Leadership: What does it mean?
Leadership being a highly valued soft skill in any job position, the questions which point to your leadership qualities are very common in interviews. Hence, it is crucial that we understand the actual meaning of leadership and why they are asked in the interviews.
Hiring managers or recruiting agencies always prefer to find a suitable candidate who possesses leadership qualities. Any employee in the company may probably have to exhibit their leadership qualities and guide others during a time of crisis. Keeping in mind the overall growth ambition of the company, leadership becomes the most preferred soft skill during an interview process.
There is no way to clearly define the components of leadership as it is highly ambitious and depends on the situation. The nature, characteristics, and implications of leadership vary highly depending on the circumstances. There are a few essential features of characteristics which include the ability of a person to support and guide others during a time of crisis, keeping in mind the overall development of others. A person’s leadership quality helps their colleagues to be at their best. Other important components that make up the whole of a leadership quality are apt communication skills, perfect organization capabilities, quick decision making, and critical reasoning.
The intention behind the question
To successfully answer the questions based on leadership capabilities, a candidate must understand the real intention of the interview questions. Each interview question based on leadership looks for a particular feature or your soft skill. It will be highly rewarding if you can concentrate on that particular aspect and craft your answer accordingly.
❖ Interview questions based on leadership will help the hiring officials to assess your level of motivation. Your motivation and the self-driven nature of your work culture will be highly decisive in determining the productivity of the company.
❖ A perfect analysis of your answer will help them to assign particular responsibilities within the organizational structure. In other words, interview questions based on leadership will help them to identify your particular strengths and specific weaknesses, which are otherwise difficult to compare across candidates.
❖ Answering an interview question based on leadership is an expression of your interpersonal communication skills. The level of confidence you possess and the tone of encouragement in your answer are a perfect proxy for your communication abilities.
❖ The leadership styles you include in your answer will help them to evaluate your ability to handle confidential information and maintain the desired work ethics favored by the organization.
❖ Your exhibition of confidence in your answer helps them to assess your ability to take up challenges and your preparedness to address conflicts within a team and also at the company level. It is also a proxy to see your quickness in reaching decisions as there is no other way to analyze this better.
❖ There is a very common perception that those candidates who express leadership capabilities even at entry-level roles are better committed to their job responsibilities and demands and can overcome obstacles in a time-bound manner. This commitment invariably reflects in the ability of a candidate to be persuasive to meet the goals, both short-term and long-term.
Key leadership skills to focus on
To perfectly craft an answer to the questions related to leadership capabilities, you must have a thorough understanding of the leadership skills that they focus on. This will enable you to include those in your answer and present your case better. Numerous leadership-related skills are important. Here in the section, we will list out a few important leadership-related skills.
Passion is of the highest priority when it comes to leadership-related qualities. It is for sure that hiring officials required somebody to lead the team. But the leadership capabilities are of not much use if that candidate is not motivated enough to lead the team. The motivation to exhibit the leadership qualities is completely dependent on the underlying passion related to the responsibilities assigned. For example, a perfect candidate, through his or her answer, makes it explicit that they prefer to take less risk and to be at the back seat of the team; it seems that the candidate is not motivated enough to be a leader in the future.
If it is the case that the candidate characterizes their previous colleagues negatively and is emotional to the situation, it can be fairly assumed that the candidate doesn’t have enough passion for being a leader shortly. Instead, a highly passionate candidate makes the point that they are brave enough to commit and lead in risky situations.
● Conflict resolution
Great leaders are expected to resolve conflicts and make things easier for the organization and team in general. This is one of the very basic expectations of a good leader. As an interview candidate, if you can successfully pull off good examples where you have put some effort into ensuring that conflict situations do not escalate, it will be highly rewarding. There is no other way that the interview board comes to know about it, and hence, you must frame your answer in a highly impactful manner.
If you give an impression about yourself that you may badmouth your colleagues or managers or exhibit a tendency to rebel in situations, it will be deemed a negative from the perspective of conflict resolution. Your confidence also plays a crucial role in determining the impression that the interview board may have about your conflict resolution capabilities.
A candidate with great leadership qualities has to adapt to different situations and circumstances which may not be predicted. The degree of flexibility and adaptability the person has validates their leadership capabilities. It may happen that the employee will experience huge setbacks but the responsibility of that person should drive them to come up with a solution adaptive to the circumstances.
Creativity as an idea is closely related to innovation and inspiration. Leadership qualities include creativity which will help to bring the best out of their colleagues. If you can successfully present your case as a person who is eager to try out innovative stuff, it will be regarded as a positive from the perspective of leadership qualities. It is to be kept in mind that you should not rest too many things to give an impression that you hold a wider perspective. This may backfire, resulting in the interview board thinking that you are not invested in your ideas.
It is highly suggested that you bring to the attention of the hiring officials any innovative activity which you have done in the past in your previous job. If you are a fresher, you may try to include the creative responsibilities and activities which you have undertaken in your graduation.
● Negotiation capabilities
A good leader is expected to have a great communication network with people from different areas. It is expected that a person with high leadership qualities implements some sort of persuasion with their colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders aimed to bring the best out of each of them and to achieve the short-term and long-term goals of the company.
There are different ways in which you can present this quality of negotiation during the interview process. The best way is to give examples or your own experiences which exhibit your qualities of fairness, critical reasoning, and confidence. It is also advised that you explicitly publish your confidence in your ability to predict the opponent’s point of view and arrive at the conclusion, which is beneficial to all parties associated.
The rule of thumb is that you do not trivialize this question and part but answer with utmost caution and seriousness.
● Quick decision making
A structured, rational decision making is an essential component of a candidate with good leadership quality. It is to be kept in mind that the intention is not to find the success rate of your previous decisions but rather to find the procedural aspects that you follow which are going to be evaluated.
In this situation also, your examples and experiences will play a major role in helping the hiring officials to evaluate you perfectly.
● People management
This is about striking a perfect balance between nurturing and supporting colleagues and getting tough whenever it is necessary. You may be evaluated based on your certifications and the training process which you have undertaken regarding people management.
If you can successfully express your enthusiasm to work with others aimed at the overall development of the team, the hiring officials will be interested in hiring you.
Things to keep in mind while answering
You must find a strategy to present your case to exhibit your leadership qualities better. Storytelling is one powerful tool that helps to substantiate your case in the best possible manner. You can develop stories from your previous experience at other organizations. If you are a fresher, your story can revolve around the activities and responsibilities which you have undertaken in your college.
The method adopted by most of the hiring officials in the interview seeks a description of your past situation so that they’ll be better equipped to predict how you may behave if you are hired. The interview board intends to understand your way of thinking and action.
You must be prepared to answer situational interview questions which are based on hypothetical circumstances. The core remains the same as that of behavioral questions, but here you are required to present thought with clarity regarding finding the solution. In situations like this, the hiring officials test your understanding of different leadership styles and requirements for the job.
The background research plays a crucial role here. You must go through the job description and job demands to understand their exact expectations. This will help you to craft an answer which can both impress them and also secure a position in the next stage of the selection process.
Apart from the details of a job description, you are also expected to understand the history of the company in-depth. Knowing in detail the various short-term and long-term challenges that the company faces, you can focus on the desired leadership-related qualities and increase your chances of being successful in the selection process.
As mentioned in the previous section, the central focus of a candidate has to be about the presentation of a real-life situation or story irrespective of the fact that if you are a fresher, graduate, or an experienced campaigner. The STAR method of presenting the case is the most accepted and widely reputed one. It will ensure that you include all the necessary components needed to present your answer in the best possible manner.
In the first session of this technique, you are required to outline or present a real-life or imaginary situation. It is always advised that you prefer to present a case from your previous job position at the company you were at. If you are a fresh graduate, you can depend on a situation from your college-related to some extracurricular activities or projects you have undertaken.
You need to ensure that the situation you take is irrelevant to the topic of the interview and help you to make your case a unique one.
It is important to ensure that the situation does not include any unprofessional elements which may backfire later. Another rule of thumb in this situation is not to use too many technical jargons, which hinders the convincing nature of the situation.
This session of the technique is in continuation with the situation you have presented.
You are expected to briefly explain all the steps undertaken to complete the task. You should put effort into explaining how your leadership capabilities played a role in ensuring the completion of the task. One way to stress the importance is to briefly explain the consequences that would have occurred if the task was not completed. You may also mention your emotional commitment to the completion of the task briefly.
This encapsulates all the measures taken by you to change the situation positively. This has to be framed keeping in mind the intention of the action. You must stress various leadership qualities which are subtly expected from a candidate.
Alongside, you mustn’t take unnecessary credit for a task completed by a whole team of which you were apart.
In this section, you must put all efforts into making your case stronger, which helps you to set yourself apart from all other candidates. You may include all intentional and unintentional positive effects of an action that aligns with leadership capabilities.
Additional tips while answering
This section briefly summarises the additional tips that are to be kept in mind while you answer any question regarding your leadership abilities.
● Body language of a leader
It is advised that candidates planning to exhibit their qualities in leadership should adapt themselves to a perfect body language that synchronizes with that of a good leader. Appearances will determine the success of your interview to a great extent. In other words, it will be a grave mistake if you do not pay enough attention to your body language and appearance.
● Be like a leader.
Apart from appearances, the tone of your voice and the confidence you exhibit will play a crucial role in executing your leadership qualities. For example, there are no two ways to maintain good eye contact and your display of enthusiasm through your body language.
● Think and act like a leader
If you have to act like a leader, you have two strategize like one. All questions, for that matter, can be directed to include a few of your leadership abilities by answering the management-related solutions. This approach can only be successful if you are super comfortable with the organizational structure of the company in general, along with the goals and targets. You must divert all answers by crafting them with ingredients of the company’s culture, mission, and challenges.
● Share credits
Acknowledging the contributions of your colleagues or other team members is one of the basic traits of a good leader. If you have to describe hypothetical situations or examples from your past experiences, you must keep in mind the idea of collaboration and team effort. In case you try to channel the success of your teamwork to yourself, there is nothing worse than that in an interview where you are about to exhibit your leadership capabilities.
● Thought process
The best way to evaluate a candidate according to their leadership capabilities is to assess their thought process. As a candidate, you must put all efforts into making your thought process explicit as it is highly rewarding. You can increase your chances of being successful in the interview if you can exhibit the alignment of the company’s culture and your thought process.
Things to avoid while answering
Certain important things are to be kept in mind while answering. These are those things that bring a negative impression to your interview. Here is a list of those things which are to be avoided while answering any question related to leadership qualities.
❖ Negative approach
Any answer can be framed positively or negatively. It is important to keep in mind that all answers during an interview have to be presented positively. If you focus on the negative side, the hiring officials will conclude that you cannot motivate your team members whenever it is necessary. Being positive is such a necessary component of good leadership.
❖ Not so sincere answers
Your answers have to be consistent throughout. If it is identified that your answer is inaccurate and inconsistent, it explains a lot about your level of professionalism. Even though leadership requires a certain degree of strategy, it has to be completely honest and ethical. Good leaders never hesitate to admit their mistakes.
Flexibility must be demanded from good leadership. To ensure that your team succeeds, the leader has to be flexible enough to accommodate different opinions and work ethics. If you frame your answers in a very rigid manner and are hesitant to change, it will leave a bad impression.
❖ Arrogant answering style
Your answers in the interview should make it explicit that you are accommodative and value suggestions from team members. Any sort of arrogant answering style adopted during the interview may backfire and reduce your chances of being selected to the next stage.
❖ Constant excuses
You might have committed mistakes in the past. While explaining those experiences, you should not bring unnecessary excuses or start blaming others. This may give an introduction to the hiring officials that you are not trustworthy and do not actively look for solutions.
Possible interview questions, rationale, and perfect answers
1. Will you elaborate on any instance where you exhibited leadership qualities?
This is one of the most common questions in interviews related to leadership capabilities. One of the biggest advantages related to this question is that it is an open-ended question that helps you to be creative and innovative in answering. You have a variety of options to explain any of your past experiences or to craft good hypothetical situations.
Apart from the fact that this question gives enough room for the hiring managers to assess your leadership qualities, they can better understand your preference of leadership qualities and how you plan to effectively put it into action later in your career.
“I worked for different clubs and societies in my college during my graduation. When I was given responsibility for specific events, I used to hold multiple meetings before and after the events. It usually starts from the planning session and ends with the review meeting. All duties are divided in the presence of all members of the team to ensure high coordination. Apart from monitoring the actions of all team members, I actively pursued suggestions and corrections from each one of them to ensure their commitment and hard work through the entire course of events. I am proud to share that all deliverables were presented right on time without any hiccups.”
2. What are those leadership components that are most useful, according to your perception?
It is widely understood that the components and factors contributing to good leadership qualities are wide-ranging. Through this question, the hiring of officials intends to explore your priorities. This is highly useful from their perspective to ensure that they select the aptest candidate. This question can be transformed into a highly rewarding question if you prepare it beforehand.
Always try to stress on those soft skills which synchronize perfectly with the goals and ambitions of the company and the job requirements in specific.
“I believe in the crucial role played by interpersonal communication skills and intentional body language as it is highly decisive in determining the scope of a leader. Leading by example and leading from the front are unavoidable requirements for any leader. I firmly believe that reliability and listening go hand in hand. It is necessary that a good leader listens to the suggestions of all team members and ensures that they are reliable.”
3. How do you handle if there is a sharp disagreement in your team?
Conflict resolution is a highly valued skill, especially concerning leadership. It constitutes the core part of any management leader. The hiring officials will be interested in ensuring that you have an aptitude for conflict resolution and the best way is to ask you directly.
Since it is one of the most expected questions related to leadership capabilities in an interview, it is always advised that you prepare for this question beforehand so that you can present it with high confidence.
“In any case of disagreement, my immediate action will be to listen to all parties involved to understand this situation from a wide perspective. As a leader, I must be committed to active listening. After this session, I will ensure that short conversations happen which facilitate resolutions. In any situation, my top priority will be to strike a compromise sustained by reason and rational thought. The overarching idea of any conflict resolution, as I believe, is to ensure the collaborative nature of the team sustaining into the future.”
4. Can you please explain your leadership style as you see it?
There is a lot of variety when it comes to leadership styles. Your prospective employer will be interested to know your approach in detail to decide if you are a perfect fit for the organization. The rule of thumb in this situation is to make it explicit that you are flexible to adapt to multiple leadership styles as the situation demands. Presenting yourself as a rigid candidate hesitant to change is not a good approach for any interview.
“I always look forward to adopting a leadership style that ensures that the goals of all team members synchronize perfectly with the short-term and long-term goals of the company. I do not intend to micromanage the situation compromising the freedom of action of my colleagues. I am always up for review meetings for a collaborative monitoring process diminishing the hierarchical setup to ensure a healthy work environment.”
5. How do you ensure that deadlines are met concerning the responsibilities bestowed upon your team?
Organizational skills and time management are unavoidable components of a good leadership setup. It is almost certain that your prospective employer will inquire deep into this aspect before confirming an offer letter to you. Understanding the intention of the question will ensure that the job is half done. In this highly competitive work environment, time management and progress tracking is highly valued by all companies across industries.
Your answer can include your thought process on how to implement time management for the descriptive based on any of your past experiences.
“I always endorse the idea of division of work. Whenever I am given a target to meet, I immediately call upon all team members to discuss the overall objective. Such a meeting ensures that each team member gets clarity on their task and is comfortable with the deadlines. I will ensure that each team member is aware of their contribution to the overall success of the project and ensure their commitment throughout the process.”
6. What is the role of goals and targets in leadership?
This question is intended to measure your commitment as a leader within the organizational structure. There may be multiple goals and targets assigned to you individually and as a team. The interview board may be interested in evaluating your commitment to such goals and your perception of how it will contribute to you being an effective leader. This question is also a proxy to enquire deep into your productivity techniques and schedules.
“To ensure the timely completion of the tasks and responsibilities assigned to me, I prefer to make goals and targets for me along with the team. Individual goals and targets are the biggest contributing factor to the success of a team, as I believe it. I do not undermine the role of goals in leadership, and I will employ progress tracking techniques to increase the productivity of all members of the team, including myself.”
7. Will you elaborate on any instance where you had to make a difficult decision?
This is one of the most common questions adopted by hiring managers to evaluate your thought process and clarity of mind. All good leaders are supposed to face difficult situations which force them to make difficult decisions. The operating protocol adopted by you has to have the confidence of the organization. Keeping in mind this intention of the hiring officials, you must frame an impactful and creative answer.
“I value the necessity for having multiple options open in all situations. As a leader, I expect crises and difficult situations at every juncture and prepare well in advance to avoid the difficulties posed by such situations. The main contributing factor that helps me to make difficult decisions at difficult times is the confidence I build on my team over a long period.”
1) Always dedicate a good amount of time to practice so that you will be confident throughout the interview process.
2) You can find a friend or a colleague to have a good number of mock interviews focusing on leadership capabilities.
3) Be prepared with the story-like presentation style to include your experiences, mistakes, and learning process.
4) Adopt the STAR technique of presentation so that the evaluation is made easy and favorable for you.
5) Adapt your answers according to the demands and requirements of the job position you have applied for.
6) Do good research about the background of the company and the industry in general.
7) Do not forget to mention all those small yet impactful points that increase your chances of being selected.