Answering the Leadership Question in Job Interviews
Whether asked or not, preparing for leadership questions can improve how interviewers perceive you. This not only helps applicants to executive or supervisory positions, but it also helps applicants for faculty and administrative roles.
Interviewers might ask leadership questions directly or indirectly, such as:
- What’s your leadership philosophy?
- How have you contributed to improving departments/teams where you previously worked?
- What are some examples of how you’ve shown leadership?
With most face-to-face job interviews, hiring managers already know about your technical or subject-matter expertise, but they want to discover more about your personality, cultural fit, and leadership. Hence, answering leadership questions effectively and incorporating leadership responses into other questions can improve your viability as a candidate.
To help with your next interview, here are five things about leadership and the leadership question that you should know.
1. The meaning of leadership is evolving
While most still think about leadership traditionally and associate it with the executive and supervisory levels, leadership has radically changed in the last thirty years. The contemporary approach, what I call 21st Century Leadership, is less about roles — such as leader and follower — and less about getting work done through others. Leadership has become more focused on helping others develop both mentally and morally.
Leadership is not about getting people to do stuff. It’s about getting people to think.
— Leadership Writer, David Marquet
Here are three concepts about 21st Century leadership:
- This new thinking emphasizes that anyone — regardless of role — can practice leadership but from the perspective of his or her role. Marquet calls this the Leader-Leader Structure in which everyone is encouraged to practice leadership.
- An e-book developed by the leadership consultants at The Ken Blanchard Companies, explains that people are the center of leadership and suggests that instead of asking, “What do I want from my people?” ask, “What can I do for the people I work with?”
- A McKinsey & Company study found that one of four behaviors of successful leadership teams is the ability to solve problems effectively. Much of leadership is about helping others to think systemically to resolve team and departmental problems.
2. Seven leadership principles can help you explain your leadership approach
There are seven leadership principles that appear periodically in contemporary literature and represent how leadership is evolving. If you want to clarify to interviewers what your leadership approach is about, sharing these principles is a good way to start.
- Believe in others
- Connect with others
- Put others first
- Give up control
- Encourage change
- Collaborate with others
- Develop leadership practices continuously
3. There are three fundamental steps you can use to develop leadership practices
While many believe that people are good at developing leadership, few effectively do so. This is partly due to traditional thinking and partly due to not developing leadership systematically. In James C. Hunter’s book, The Servant, Hunter describes three phases of leadership development. If you want to be effective at leadership and want to be viable as a job candidate, these phases are worth learning.
Before you can practice leadership, you have to know something about the topic. Whether through training, seminars, or reading books, you have to start somewhere. You might start with this list of 21st Century Leadership books. The Foundation phase is the easiest to accomplish, but unfortunately, most fail to advance to the next two phases.
To seriously fine-tune how you practice leadership, you need feedback. Imagine two people trying to learn to play the piano. One reads about how to play while the other receives feedback from a coach. Guess which one is more successful. Feedback is used to identify your leadership gaps and clarifies how others perceive your leadership capabilities.
This phase is about eliminating gaps by selecting no more than two objectives at a time to improve one to two different leadership practices. The friction comes from sharing your feedback results with peers and direct reports and giving them permission to continuously provide corrective and confirmative feedback on how well you are achieving your objectives. Sharing your own limitations may cause discomfort, but you need to communicate how seriously you want to improve your leadership practices.
4. You need examples of how you practice leadership
If interviewers ask about your leadership or if you raise the topic, be prepared to back up your words with concrete behavioral examples. Use the principles to generate ideas for illustrating how you practiced leadership. You could include examples of how you helped your peers or how you developed trust within your team or department. You could even talk about how you collaborated with others to resolve a departmental challenge.
5. Turn it around: Find out their views on leadership
The interview process isn’t just about your potential employers discovering you. It’s also about you discovering what your life would be like working there. One way to do this is by asking about their leadership approach and how they develop or encourage leadership. If they provide traditional answers and don’t seem open to new ideas, or have difficulty answering, that could be a concern.
For images in this blog, I purchased the usage rights from Shutterstock. Please do not use these images without purchasing usage rights.
Originally published at https://www.higheredjobs.com on February 3, 2020.
About Gary DePaul
Gary is a Leadership Author, Researcher, Consultant, and Podcast Guest. His latest book, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?, is available in paperback, eBook, and soon as an audiobook. You can learn more about Gary and his other books at https://www.garyadepaul.com.