Leadership Interview Questions (With Answers)

By Chris Kolmar - May. 9, 2021
Articles In Guide

Find a Job You Really Want In

Strong leadership is invaluable to a company. That’s why the interview process is so important. Employers need a way to see if you can be an agent of change for their organization.

Hiring managers and recruiters rely on open-ended questions to reveal how you would handle challenging situations. Below you’ll find a guide of commonly asked leadership questions.

What Is Leadership?

Leadership is the ability to direct, support, and manage people and projects through social influence. Good leaders set and accomplish challenging but achievable goals by maximizing the potential of their subordinates.

Leaders are automatic motivators who encourage the best of everyone they work alongside. They need to be decisive, recognize strengths in others, know how to delegate, and provide a big-picture vision that everyone can understand and get on board with.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you won’t be asked leadership interview questions just because you’re not applying for a supervisory position. Not all leaders are managers, and not all managers are great leaders. You can lead a team on a project or be asked to step into a leadership position in just about any job.

Interviewers want to assess your leadership capabilities regardless of the position you’re applying for. Leaders will naturally rise through an organization, and it helps employers to know who to keep their eyes on for when jobs like this open up.

What Leadership Qualities Are Companies Looking For?

A strong leader creates a vision, makes a plan, and inspires his people to achieve greatness. This doesn’t just happen. It takes a special set of skills to lead.

Great leaders are able to:

  • Think on their feet

  • Be pioneering agents of change

  • Take calculated risks

  • Step up during a crisis

  • Deal with the troublemakers

  • Negotiate without causing conflict

  • Inspire staff members to develop and grow

  • Improve the productivity of underperformers

  • Share expertise to help others thrive

Do you have the key traits that distinguish the best from the rest?

Past performance is one of the top indicators of future performance. That’s why interviewers rely on open-ended questions. They require candidates to share real examples of how they handled situations in the past. Inspiring confidence is all about the delivery.

Below are tips to help you answer some of the most challenging leadership questions you’ll be asked during a job interview.

How to Answer Leadership Interview Questions

Storytelling is arguably the most powerful tool in your job hunting toolbox. You can develop stories from your previous work experience to share while interviewing. That way when they ask you to tell them an example, you have a powerful one to share.

A great formula to follow is the STAR method. That stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s like a mini case study describing what happened, how you handled it, and the way it turned out.

  • Describe the situation.

  • Tell the task you were assigned.

  • Talk about the actions you took.

  • Share the results you generated.

Many leadership interview questions are also behavioral questions, which the STAR method is designed to answer. Behavioral interview questions are those that ask you how you behaved in a past situation, and they help interviewers understand your thought process and predict how you would behave if hired.

Having stories is great, but situational interview questions, which are the same as behavioral ones, but hypothetical, will require you to think on your feet and envision how you’d respond in a given situation. It’s important to understand your leadership style and have great examples of times when you stepped up as a leader.

The key is to carefully read the job description to understand what they are looking for. Then think about your work experience. When have you used or exhibited the qualities they are looking for in this role? How can you write a short story that demonstrates you have that skill.

If you want to go the extra mile, you should also learn as much about the company you’re applying to as possible. When you know what specific challenges the company is facing, it’s much easier to paint your leadership abilities as the perfect solution.
Show that you know how you’ll perform this job from day one, and hiring managers will be much more comfortable extending you a job offer.

How to Answer Leadership Interview Question When You Don’t Know the Answer

The hiring manager asks you a question that leaves you totally stumped. Your heart starts racing because you don’t know the answer. What do you when you don’t know how to answer an interview question?

Take a deep breath. Say that’s a great question. So you want to know (repeat what they said). Then answer the question they should have asked which you can provide a solid answer for.

Or simply state that you don’t know, if you can’t get around a direct question with the above question. Leaders need to have integrity, as subordinates will count on you to be honest, accountable, and transparent. But don’t get panicky when you’re not sure how to answer.

Leaders have to project confidence through tumultuous times, and if you can’t keep calm during a job interview, the hiring manager may doubt your ability to stay cool under the strain of the actual job.

Example Answers to the Most Common Leadership Interview Questions

Passion

Passionate leaders lead with heart and soul. Not only are they fully enthusiastic and fully engaged, but they can inspire others to do the same. They want to know what gets you up in the morning.

  1. What does passionate leadership mean to you?

    Example answer:
    To me, passionate leadership is about knowing that you can always find a way. It’s a strength and power that helps you tackle any obstacle that comes your way. As a leader, when your team sees that belief in you, it’s infectious. It inspires them to achieve their best too.

  2. What are you passionate about?

    Example answer:
    I am passionate about making a difference in any role I serve. I love that your company is dedicated to sustainability. Your devotion to going net carbon zero is helping the planet. That makes me feel great about working here and helping save the planet.

  3. What is the biggest challenge in our company you’d like to solve?

    Example answer:
    The restaurant industry is facing big challenges in these pandemic times. To survive, we will have to shift. We will have to promote more delivery and take out programs. We will have to find ways to instill contactless ordering and payment. Finally, we need to adopt new protocols to ensure the safety of our workers and patrons. I would love to help you lead this change.

  4. Tell me about a time when something went wrong at work and you took control.

    Example answer:
    The PR team released a press release about an author’s upcoming book launch party. The final press released was approved. But our staff member accidentally sent an old version that had the wrong location for the event. I called the editor of the newspaper personally and got the event location updated in five minutes. Quick attention to detail and swift action saved the day.

Adaptability

Companies everywhere face constant change and complexity. That’s why leadership needs to be flexible to adjust to new conditions.

  1. Give me an example of a time you were asked to handle a new task at work.

    Example answer:
    I was tasked with handling the Instagram account as part of the social media management duties. Since it’s a social media channel I was less experienced in, I wanted to learn more about how to use it, boost engagement, and drive traffic with IG. I purchased two courses on Instagram. I picked up a couple of tips for new ways to link product mentions directly to our online store. It felt great to take initiative in the best ways to use this social channel.

  2. Tell me about a problem that came up at work and how you came up with a solution.

    Example answer:
    Our team was using Microsoft Word to create reports. This caused an issue of having to send articles back and forth for revisions. I suggested we switch to Google Docs. That way we can invite others to edit. Plus we are always working on the most up-to-date version of the report. Having a web-based solution improved accuracy and saved time.

  3. Share about a new policy change at work and how you helped team members adjust.

    Example answer:
    We recently hired a new assistant manager with many years of experience at a national retail chain. While he had experience in management, he didn’t have experience in the jewelry industry. This became frustrating in several ways. Before we were able to look up to our head manager for very specialized jewelry questions. But we found a way. We worked to fill the knowledge gap. He kept things running smoothly. In the end, it worked.

  4. Tell me about when you had to adjust quickly to changes over which you had no control. How did you handle it?

    Example answer:
    We had an angry person drive into the office building and start shooting. We all went into the bathroom. We took our two clients in with us. We locked the door and stayed there till two hours later when police said it was ok. We stayed calm. Took action. Everyone in our office was safe.

Inspiration

Remember in the Wizard of Oz how Glinda the Good Witch helped the Scarecrow find his brain, the Lion find his heart, and the Tinman find his courage? That’s what good leaders do.

Good leaders invest in their team. They find the greatness within and foster their team’s desire to achieve their best.

  1. What past leader that you worked for did you really admire and why?

    Example answer:
    My past manager said that I had a real gift for connecting with people on a heart level. That really meant a lot to me. That allowed me to lead with my strengths during the sales process. When you can genuinely feel connected, care about someone, and know you are helping them, sales are easy.

  2. If a team is struggling to stay motivated, what steps would you take to boost engagement?

    Example answer:
    One of my old bosses used contests to motivate us. I always thought that was a fun incentive. For example, the person with top sales that month would get “lunch with the boss.” It really drove us to think about our goals and push harder.

  3. How do you react when faced with multiple obstacles while trying to achieve a goal? What did you do about it?

    Example answer:
    The first thing is to stay calm. That lets you think clearly. Then take a look at the situation from all sides. Sometimes some creative brainstorming is all it takes. When you find ways to overcome an obstacle, it can make the final outcome stronger.

Emotional Intelligence

In the Steven Spielberg film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial when E.T. lifts up his feeling and says “ouch” he is displaying huge emotional intelligence. He sees, understands, and recognizes Elliot’s pain. He has compassion and wants to heal his hurt.

That’s what leaders with emotional intelligence do. You can’t just lead logically. You need to engage your heart too.

  1. How would you respond when a co-worker challenges you?

    Example answer:
    We have all worked with a Negative Nellie. They are either a bully, or they challenge you, or they are trying to ruin your reputation. One time a coworker took credit for my sale. While I was upset, I didn’t want to confront her. I spoke to my manager to get their thoughts. They agreed that splitting the commission was fair. So I took my co-worker aside to discuss it. She didn’t realize that was my customer. She was happy to split the commission equally. Handling it privately and calmly fixed it on a business level and a personal level.

  2. What behaviors really drive you crazy at work?

    Example answer:
    There was a sales guy who was always late for work. The manager would have to call and wake him up at 1 pm for his night shift. That was very frustrating that he was allowed to be late all the time when the rest of us showed up to work. We spoke to our boss. He gave him a warning. Then they put him on a “three times and you are out” system. He struck out three times and lost his job. Problem solved.

  3. How do you unwind after a stressful day at work?

    Example answer:
    After a long day at work, I love going to the gum to let go of the pressures of the day. I feel relaxed after a good work out. It forces me to get out of my head and into my body. Then when I get home, I am more present for my family.

  4. Have you ever had to change a habit? If so, what did you do?

    Example answer:
    When my diabetes numbers went up, I was looking for a natural way to improve my blood sugar. So I went on a keto diet. I read everything I could about it. I joined an online low carb community. Plus, I went keto with a friend. It was exciting to go all-in on this new adventure. I was thrilled when my blood sugar got so low I was able to get off my Metformin. Getting excited about the change, how it would help me, and getting accountability helped so much.

Empowering

“Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.” Good leaders teach their people. They empower them with skills and beliefs so they can achieve more.

  1. Tell me about a time that you took it upon yourself to help team members improve a skill.

    Example answer:
    Many customers who came to the store said “no we are just looking” So we pulled together as a team with ideas on how to engage these people. One way was to say “are you shopping for anyone in particular?” Another was “what occasion are you shopping for?” Finally, we found if you just took them to something in the store and said, “Have you seen our new Disney Collection?” It led them to say what they were looking for.

  2. Share a story of a time that you gave positive recognition and feedback to team members for their accomplishments.

    Example answer:
    At the annual convention, they had the top 24 salespeople get on stage. They were given an award. Pictures were taken. They played “We are the champions.” They were given special laptop cases saying “Eagles Nest – Top 24 in Sales.” It was a very special time of recognition.

  3. Describe an example of a time you did something to improve productivity.

    Example answer:
    To make opening the store faster in the mornings, we put numbered markers on the bottom of jewelry displays with matching numbered markers. That way when you took the jewelry out of the safe and placed it in the display, you just matched it up. No confusion or guessing.

  4. Give me an example of a way that you encouraged a team member.

    Example answer:
    I love recognizing achievement. I think it keeps morale high. For instance, I noticed that one of our part-time employees was on the quiet side. He was kind of an intellect and struggled with engaging customers. So we did some role-playing to help him feel more comfortable. It was awesome to see him feeling more confident in building rapport.

Company Culture Fit

Remember in the movie Office Space? Joanna, played by Jennifer Anniston is working as a waitress at the restaurant Chotchkie’s. She is wearing fifteen pieces of flair (the minimum required). However, the boss chastises her for not wearing thirty-seven pieces of flair like her co-worker Brian. The boss says “Now if you feel that the bare minimum is enough, then okay. But some people choose to wear more and we encourage that, okay? You do want to express yourself, don’t you?”

That’s what culture fit is. Company’s want leaders who fit the attitudes, values, and ethics of their organization. That’s why they may ask you what’s your dream job.

  1. How would you describe your leadership style?

    Example answer:
    I believe that you can’t take your team somewhere that you haven’t been to. You have to lead as an example and walk the talk. If I say we are leading with a new initiative, I show them how I am having success with it. When they see my attitude and ability to make it work, they will follow.

  2. What are the top things you need to succeed in this position?

    Example answer:
    I love being part of an organization that values the growth and development of their people. Personal development and growth in my career is very important to me. Second, I enjoy being part of a close-knit team. I want to know that we care about each other and have each other’s back. The feeling of “family” is very rewarding. Lastly, I love when an organization recognizes achievements. To know that I got top sales in the district and I get a personal shout out from the District Manager feels great. It motivates me. Plus I feel acknowledged for my efforts.

  3. What does an ideal company culture look like to you?

    Example answer:
    I love working at a company where people care about each other and the cause they are working for. It’s great to have everyone working hard to make things happen. But we get together after work and connect too. I love that your company works to help the hungry. It would be great to have a monthly night where the whole team works at the soup kitchen.

  4. Which of our company’s core values do you identify with?

    Example answer:
    I really relate to the company value of being a “force for good”. That’s something I can really connect to. It helps me imagine how in every product and offers I can ensure it serves as a force for good. That idea of service is very motivating for me.

Conflict Resolution

As President Ronald Reagan said, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

Workplace environments can breed drama, negativity and stress. Companies look to leaders to resolve conflicts and restore peace. More on how to tell them about a conflict or challenge you’ve faced at work.

  1. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.

    Example answer:
    My boss has a rigid framework and a very direct communication style. At times his comments cut like a knife. As a creative, it was affecting my ability to work. I had a talk with him. In a calm, polite way I explained how I felt. It really made a huge difference in how we spoke to me. That allowed me to listen to the feedback he had and make adjustments. It improved our work relationship and the quality of work.

  2. Tell me about the most difficult team you’ve ever been on.

    Example answer:
    The company I worked for had a manager and assistant manager with very strong personalities. They would always be snapping little comments at each other all day. We desperately wanted them to stop fighting and start working. So they had a few shouting matches in the backroom. But it allowed them to hash things out and reach an understanding. When they were calm, the whole atmosphere in the office was better.

  3. When there is a disagreement on your team, how do you handle it?

    Example answer:
    Sometimes it’s a matter of picking your battles. Some things you can let go over your head. Other things are a bigger deal and actually matter. First I try talking to the individual directly in a private place. If the matter needs escalation I have gotten management involved. Usually, both parties just need to be heard and have their points of view validated. Then you can negotiate to find a corrective action that works.

More Leadership Interview Questions

  1. When have you demonstrated leadership abilities in a professional setting?

  2. What is the most difficult decision you’ve made as a leader?

  3. Who do you admire as a leader? Why?

  4. How do you build rapport with a new team?

  5. Tell me about a time when you had to lead by example.

  6. How do you respond to employee feedback?

  7. What’s your approach to constructive criticism?

  8. What steps would you take to make for a positive work environment and company culture?

  9. How do you track your team’s performance? What metrics do you value most?

  10. What’s your approach to delegation?

Leadership Interview Tips

Whether you’re applying for a leadership position or you’re hoping to set yourself up as a potential company leader in the future, selling yourself as a leader is about more than your interview answers. Follow these tips to stand out as a leader:

  • Dress to impress. It may not be entirely fair or logical, but it’s important to look like a leader if you want to make a good impression. That means stepping up your interview attire, getting a super sharp haircut, and just generally look like you’ve got your life together.

  • Be confident. Interviewers will note the tone of your voice and the body language you express without even thinking about it. Maintain good posture, make sure to look everyone in the eye, and speak without hesitations or uncertainty.

    It’s also extra important to be friendly and personable if you’re applying for a leadership role, without coming across as inauthentic.

  • Share how you think. Throughout the course of the interview, you want to give the hiring manager as close to an inside look at your thought process as possible.

    It’s not just about landing the job; you want to make sure that your proposed leadership style will gel with the existing corporate structure, otherwise neither party will be very happy after you’re hired.

  • Do your research. Every job applicant should research the company and the role, but leaders need to go a step further. Hiring managers and recruiters will expect you to have a more far-reaching knowledge of the department as well as departments you’ll work closely alongside.

  • Don’t take all the credit. It’s important to appear humble even as you discuss your accomplishments as a leader. Remember to give credit to your team members as you talk about your achievements, so the hiring manager can see that you recognize business is a team effort.

Final Thoughts

Help the recruiter see the leader you are meant to be. It’s just a matter of connecting the dots and showing how your experience, attitudes, and skills are a match for their needs.

Explain with confidence what sets you apart from other candidates. Be prepared to share stories to demonstrate how you are the best candidate who will fuel their firm’s success.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Articles In Guide
Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

Related posts