Tell me about a leader you admire

I’m preparing for my Wharton interviews on Thursday and have compiled a list of questions from,, and random blogs. While most of the questions are pretty straightforward, I’m stumped by the question in the title.

Tell me about a leader you admire.

My answer (Oprah Winfrey) is cliche, and I would like to avoid cliche. However, I truly do admire Oprah Winfrey. She came from nothing and overcame sexual abuse, racism, and sexism to become one of the most influential people in the world. When Oprah speaks, people listen. She exposes the masses to otherwise ignored atrocities around the world (Darfur + George Clooney = attention), educates girls in Africa, and commits large sums of her own money to causes she believes in. What’s not to admire?

Help me find a better answer, blogosphere!

I admire Bill & Melinda Gates’ commitment to education reform and the eradication of curable diseases in the third world. However, I’m not sure I admire his business practices (as evidenced on the Simpsons).

I admire Queen Noor for breaking down barriers for women in the Middle East and for her commitment to educating the West about Middle Eastern culture.

I admire John Coltrane for his pursuit of innovation. But he was a heroin junkie.



12 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    vidiviciveni said,

    i think its not so much the person you name, but the reasons why.
    and with those reasons, how does it relate to you, have you done anything in your life to live up to those learnings? just my 2c…

  2. 2

    asiangal said,

    I’d talk about someone you’ve worked with directly so that you can talk about how you’ve actually seen the person in action and applied whatever it is you’ve learned to your everyday life. Choosing someone you have a personal connection with (rather than some celebrity figure) would likely be more interesting. Just my opinion.

  3. 3

    mbabound08 said,

    I guess I admire my current boss for his intelligence (the man solves any problem within the first sentence), commitment to his children (he’ll leave exec meetings to go trick or treating with his kids), and his ability to maintain his composure/good humor despite the stresses of his job. I’ve only seen him really mad once or twice…he can see the humor in almost any situation (which is why we get along).

    Of course, he also has really poor time management skills.

  4. 4

    Mike said,

    If Oprah is someone you really admire, then I’d stick with that. I agree with vidiviciveni, it’s the why that’s more important. If you think about your view on what it means to be a great leader, and Oprah fits that description, then go with it! I’m sure at this point the adcom has heard just about every answer possible to these questions, so it’s the thinking behind it that can set people apart.

  5. 5

    Ana said,

    Would you mind sharing that list of questions? 🙂

  6. 6

    Jen said,

    I agree with the first comment. It’s not so much the leader you pick but how you describe what it is you admire. So with Oprah, I’d not only talk about what she does but how her leadership attributes allow her to accomplish those things. It also sounds like you are impressed by her priorities and also the priorities of your manager … I’d parlay that into a discussion of why priorities are important to you. I think the way to hit this question out of the park is to link your answer to your personal ideas of leadership and what is important in a leader, and how it relates to the leader you want to be. I personally think that’s what they are trying to get at with this question.
    Good luck, I can’t wait to hear how it goes! I *finally* got my invite today!

  7. 7

    We got this in common. I also mentioned oprah in one of my essays. Reason: i admire her.

  8. 9

    […] invitation (which we hope goes very well). Speaking of interviews, Mbabound08 searched for the elusive non-cliched hero in preparation for her big day with Wharton. Mike did some thorough preparation for his Chicago […]

  9. 10

    Thanks for your comment.

    This questions stumps me too, but I’d have to agree with Mike. You could go for an off-the-wall answer that would make the AdCom remember you, or you could go with an honest, boring answer that makes them take you seriously. After all, the clichéd answers are clichéd because many people use them– and that’s because they hold true for many people. Unless you’re completely unlike everyone else, that probably includes you.

  10. 11

    chaitanya said,

    Hi mbabound,

    I think its perfectly fine to say Oprah if you really admire her.
    But there must have been some definite qualities about her that inspired you or effected you in some way.
    Try to think of someone who motivated you to be a better person, helped you define your goals and purpose in life, or in some way have changed your thinking.This will give you a personal touch when you speak of a leader who inspired you and I think this is what the adcom is looking for.
    All the best for your interview!!

  11. 12

    marmo terra said,

    I admire Angus Young.

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