10 Common Leadership Interview Questions (And How To Respond)

by | Interviewing

If you’re interviewing for a management or executive-level position, you need to be ready to answer common leadership interview questions.

During your interview, you’ll likely be asked about your leadership style, your approach to managing teams, times you’ve dealt with specific workplace situations, and other situational interview questions.

Effectively responding to leadership questions in a job interview requires a specific strategy, and ample practice, if you want to stand out from fellow applicants and secure a job offer.

Keep reading to discover how to answer leadership-style questions when interviewing and some of the most common leadership interview questions. You’ll also learn how to answer leadership interview questions if you don’t have formal leadership experience.

How To Answer A Leadership-Style Interview Question

When answering a leadership-style interview question, you want to be specific, direct, and provide examples that back up your claims. You also want to “close the loop” and tie your responses back to the position.

A common mistake interviewees make when answering leadership-style questions is assuming the recruiter or hiring manager is looking for a specific response and fixating on identifying the “right” answer.

In reality, prospective employers aren’t typically looking for a particular answer when they ask leadership-style questions in a job interview. Rather, they want to learn more about your leadership approach and assess your overall communication skills and executive presence.

You additionally want to reflect on why you’re being asked interview questions in the first place. If a prospective employer asks about your biggest weakness, for instance, they may want to know about one of your leadership blind spots. However, the underlying question may be whether you’re self-aware and committed to self-development.

10 Common Leadership Interview Questions (And How To Best Answer Them)

Now, let’s dive into some of the most common questions asked in leadership-style interviews and how to effectively answer them:

1. What are your greatest strengths?

Although questions about your strengths aren’t exclusive to management interviews, you’ll want to ensure you integrate your people leadership attributes when vying for leadership roles.

Also, consider sharing unique characteristics about yourself if you want to stand out from fellow applicants, as interviewees tend to rattle off the same handful of strengths (i.e. “leading by example” and “communicating technical concepts to non-technical audiences”).

Moreover, be sure to share brief examples that demonstrate each strength in action, since anyone can claim they’re a great leader.

2. What is your leadership style?

You can expect to be asked about your management style if you’re interviewing for a leadership role. Here are some of the most common leadership styles:

  • Authoritative leadership style
  • Coaching leadership style
  • Coercive leadership style (you probably don’t want to highlight this style as your primary one in an interview)
  • Commanding leadership style
  • Democratic leadership style
  • Pacesetting leadership style

Most people deploy multiple leadership styles and have their own flair, so you can add some creativity to your response as long as it is concise and aligns with the company’s culture.

You’ll also want to be prepared to provide an example that demonstrates your primary leadership style(s) in action, as stories will make your interview more memorable.

3. Can you tell me about a time you motivated a team to go above and beyond?

Throughout your interview, you’re likely to receive follow-up questions about how you demonstrate your leadership style in action. One of the most common questions you can expect from hiring managers is regarding how you took your team to the next level.

As you share examples and stories throughout your leadership interview, try to minimize the amount of background you share, since it can get in the way of emphasizing your transferable experience. Instead, focus on your leadership qualities, the actions you took, and the impact on the team and business.

With this leadership question, think about specific and unique steps you took to inspire the team to do their best. Again, remember there’s no right answer here, the interviewer is likely wanting to understand your management style better and determine if you’re a fit for the company’s culture.

4. Can you tell me about a time you managed an underperforming employee?

In addition to being ready to share how you’ve led teams to success, you also want to be prepared to provide an example of how you managed an employee who was struggling to perform.

Like the previous question, you want to be mindful of how much context you provide and instead focus on accentuating your leadership abilities.

If you haven’t had to deal with an underperforming employee, you can share what you would do in the situation. Tip: You can also use this strategy any time you’re asked a question about a situation you haven’t previously faced.

5. How do you influence when you don’t have authority?

While you’re likely to be asked several people leadership questions, you’ll also want to be ready to share your approach to building trust, gaining buy-in, and influencing people you don’t directly manage.

This skill is particularly important to demonstrate if interviewing with a large tech company or other highly matrixed organization where you’ll be frequently working with cross-functional stakeholders.

Aim to tailor your response depending on the interviewer. If you’re speaking with the hiring manager, for instance, you might share an example of how you influence executives. Conversely, if you’re interviewing with a peer, you might want to share an example of how you collaborate with cross-functional partners.

6. How do you manage competing priorities?

Your focus will be increasingly split as you rise through the leadership ranks. Consequently, you can expect to be asked, either directly or indirectly, about how you prioritize and manage your time and energy.

Regardless of whether this question is asked straightforwardly or in a more nuanced way, you’ll want to think not only about how you approach your own work but also about delegation, resourcing, and prioritization in your department and team.

7. Can you tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments?

You’ve amassed lots of accomplishments throughout your career, so choosing a single one to focus on can be challenging.

When asked open-ended questions like this one, consider asking the interviewer for some additional direction before sharing your response. For instance, you might ask them if there’s a specific leadership quality, attribute, or quality they’d like you to highlight in your answer.

Remember that the interviewer likely knows more about the company and position than you do, so don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions throughout your conversation.

8. Can you tell me about a time you championed diversity and inclusion?

As an interview coach, I find that diversity and inclusion-related leadership interview questions tend to stump many job seekers, as they worry they’ll say the wrong thing and/or believe they need to share an elaborate example.

But unless you’re interviewing for a D&I-specific role, your example doesn’t need to be grandiose. Your prospective employer is likely asking the question to assess whether you think about the role of DEI in the workplace and not expecting you to be an expert in D&I.

9. Can you tell me about a time you took a risk and failed?

Risk and failure questions also tend to stump many job seekers, but they don’t need to.

You’re not required to bare your soul in a job interview. Instead, the interviewer is likely trying to assess your comfort with calculated risk-taking, your openness to failure, and how you learn from mistakes.

As you progress through interviews, don’t get caught up by specific words like “failure.” Instead, reflect on the bigger picture and why the interviewer is asking the question in the first place.

10. When was the last time you received critical feedback, and how did you respond?

Similarly, you want to be ready to share recent feedback you’ve received and how you adapted because of it.

The exact feedback you share often isn’t too important here, so long as it’s not something that’s a job requirement. What you want to demonstrate with your answer is that you’re open to change and growth in the workplace.

Common Leadership Interview Questions 1

Common Leadership Interview Questions V2

How To Answer Leadership Questions Without Leadership Experience

But what if you don’t have formal leadership experience?

You always want to focus on the attributes you do have, not what you might be lacking, when interviewing. This is particularly important when you’re aiming for a leadership position, as you’re often expected to hit the ground running from day one.

Imagine you’ve been asked a question about your experience managing people, yet you’ve never technically had direct reports. Rather than focus on your lack of formal people management experience, highlight any transferable experience. Examples might include:

  • Leading colleagues on a work project or initiative.
  • Serving as the chair or co-chair of an employee resource group (ERG).
  • Managing an internship or volunteer program.

[Read: How Learning Improv Can Make You A Better Interviewee]

Final Thoughts On Preparing To Answer Common Leadership Interview Questions

While it’s impossible to predict every question you’ll be asked in a job interview, learning how to answer common leadership-style questions can calm your nerves and build your confidence.

On a final note, please don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with me if you’d like professional help as you prepare for your big day. I’m here for you! You’ve got this!

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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