Leadership – Influence and your potential


By T.A

Chevening essays will require you to remember the past, brag about the present and dream into the future, searching into your soul and putting your heart in ink on paper…and this daunting task…in only 500 words. 500 words that will be compared to the 500 words of thousands of other applicants and put on scale to determine who is worth the interview panel’s time. At the risk of sounding threatening and ominous like a villainous character in a Disney movie, take your essays seriously, put in the effort, and leave nothing to chance, every word counts, don’t waste them.

We have the Malalas, Mandelas and Obamas of this world; the Hawkins, Gates, Zuckerbergs and Jobs of this world.

For some,those may be personal role models. Others may find fault in them and think they are overrated. Whatever the case is, those people have done things of great magnitude and impact and have world recognition. They get so much recognition saying only one of their names (Messi anyone? Lol) is sufficient enough for you to know we mean that Malala (Yousufzai) and that we mean Nelson, Barrack, Stephen, Bill, Mark and Steve.

There exist truly remarkable leaders in our time and times past (Ghandi, Mother Therese, Margaret Thatcher, the list is endless) just about across every field you can think of. Within the rankings of Chevening alumni alone we have Presidents, Ministers, award winning authors, entrepreneurs of renown and diplomats. There are some big shoes to fill.

So when Chevening says they are looking for a leader, what the hell do you tell them? Where do you start? You haven’t almost single-handedly reformed education in your country, made huge strides in technology, completely changed the face of communication across the globe nor ended apartheid…so now what would you write?

It all boils down to showing potential to lead based on your personal and professional life so far.

What qualities do you most admire in leaders and how have you shown indications of this at the small level? I care about people being treated equally and at my old high school girls weren’t allowed to wear pants so when I became a prefect (Deputy Head-girl in fact) we lobbied and succeeded in having slacks added as an option to the girls’ uniform.

This may have been one small step for a school many may not have heard of but it was just a start for me to accomplish things as a leader.

I went on to start a debate club in high school and later a debating society at university. We made it as far as octo-finals at nationals in the latter. I showed passion and commitment to an activity by consistently pursuing it for years at different levels, getting better at it and leading in the way I feel best.

I joined SIFE at college and we did community and now later in life Lions club where we also do community work with orphans, elderly, sick and impoverished. I have done and continue to do these things because I am passionate about helping people and using the four Ts (time, treasure, tolerance and talent) to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Currently I am a manager in a traditionally male dominated field. I believe leaders should have perseverance and determination and in my job I overcome adversity daily.

I have done, by my own standard (and having seen so many people my age or younger having done amazing things, especially among Chevening hopefuls whom I have come to admire) and am yet to conquer and surpass my potential and Chevening is one of the stepping stones but in my essays I chose to show potential based on factual evidence.

It does not help your case at all to say ‘I am a good leader’ or ‘I am xyz type of leader’ and not illustrate it. If you do that in your essay it makes you come off as, at worst, a liar or at best someone with no substance to back their claims.

I see leaders as proactive people who take initiative, lead by example, trip, fall and pick themselves up and used what (little) I have done in life going as far back as I could to show how I am all those things and will go on to be that on a bigger platform if given a chance.

Whatever you believe a good leader is, and however you embody it, be introspective in figuring out how you fit the bill of what you think makes a good leader and don’t waffle, use STAR. STAR stands for:

  • Situation i.e. issue, problem, circumstance
  • Task i.e. what needed doing or the solution
  • Action i.e. what you did (I emphasize you, not your team but you. It is great to be a team player and even talk about how you play well with others but Chevening wants to evaluate you not your team so focus on what your role was and if that role was you getting work done by you effectively leading a team then so be it, but Chevening is not taking your entire department to a masters in UK so focus on your role in accomplishing something, even if you were part of a team)
  • Result i.e. what was accomplished as a result of your actions e.g. getting my debate team to octo-finals


Happy introspection and leadership essay writing. Let us know in the comments what you think makes a good leader, what kind of leader you are, what you have accomplished as a leader so far and what you hope to accomplish in the future? Who knows you might meet someone with similar goals to add to your network?


*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and its partner organizations.


  1. Great write-up.A good guide and eye opener indeed for Chevening scholarship applicants. Thanks do much for your openness. Thanks and God bless.


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