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How To Approach Difficult Leadership Questions

Written By Rachelle Enns on May 20th, 2020
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Rachelle Enns
Rachelle is a job search expert, career coach, and headhunter who helps everyone from students to fortune 500 executives find success in their career.
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In this guide, MockQuestions discusses leadership and what an interviewer wants to see from you when they ask leadership-based interview questions. We break down the best way to prepare for leadership questions, and provide you with power words and phrases you can use to describe your leadership style without sounding like everyone else! We also cover some of the most common leadership interview questions and how to deliver answers with impact.

WHAT IS LEADERSHIP...REALLY?

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.
When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
- Jack Welch


Before you can adequately answer questions on leadership, it's vital that you:

  • Understand what leadership means

  • Uncover the ways that you show leadership in the workplace

  • Recognize the best leaders in your life and what made them so influential


Simon Sinek is a well known motivational speaker and the author of numerous books on leadership including, Leaders Eat Last.

Sinek clearly defines leadership: “Leading is not the same as being the leader. Being the leader means you hold the highest rank, either by earning it, good fortune or navigating internal politics. Leading, however, means that others willingly follow you—not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to.”

With this definition of leadership in mind, take some time to think about how you influence others because you want to, not because you have to.

WHAT AN INTERVIEWER WANTS TO KNOW

When an interviewer asks about your leadership skills, they want you to ‘show and tell’ versus just ‘tell.’ It’s one thing to say that you are a great leader, but it’s another thing to show your leadership qualities in action.

Every company wants to hire those with leadership abilities that will help move their organization to the next level. This desire means that leadership-style interview questions apply to more than just management positions. Even when hiring for entry-level roles, a keen interviewer will have a question or two targeting leadership potential.

HOW TO PREPARE

To prepare for leadership-based interview questions, take time to consider examples from your professional or personal life that showcase your ability to lead. You may want to focus on jobs or situations where you had the most responsibilities.

Know what the company needs. Researching the job description may help you to understand any leadership-related pain points clearly. For instance, if the company seeks a leader who can increase employee morale and retention, then you know that highlighting your ability to encourage others would be an excellent point of discussion.

Give positively framed answers with enthusiasm. Give positively framed answers with enthusiasm. Provide leadership examples with a measurable and positive impact or outcome for you, the company, or those around you.

Prepare loads of examples. Many leadership-based interview questions are framed as:

  • Tell me about a time when…

  • Discuss a time when you have…

  • What would you do if…


You can answer these situational and behavioral questions using the STAR framework, an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result.

Learn more about STAR in this article.

LEADERSHIP IN ACTION?

Even if you are not in a leadership role, you can answer to your leadership qualities because leadership is a state of mind more than it is a formal job title.

Whether you are new to your career or bring a great deal of work experience, examples of leadership in action can include:

  • Leading a project in school

  • Putting together a study group

  • Taking on a leadership role in sports or volunteer work

  • Mentoring a co-worker or someone in your network

  • Actively finding a solution to a problem at work

  • Starting or leading a committee at work


You will position yourself as an exceptional candidate by showing the interviewer that you seize the opportunity to act as a leader in a variety of situations.

WORDS AND PHRASES

The average candidate will describe themselves as:

  • A leader who is a great listener

  • A leader who gives 110% to others

  • A leader who is open to feedback

  • A leader who has an open-door policy


Since you are not an average candidate, try sprinkling in some less frequently heard descriptors, making it more likely that you will grab your interviewer's attention:

Power words and phrases of a leader:

  • Skilled in reducing ambiguity

  • Encouraging autonomy and accountability

  • Understanding of employee differences and unique needs

  • Ability to delegate tasks according to individual strengths

  • Avid provider of positive reinforcement

  • Thoughtful, with the ability to apologize when needed

  • Embracing of different cultural and personal perspectives

  • Focused on building employee confidence

  • Able to learn new skills, adapt, and improvise


By using words and phrases that are unique and powerful, you will further position yourself as a true leader.

HOW TO ANSWER COMMON LEADERSHIP QUESTIONS

An interviewer can ask leadership questions in a multitude of ways; however, these examples are among the most commonly asked questions in a job interview.

QUESTION #1: Do you see yourself as a leader?

HOW TO ANSWER: Whether you have led a group of 500 or a team of 1, you must display to the interviewer that you are capable of delivering on the responsibilities that come with being a leader, guide, or mentor.

Talk about your desire to be a leader, and the ways you have seen yourself as such.
Perhaps you lead a club at work, are a coach for a youth sports team, or are on the advisory board for a non-profit organization.

Share with the interviewer that you strive to be a role model for others. Explain that you jump at the opportunity to lead groups, encourage your counterparts, and be the face of leadership when challenges arise.

ANSWER EXAMPLE: "I have always been a confident leader, and I thoroughly enjoy guiding others while encouraging them to take accountability in their work. I have been the Assistant Manager with my company for two years, and thoroughly enjoy training new employees on innovative sales approaches."

QUESTION #2: Tell me about your leadership qualities.

HOW TO ANSWER: The interviewer wants to know what you consider to be your best leadership qualities and how these qualities apply to the company’s needs. When describing your leadership qualities, avoid general terms or cliche statements. As discussed earlier in this guide, focus on unique and memorable statements.

When describing your leadership qualities, be sure to tie your response to the characteristics, qualities, and overall approach the company is seeking. You can often uncover this information by carefully reading the organization’s job posting, website careers page, or social media posts.

ANSWER EXAMPLE: "My leadership qualities have grown over the years, and continue to shift as I find new resources. Lately, I have been learning a lot from Robin Sharma, the author of 'The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari' book series. Robin takes an approach that blends mindfulness with stress management tactics, which then equates to a balanced leadership approach. I would describe myself as a mindful leader who encourages, teaches and leads from a place of understanding. From my research, I believe that these qualities align nicely with your company's needs and culture."

QUESTION #3: When do you best demonstrate yourself as a leader?

HOW TO ANSWER: The interviewer wants to know that you are confident about your leadership abilities and that you understand when your leadership approach has been most useful.

Perhaps you best demonstrate yourself as a leader when your manager is away. Maybe you jump into a leadership mindset when a co-worker is struggling. Think about a recent time when an employee on your team was victorious at something thanks to your influence.

ANSWER EXAMPLE: "I best demonstrate myself as a leader when I know that a co-worker could use my assistance. I am a natural teacher and mentor, which means that when someone is struggling, my first instinct is to train them. I recently coached a new employee on a sales technique that helped her achieve her quota for the first time. I look forward to working in this role because it will allow me to take on further leadership opportunities related to training and teaching others."

IN CONCLUSION

A great leader is someone who people naturally want to follow, regardless of their job title. These keen leaders have exceptional interpersonal skills and the ability to build meaningful workplace relationships.

In either an official or unofficial leadership job title, a respected leader will take ownership of their mistakes and lead by example. True leaders see the importance of motivating others through actions.

Are you still feeling stuck on how to describe your leadership approach? Here are some descriptive words that may resonate with you:

- Confident
- Optimistic
- Encouraging
- Accountable
- Engaged
- Passionate
- Integrous
- Loyal
- Charismatic

If you’d like to practice more Leadership-related interview questions, Mock Questions has a set of 30 leadership interview questions to get you started.