Being able to lead a team successfully is an essential quality for a manager, so if you’re interviewing for a senior-level position, you should expect to field several questions about leadership. One of them is likely to be ‘What is your leadership style.’
We’ll explain what interviewers are looking for when they ask this common interview question and how to answer it–even if it comes up when you’re not interviewing for a managerial role.
Why do interviewers ask about your leadership style?
When interviewers ask about your leadership style, it’s really a question about your soft skills. Hiring managers are probing for more information on how you communicate, motivate others, delegate tasks, and resolve conflict–all soft-skill-based duties that fall under the umbrella of leadership.
This question also helps assess culture fit, as many organizations have a distinct leadership style. If the organization is known for being an industry disruptor whose managers push their employees, then someone with a more laid-back leadership style might not be the best fit.
Don’t assume you won’t be asked this question just because you’re not interviewing for a managerial position. It comes up at all seniority levels. Leadership is a valuable quality even in roles that don’t have direct reports. Hiring managers want to understand whether you can think independently and whether you’ll step up if you’re in a situation that calls for you to take charge.
What interviewers are looking for when they ask about how you lead
Interviewers want to understand not only how you lead but how comfortable you are in a leadership role. Do you answer the question with confidence, or do you seem uncertain? Delivering a definitive answer in an assured tone shows the hiring manager that you have the leadership tools necessary to succeed in the role.
Hiring managers are also interested in what aspects of leadership you choose to talk about. Do you focus on communication? Coaching? Transparency? Creativity? What you decide to highlight is up to you, but you should choose it strategically to reflect what’s important to you as a leader.
How to answer the interview question ‘What is your leadership style?’
Learn about different leadership styles
Every leader is different, but there are a handful of common styles that most leaders leverage. Someone with a democratic leadership style takes input from all team members before making decisions. Someone with a transactional leadership style gets employees to do things by using a system of rewards and punishments. Read up on the various styles and decide which elements best encapsulate how you prefer to lead.
Research what the company values
Different leadership styles are useful for accomplishing different objectives. For example, while the democratic style we mentioned above sounds like it would be a fair way to lead, it wouldn’t work very effectively when navigating an unpopular company move like a round of layoffs.
Learn as much as you can about the company’s strategic goals (or get the hiring manager to describe them during your interview) and make sure you choose a leadership style that’s appropriate for these goals.
Cite specific examples
Once you’ve selected a leadership style to describe, come up with a few real-world examples of how you embodied it in your previous work experience. If you’re citing your strengths in conflict resolution, explain how you helped two opposing parties come to a mutually agreeable solution. If you’re describing how well you can motivate others, talk about a time you successfully got your subordinates on board with a new company initiative.
How not to answer
Give a generic answer
Avoid giving a basic answer like “I feel that I’m a strong leader,” which doesn’t tell the interviewer anything meaningful about your skills. Even if you haven’t spent much time leading a team, come up with a concrete example from a different aspect of your work where you used leadership skills to accomplish a task.
Sample answers to ‘What is your leadership style?’
It’s a good idea to have a few different answers to this question in your head so you can select the one that seems to be the best fit based on any information the interviewer shares. Talking about your chosen leadership style with poise and confidence will assure your interviewer you’ll be comfortable and effective in the job.