Gone are the days when leadership was all about the title one held or the pay package one took home. Today, the concept has evolved to imply a state of mind. It is a pathway followed by those with the right skills and desire to lead. And it is not something you are born with or born into or something that is bestowed upon you, it is something you can work towards. Companies too are on the lookout for such leaders; people who can inspire others to strive toward a common goal. If you aspire to become one such leader, these leadership interview questions and answers can help you prepare for job opportunities across industries.
Note: The following questions are generic and not applicable to all leadership positions across industries. These have been chosen as they are the most commonly asked questions. All answers are only suggested approaches. Applicants are encouraged to tailor their answers based on their experience.
Five popular leadership interview questions and answers
Leadership interview questions are often discussion-based. There is no one right answer. Hiring managers are looking for strong individuals with a strategic, problem-solving mindset. Also, companies are not only looking for employees with hard skills but also for brand custodians with the right soft skills, especially communication.
1: How do you describe your leadership style?
Suggested answer: While I am completely aware that there is no right or wrong answer here, I would say that my leadership style is more strategic and collaborative. I approach a business problem from a strategic point of view. This helps me find solutions that hold good in the long term. Knowing my team, capabilities, and constraints will help me make such strategic decisions.
By developing and using this leadership style, I have been able to help my team succeed in the past on multiple occasions. When I began my career, I always believed that I had to be the smartest person in the room and make all the decisions, especially as a manager. But with experience, I have realized that the best ideas can come from anyone, and as a manager, I need to provide a warm and open environment to facilitate that.
2: What was a difficult decision you made as a leader?
Suggested answer: I was once managing a team of 30 members. It was a fast-growing division with very tight deadlines and targets. During the year-end appraisal, we were tasked to decide on the final list of employees who were eligible for a promotion. This was an extremely difficult decision, especially that year because 25 members were tenured employees with a brilliant track record. Thirteen of them were a part of an award-winning international project and got excellent feedback from the clients too!
This put me in a spot as the management had a clear guideline that only 10% of each team could be eligible for promotion in one cycle. I sat down with each employee and made a list of all their achievements and areas for improvement. After this, I also collected information and feedback from all stakeholders that could bolster my case. I then submitted eight best-performing profiles to the management for promotion and fought hard to get them their due.
3: Which of your past managers was your favorite leader, and why?
Suggested answer: Most people aren’t lucky enough to get an invested and empathetic manager, especially in their first-ever job. I still thank my stars. Fresh out of college, I had been in the company for two years. But slowly, I was beginning to stagnate and realized the only way to grow was to learn. That’s when I candidly spoke to my manager during a one-on-one and asked for guidance. I was afraid of jeopardizing my career, but I took a leap of faith.
To my surprise, not only did he help me chalk out my next steps, but he also helped me find a good master’s program. He is my favorite leader because he saw me as an individual, and not just as an employee. He believed in my capabilities and encouraged me to study. It was a great learning moment for me and whenever I face a difficult situation as a manager I think about him and wonder how he would have resolved it. His leadership style was inspirational, to say the least.
4: How do you handle disagreements in your team?
Suggested answer: Different people come in with different personalities and perspectives. Every team is bound to have disagreements. As a manager, conflict management and resolution is a huge part of my role and I have learned this skill on the job, over the years. I follow this four-step process to manage conflicts:
- Be proactive: Proactively look for signs and resolve conflicts when they are in a nascent stage. I encourage my team to come to me with their problems, no matter how small they are rather than letting them escalate or build up.
- Observe carefully: By noticing small changes in body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and daily habits, I ensure conflicts are avoided whenever possible. Using my emotional intelligence, I connect with concerned employees and discuss the issue in hand for a speedy resolution.
- Avoid assumptions: There could be a host of reasons for a conflict. By assuming one I will end up worsening the situation and losing the trust of my team. I used this phrase often to maintain credibility, “To the best of my knowledge..”
- Always be fair, never partial: Being objective is a must during conflict resolution. Hence, I always wait to hear from all parties before suggesting a way forward.
5: If a team is struggling to stay motivated, what steps would you take to boost engagement?
Suggested answer: During my initial years as a manager, I have faced this situation a couple of times. I spoke to my mentors and previous managers to find a solution. Here are the five steps they recommended, that I have tried and can vouch for:
- Provide a safe, open environment that encourages risk-taking and sharing
- Organize regular social gatherings or activities (get suggestions from the team)
- Ask for feedback regarding your working style, the team, the culture, and everything else
- Be a mentor and a confidant by empathetically and objectively listening
- Share feedback and thoughts honestly and show gratitude regularly
How are leadership skills assessed in an actual interview?
Companies conduct multiple interview rounds to assess different things – cultural fit, technical skills, communication, and motivational skills, creativity, problem-solving, and self-awareness. Behavioral and situational leadership interview questions are asked to help recruiters identify these skills in work-related situations. Candidates who aspire to grow, and are always ready to learn are preferred over those who believe they know it all.
Read about the company, its values, vision, and mission before you speak to the hiring manager or recruiter. A good leader always shares the company’s values and contributes to its long-term growth. Express your desire to contribute to the organization in ways beyond the realms of your job description. A simple example could be organizing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities or conducting training sessions for freshers.
Provide the right set of examples to help them gauge you as a person and a leader. How did you approach difficult situations, how did you react to challenges, how did you fail and learn, and more. A good leader is not always right. A good leader is tenacious and always ready to learn.
Leadership is all about embracing lifelong learning. Do you agree?
The demands on today’s leadership are continuously evolving. This means that employees, especially leaders must display C-suite readiness, shape opinion, and mobilize teams to deliver to new standards. They must also be ready to continuously learn and keep abreast of everything happening in the market.
If you found these leadership interview questions helpful and are one such individual looking for the necessary tools to develop impactful executive presence and meaningful influence, then explore the leadership programs being offered by Emeritus. It is an opportunity to build a diverse network, effectively communicate your vision, enhance personal growth, and learn persuasive leadership techniques that companies are looking for.
By Manasa Ramakrishnan
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