IMD MBA Failure Essay - Tips and Sample Essay

Describe a situation in which you failed as a leader. What did you learn from it? (Word limit 300)

Because IMD is primarily a leadership development program, as Sean Meehan mentions, they want to know you are ready for what they deliver.


Regarding the failure part, they want to know you have enough self-awareness to observe where you might have failed, which makes you coachable and more receptive to change. Regarding the leader part, they want to know you have worked at a high enough level to benefit from a leadership program. If you haven’t worked in a leadership capacity in some form, you won’t have a frame of reference and there isn’t much for their curriculum and experiential exercises to “hang on.”

Don’t hesitate to be forthright and vulnerable in this essay. Always remember that avoiding speaking about a failure doesn’t fool them into thinking you are perfect it just means you are unwilling to be honest about it. Transparency about the failure creates a bond with the admissions committee, where they see you as a real person and root for you.


The company owner at XXXXX wanted to continuously add projects, even though several project managers had quit the company. I was already in charge of two projects when my CEO assigned me two more. He presented them as simple and straightforward, which was far from reality upon further investigation.


Reflecting back, I was in a codependent relationship with my boss, enabling his motivation to make more money even though we could not handle more work. I was raised in a home where I had to be perfect and so I forced myself to create the impression everything was fine. This made me feel weak and depressed on the inside. But I was more afraid that rejecting his proposals would anger him and he would give me a bad recommendation.


Clients pressured me for updates, but I was skipping operational meetings, making me out of the loop with my projects and employees. I felt guilty for letting things slip and was scared of being exposed.  Even with this burden I could not bring myself to confront him, explain my position, and ask for help.  After discovering the new projects were fraught with problems, maybe I could have provided my boss with convincing justifications to refuse the additional work.


After 8 months of this, it became clear that I had to find a new job because I would most certainly fail; the situation was impossible. Since then, I always give myself time to assess things before committing to a deadline or a project. I have replaced “yes” with “I will see and get back to you.”

I learned that keeping quiet is not the best way to preserve relationships and had I confronted him, maybe I would have received some relief instead of having to quit to find that relief.



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