building trust. The following lists of competencies was derived by examining a variety of leadership development programs.

Suggested Competencies for Effective Leadership in Organizations 

- - - How to Use the Following List

- - - Leading Yourself

- - - Core Competencies to Lead Others

- - - Leading People -- Other Individuals

- - - Leading People -- In Groups

- - - Leading People -- Organization-Wide

Leading is Human Activity -- Everyone's Human -- Everyone's Got Advice About Leading

There are numerous -- often contradictory -- views on the traits and characteristics that leaders should have. The concept of leadership is like a big "elephant" and each person standing around the elephant has their own unique view -- and each person feels very strongly about their own view. Descriptions of leadership include concepts such as the "New Paradigm", "New Millennium". Descriptions can sound very passionate, even evangelical! It can be difficult to grasp consistent messages from articles about leadership. Many writers use different terms for the same concepts. Some interchange use of roles in the organization (executive managers) with competencies in leading (leadership).


What kind of leader will you be?


The Five Faces Of The 21st Century Chief

The generalist CEO will give way to the specialist, whether that's a global networker or someone with a knack for assembling all-star teams

James M. Citrin, corporate kingmaker, has long had a close-up view of the leadership demands of the world's most dynamic companies. As founder of Spencer Stuart's technology, communications, and media practice, the executive recruiter has placed 165 chief executives, chief financial officers, and directors since 1994. Big catches include David L. Calhoun, a General Electric star he helped lure to private equity-owned VNU (now Nielsen); Eastman Kodak CEO Antonio M. Perez; and Motorola chief Edward J. Zander.

From his perch, Citrin has watched CEOs of public companies fight a losing battle against the spiraling demands on their performance and time. "The job of the CEO has become so consuming and complex that if you actually list all the things a CEO is responsible for, no human being can do them all," he says. Add to that a tightening market for talent as more stars jump ship to private equity, and it's clear to him the model of the public-company CEO must change.

Over the next five years, Citrin believes boards will need to embrace the concept of the "specialist CEO." Boards of directors, he says, will need to get more realistic about the rarity of the perfect CEO. Rather than holding out for leaders who are experts at everything, they should instead warm up to CEOs with deep expertise in one or two crucial areas and enough know-how in the rest to build a high-performing supporting cast.

Citrin believes a change in what boards focus on may prompt a shift in the C-suite's structure. More chief operating officers will be near-equal partners, and more leaders with specific functions, such as heads of human resources and marketing, will interact with the board. In the future, Citrin expects five specialist CEO types to be in the greatest demand:


Whether they're algorithm geniuses, coding prodigies, or merely credentialed scientists or designers, CEOs in touch with their inner geeks will be a sought-after breed. As global competition intensifies the pressure for top-line growth, innovators-in-chief will be more clued in to the next breakthrough business. Plus, their expertise will help them inspire engineering and research, and development teams.

ARCHETYPE: Arthur D. Levinson, the CEO of Genentech. Levinson has a Ph.D. in biochemistry and is known for sending out late-night e-mails to his researchers on details in scientific papers. Citrin also cites Reed Hastings, founder, and CEO of Netflix and a former software engineer, who Spencer Stuart placed on Microsoft's board.


A two-year stint in London may have counted as enough international experience in the past, but that won't be the case much longer. "More and more of our CEO specs are calling for explicit business experience in emerging markets," Citrin says. Boards are looking for CEOs with passports showing frequent visits to China and India, along with Russia, Brazil, and Dubai. Ambassadors won't just be familiar with these areas, Citrin says, but will have access to local governments, ruling families, and business tycoons.

ARCHETYPE: Citrin points to News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who has long wooed Beijing officials and launched alliances with local companies. Another example, he says, is PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi, who was born in Chennai, India.


Citrin believes dealmaking specialists—those able to both sell off non-core assets and go toe-to-toe with private equity players on big acquisitions—will be in heavy demand. Of course, buying and selling have always been part of a CEO's brief, but "increasingly, these large strategic transactions are really bet-the-company kind of deals," he says.

ARCHETYPE: Retired AT&T CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr., who turned SBC Communications, once the smallest of the regional Bells, into a powerhouse with a market value of $242 billion. Says Citrin: "He's built the largest player in [his] field from an unlikely starting position."


Corporations' walls are only going to get more permeable, as companies form alliances with outsiders and turn to networks of innovators for ideas to put into practice. Meanwhile, the need for collaboration among corporate units will expand, since the demand for new growth areas requires more creativity across divisions. Orchestra conductors will be skilled in getting everyone to play in the same key.

ARCHETYPE: A.G. Lafley, who says half of all new Procter & Gamble products should come from outside its R&D labs. Citrin also cites Lafley's integration of P&G's $57 billion purchase of Gillette as proof of his talent as a maestro.


If you think "people are our greatest asset" is an overused bromide today, just wait. The talent war is only expected to worsen as boomers begin retiring en masse and emerging-market managers remain scarce. CEOs who can retain the best people and deploy them adeptly will be hot commodities.

ARCHETYPE: Xerox CEO Anne M. Mulcahy, who named operating chief and heir apparent Ursula M. Burns to the president's role in April. Says Citrin: "She's been able to put the right people in the right jobs to spectacular effect."

Tri-sector leaders have 

A leader who is equipped with EQ (Emotional Intelligence) has 

Relational management: This is what you do with that social awareness. One tip Booth shares is to think about the impression you leave on your team. “When they leave a meeting with you, how are they feeling? Do they feel deflated? Do they feel energized?” And if you don’t like the answer, what can you do to make them feel motivated and appreciated? This isn’t only important during tough moments. Happy times deserve relational management, too, such as sending a thank you note for a job well done. “If you are in a good mood, you might make someone's day as well.”