Five Interview Questions on Leadership

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There are lots of lists of practice interview questions for job seekers.  A lot of them focus on strengths, weaknesses, handling difficult situations and working with co-workers.  These questions are important, but when you’re competing for a management position, a hiring manager will be interested in what you know about leadership.


The days of the “boss” who tells everyone what to do, wields a lot of power, barks orders and everyone follows are over.  These managers may get things done, but they have to continuously watch, prod and discipline unruly employees who perform more out of fear than dedication.  Companies are looking for managers who know how to lead and inspire employees to perform.  Here are some practice interview questions on leadership for your next management interview.


1.      What is your definition of leadership?  This is a “what is it” question.  It’s not “great” or “necessary.”  They want you to describe what leadership means to you.  Try to think of a great leader you admire, either from history or current events or a former manager, and describe what that person did or said that made her a leader.  “Leadership is….” and then fill in the blanks.  This isn’t an easy question, and it’s best to formulate an answer well before it’s asked.


2.      Name a great leader and why he inspired you.  This should be easier, since you’ve already thought of one or two from question #1.  Describe the traits this person had, such as honesty, integrity, the ability to communicate, and openness.  Use qualities that conform to the company’s culture or values.  You want the hiring manager to see how you would fit well with the leadership team.


3.      What would you do with an employee who consistently misses performance goals?  This is not your typical “handling difficult employee” question.  Recruiting and hiring employees is a time-consuming, costly task.  Firing everyone who doesn’t measure up may be for some situations, but leaders are coaches and trainers and set goals to help people make the most of their abilities. 


4.      What is the most important trait of a leader?  What has inspired you in the past?  I had a very tough manager whose greatest trait was she never let you wiggle out of a tough situation.  Instead of stepping in when you failed, she would talk it over, give you some suggestions and a pep talk and send you out to make another try.  I call that belief in the ability of her staff.  It was tough, but I knew she believed in me, and helped me believe in myself.


5.      What type of leader do you like to work for?  This is a great question to show how prior leaders have helped you improve weaknesses and turn them into strengths.  They are also sizing up whether you’ll mesh with your manager and the leadership team.


There are a lot of skills and experience questions to practice.  Leadership is something that is tough to teach.  Practicing these questions will help you understand how your leadership style fits with a job and company and enable you to clearly get that message across.  


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  • Arlin L
    Arlin L
    Mary, in a recent interview, I had to answer somewhat similar indirect questions that gave me an opportunity to illustrate my style of leadership. Fortunately, he stated that the principles I shared with him were in line with what they are looking for in a supervisor. It was clear to me how important good leadership skills are to their company.
  • Autumn K
    Autumn K
    I think you have an excellent point. I have been asked this question before in an interview.Instead, I took the wrong approach. Even in real life experience, I was that boss that ended up doing it myself. Finally, someone believed in me and secretly left me a present (a book) " How to catch moor flys with honey." I had forgotten about that book until nowI'm older now but your advice helped me. I need to read up on this book again it is excellent for the newbies in the business. Hopefully I will have an more exciting interview during this job search process.
  • Mary Nestor-Harper
    Mary Nestor-Harper
    I am impressed with the thought and work you've done with the questions.  Companies are looking for leaders, and it's more and more difficult to find role models and mentors who are true leaders.  I admire all of you and appreciate the comments.  
  • james h
    james h
    You should give examples of these five.How would I know this person thinks like me.I might upset them with what I think.
  • obua samuel b
    obua samuel b
    i need much of this tips, its inspiring in project building, so  amusing
  • Margaret D
    Margaret D
    Very good tips on leadership! This shows me what I need to work on, if I don't already have the skills. These leadership skills need to be worked on daily, even if you're not a leader.
  • Mayra O
    Mayra O
    Thank you for writing this article. While reading it, it made me think of who mentored me, who I admired as a leader, and how I am as leader. These questions will definitely help me when searching for jobs, and will keep in my mind when I do go for an interview.
  • Shaun I
    Shaun I
    This was an wonderful article. It was one that was thought provoking and insightful. I will definitely  put it into practice.
  • Sonya S
    Sonya S
    I remember bad managers and employees who held back information vital to my job as Dispatcher.  I was never told why it was being held back as I had to have it in by Friday and Thursday they never told me about it.  Some wouldn't help me, because they wanted their relatives to have the job.
  • Paul H
    Paul H
    Good questions.  Of course it is difficult to identify a great, inspirational leader if you don't know any.  There are people I look up to, but I can't say anyone's leadership has ever inspired me.
  • Murali S
    Murali S
    i agree this i can do this because my experience always under leadership
  • Robin C
    Robin C
    As a mature worker with a masters degree, sadly, it has been my experience that the days of the “boss” who tells everyone what to do, wields a lot of power, barks orders and everyone follows are over in some corporations and in the rhetoric, but not in reality.  These managers are still out there, especially in very large, competitive corporations and may or may not get things done this way. In my experience they track, watch, prod and discipline  employee performance often without knowledge of the skills they are performing. More out of fear of looking weak and losing their own position or job than dedication to the mutual goal.  Companies SAY they are looking for managers who know how to lead and inspire employees to perform, but clearly have not been supportive to managers in actually doing this.Your point #2, however, is fabulous! Naming a great leader and why he or she inspired you.  This should be easier, since you’ve already thought of one or two from question #1.  Describe the traits this person had, such as honesty, integrity, the ability to communicate, and openness.  Use qualities that conform to the company’s culture or values.  
  •  Cordell T
    Cordell T
    The Manager Position Questions were very well put together.
  • Chris Y
    Chris Y
    Leadership, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you".
  • Pat G
    Pat G
    I was blessed with an older sister who did her apprenticeship under Dale Carnegie  himself in New York City in the late forties. She moved home to Ok City and conducted the course there for several years. As a young woman, I had the privilege of taking both the Dale and Dorothy Carnegie classes. Mastering public relations with a touch of class has brought meaning to my life. I agree with Christopher- How to win friends and influence people is a must for every library. Happy hunting! Pat
  • caroline A
    caroline A
    This will help me navigate through my next interview. Thanks
  • Christopher L
    Christopher L
    Thanks for writing this!  I just took 45 minutes to write down my own answers and realized how blessed I am to have/had such influential leaders in my life.  And now I happily look forward to continue encouraging others with what I've learned.  P.s. "How To Win Friends And Influence People" by Dale Carnegie is a must read for anyone.
    I agree,this is a difficult topic.
  • Lorena A
    Lorena A
    Very informative.

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