Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.
Preparing for leadership interview questions can determine whether you win or lose a job.
Don’t just take my word for it. You can check it out yourself with the following stats:
- According to a survey from Glassdoor, preparation is one of the top 5 qualities hiring managers want when interviewing.
- 40% of recruiters will not hire candidates who are not confident in their answers during the interview.
In other words, candidates who “have done their homework” are likelier to wow the interviewer and, thus, more likely to land a job offer.
With leadership interview prep being crucial, the next question that naturally arises is:
How do you prepare for Leadership Interview Questions?
While only 2% of candidates who apply for a job opening get selected for a job interview, according to the 2023 updated research by Standout CV, thorough preparation will make that 2% count.
But how should you prepare for a leadership interview? I read all the advice from recruiting experts and consultancies, and here are the top 3 things you need to keep in mind for your leadership interview answers:
1. Describe Your Leadership Experience via Example
"Tell me about your leadership experience."
Given this leadership interview question, two candidates responded differently:
Candidate A: "My leadership approach involves clear communication, collaborative delegation, and demonstrating genuine care for my team members."
Candidate B: "As the head of marketing in the SaaS industry for five years, I developed and implemented content marketing strategies that yielded 6x returns."
Which one sounds more persuasive to you?
The second response is more effective due to specific examples and measurable results, isn’t it?
This approach is known as "show, don’t tell.”
Show them data and a real story. Don’t just answer leadership interview questions with faceless adjectives.
2. Demonstrate Your Leadership Skills at Work
You have about 30 minutes in an interview to showcase your fit for the job, so choosing the right skills is crucial.
But choosing the right skill isn’t the same as making up applicable ones.
Instead, brainstorm a list of your essential skills and tailor your response to the job-specific qualification.
Those are “the right skills” to put in front of hiring managers.
3. Use the STAR Method to Shine in Your Leadership Interview
The STAR framework will help you deliver concise responses to leadership interview questions.
For example, if a hiring manager asks you about the most challenging decision you've made at work, a firm answer following the STAR structure would be:
- Situation: Briefly explain the case, including the people involved, timeframe, and circumstances.
- Task: Describe the assigned task and clarify your responsibilities.
- Action: Explain your steps, thought process, and the rationale behind your decisions.
- Result: Share the specific outcomes as a result of your actions.
It’s time to put theories into practice! Let’s apply the above three tips and prepare for the following ten leadership interview questions.
Top 10 Leadership Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)
The HR Chief of Claro Enterprise Solutions, Loren Rosario, emphasized that clarity about the role is a crucial indicator of a potential leadership candidate.
Indeed, finding the right leader-to-be in an organization differs significantly from other lower positions. It’s not merely about your technical skills.
After researching thousands of leadership interview questions, I've discovered that they all boil down to three key criteria:
- Your employee management experience
- Your leadership philosophy and style
- Your approach toward difficult situations and change
Here are the top 10 common leadership interview questions with sample answers:
1. What is Your Most Significant Career Accomplishment So Far?
After decades of experience and ten years of active research, Lou Adler, the author of two recruiting guides - Hire With Your Head and The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, found the best interview question for determining whether to hire a candidate - and this was it.
People often need to correct two things when answering this leadership interview question. Neither 1) Focus only on personal pride, nor 2) Take all the credit for the success.
Employers all know that success is not solely created by oneself. That’s why they’ll want to hear how your success contributes to the company’s value and whether you acknowledge the support received from team members.
Situation - Well, my last role was as a manager at a seasonal restaurant in Nantucket. Out of the four months I spent there, 3 of them were a total nightmare. The restaurant was packed 90%+ of the time, and we barely had any breathing room.
Task – We had to be very efficient at work to ensure we wouldn’t get overwhelmed.
Action - The most essential part of making this work was being proactive. If we had just rolled with the punches and focused on putting out fires, the whole thing would’ve quickly become a mess. At the beginning of the summer, I created a rigorous shift schedule, which we adhered to 100%. I also started a reward system - if someone called in sick, you’d get rewarded if you filled in for them. In case no one was available, I filled in for them.
Results - Overall, the summer went well, with minimal incidents. 99%+ of the customers were happy, and we didn’t receive a single bad review.
2. How Would You Describe Your Leadership Style?
In 1939, psychologist Kurt Lewin studied three core leadership styles. He identified them as below:
- Autocratic leadership is when you make decisions without consulting your team members. You tell people what to do and how to do it.
- Democratic leadership: You have the final say on decisions, but your team members are essential to the decision-making process.
- Delegative leadership: When you allow team members to set their own goals and deadlines, you let them fully determine how to do their work.
While you might prefer a leadership style over others, it's not compulsory to always stick with one.
For this question, it's helpful to understand which leadership styles to use in a given situation or with a specific team.
Situation – Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to lead teams in various professional settings, including my most recent role as a manager in a dynamic organization.
Task – As a leader, my primary objective has always been to foster a collaborative and productive work environment where team members feel motivated and empowered to achieve their best.
Action – To accomplish this, I employ a democratic leadership style. I believe in setting clear goals and expectations while providing guidance and support to my team members. I encourage open communication, actively listen to their ideas and concerns, and involve them in the decision-making process.
Result – By adopting this leadership style, I have witnessed positive outcomes within my teams. This approach has yielded a 20% increase in employee engagement and a 15% improvement in team productivity.
Knowing your leadership philosophy and being able to write your philosophy statement helps a lot when it comes to telling others “who you are” and “how you lead.” Read more on our guide to define your Leadership Philosophy.
3. How Would Your Coworkers Describe You?
According to a 2006 study by Brent Weiss and the award-winning social psychologist Robert S. Feldman, 81% of people lied about themselves during job interviews.
Exaggerating stories in the interview process is not a good idea: your future performance will tell the truth.
We’ll know a good leader can’t be a lone wolf.
By asking this leadership interview question, the employer expects to hear your peer’s perspective and learn about your influence at work.
Your leadership philosophy is well reflected in this answer; it exemplifies the way you actually live out your statement.
“I think my colleagues would likely to describe me as a collaborative and supportive person. I firmly believe in the power of teamwork and fostering positive working relationships. To achieve this, I've always prioritized active listening, valuing and incorporating diverse perspectives, and recognizing the contributions of each team member. I make it a point to be approachable and supportive, ensuring that my team knows they can rely on me for assistance and guidance whenever necessary.
I think leadership is about serving the team and helping everyone succeed together. I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had to work with talented colleagues who have taught me so much, and I continue to learn from them every day.”
4. How Will You Earn the Respect of Your Team?
Employees don't leave bad jobs. They leave bad bosses —the ones who don't respect them or give them respect.
What makes a respectful leader?
It's all about "taking thoughtful actions that you know in your heart are right, and your colleagues see it,” says Lynn Taylor, an author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant.
Situation – In my previous role as a project manager in a technology company, I was assigned to lead a cross-functional team comprising individuals from different departments.
Task – I recognized the importance of earning the respect of my team. My mission was to foster a positive and collaborative work environment.
Action – I asked my teammates what they thought was most important for their improvement. The typical answer was constructive feedback. So, to earn the respect of my team, I provided specific and actionable opinions. Moreover, in team meetings, I encouraged open and respectful communication. I created a safe space where everyone's views and ideas were welcomed and considered.
Result –This approach improved smoother project execution and increased trust within the team. Ultimately, by focusing on building trust, fostering collaboration, and supporting professional growth, I was able to earn the respect of my team.
5. As a Leader, What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
Most people know what they're good at. But they feel afraid to admit their weaknesses.
It makes sense. None of us like to admit we're weak, especially during the hiring interview.
If that’s you, this quote by Adam Grant in The New York Times might give you pause: “Often our greatest weaknesses are the other side of our strengths. And your strengths can sometimes become weaknesses.“
Sharing too little or too much about your weaknesses and strengths is not wise.
Instead, open up about your weaknesses and where you can improve.
Acknowledge your strengths and where/how you can use them. This way, you can show your true power in front of hiring managers without turning them off from the idea of hiring you.
“I am proud of my listening skills. As a leader, active listening helps me put myself in other people's shoes, understand their problems, and better guide them.
However, sometimes I am bad at delegating responsibility. Sometimes, I can finish the task well by myself. However, when I became manager in my last role, it became critical that I learn to delegate tasks.
To maintain a sense of control when delegating tasks, I implemented a project management system to oversee the progress of a project. This system enabled me to improve my ability to delegate tasks efficiently.”
6. What Skill Would You Like to Improve As a Leader?
In a critical study by Joyce Hogan and Robert Kaiser, managers were rated by over 1,500 of their co-workers on four key leadership behaviors: taking charge, empowering others, creating a vision, and executing.
Don’t just stop at listing out those behaviors. Let’s name a specific skill set aligned with each behavior. For example:
- Decision-making: The ability to make informed and timely decisions based on available information.
- Problem-solving: The skills to identify and address challenges or obstacles effectively.
You can create a list of leadership skills and tailor your responses to their qualifications. It’s better to spend time researching the company, understanding its culture, and determining which of your skills would be most highly valued.
“One skill I am always looking to improve as a leader is my ability to delegate effectively. As I've moved into leadership roles, I've learned how important it is to distribute responsibility across my team members based on their strengths.
I consciously assess each person's capabilities and bandwidth before assigning tasks. I check in regularly to provide support without micromanaging. My goal is to continue improving at delegating in a way that empowers my team, develops their skills, and drives productivity.”
7. What Is The Hardest Decision You Have Had To Make?
We all must make at least one tough call in our work lives. It always comes with unclear information, uncertainty, and stress. Yet, as a leader, you have to make a decision and move forward.
In a leadership interview, hiring managers will want to know your decision-making process and why you think your choice is the best.
So, the first step is to show the hiring manager a picture in which you need to make a tough choice. Then, systematically show your decision-making process and the reason behind all your decisions.
Situation – In my previous role as a project manager for a technology company, I faced one of the most challenging decisions of my career. Our department experienced financial constraints, and it became evident that we needed to reduce our workforce.
Task – I was to evaluate the team's composition and determine if any positions needed to be eliminated to align with the company's financial goals. This decision weighed heavily on me, as it meant potentially having to terminate team members who had been dedicated and hardworking contributors to our projects.
Action –To make this decision fairly and transparently, I initiated a thorough evaluation of the team's performance, considering factors such as individual roles, skill sets, and project requirements. I also consulted with senior management and human resources to gain a comprehensive understanding of the organization's financial situation and the potential impact of any staffing changes.
Next, I prioritized clear communication and empathy. I held individual meetings with each team member affected by the potential cuts, explaining the rationale behind the decision and expressing gratitude for their contributions. I supported them with job searches, resume reviews, and networking opportunities to help them transition.
Result – Although the decision to cut off team members was undoubtedly complex, the actions aimed to mitigate the impact on individuals and foster an environment of respect and support. While it was a challenging period for the team and the organization, the decision was made in the best interest of the company's long-term stability.
8. How Do You Announce Bad News to Your Team?
“In a managerial role, it’s natural to feel ambivalence when delivering disappointing news,” says Joshua Margolis, a Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
This is because, as a manager, you must constantly advocate for the company and the employees. It is no easy feat, and the hiring manager wants to hear how you navigate this situation.
To start, let’s focus on the decision-making process and introduce the method that you followed. Answer questions such as how everything came out and how you help people accept an unfavorable outcome.
Situation – My team of IT professionals and I dedicated significant effort to researching three different software options for monitoring employee online activities.
We meticulously analyzed the costs and benefits associated with each option and wholeheartedly recommended the software with the highest upfront cost but the greatest long-term benefits.
We believed that this software would easily expand as our company grew.
Task – However, when our management reviewed our findings, they decided to go with the cheapest option instead. And it was my job as a leader to deliver that bad news to the team.
Action – Although I didn't personally agree with this choice, I understood the reasoning behind it. The recommended software package was deemed too expensive, and investing in it would have posed a short-term risk to our cash position.
Despite my disagreement, I maintained a positive attitude and willingly took on the responsibility of explaining the rationale behind our team's recommendation and supporting the decision-making process. I recognized the importance of aligning with management's perspective, even if it differed from mine.
Result – The team took it well. Of course, they felt somewhat disappointed. But I try to focus on other tasks. I know we all have more significant issues to work on.
9. How Do You Handle Team Disagreements?
When you manage a team, you can’t always ensure that the team members will get along. They are different people with different interests, needs, and agendas. It’s natural for team disagreements to happen.
Through this question, the hiring manager wants to learn two things: What is your role as a leader in a situation like that? Did you get involved or leave them to solve their problems?
Tell them everything in the format of a story. The story should include the situation, the problems, your approach, and the outcome. Explain your reasoning and clarify that this isn’t your desired path.
Situation – I work on a marketing team for a consumer goods company. Two of my team members, Sarah and John, have different approaches to an upcoming product launch. Sarah believes a traditional advertising campaign focusing on television commercials would be the most effective approach. On the other hand, John argues for a digital marketing strategy, emphasizing the importance of social media and influencer partnerships. They ended up jumping into an argument.
Task – As the team leader, my job was to mediate the disagreement and guide Sarah and John toward a resolution to ensure a cohesive and successful marketing campaign.
Action – To address the disagreement, I first scheduled a meeting with Sarah and John, ensuring that both felt heard and valued. I began by allowing each team member to present their arguments in a respectful and structured manner.
Sarah highlighted the broad reach and impact of television commercials, emphasizing the brand's visibility among a wider audience. John, on the other hand, stresses the potential of digital marketing to target specific demographics, engage with consumers directly, and leverage the power of social media influencers.
Next, I encouraged Sarah and John to listen to each other's perspectives actively. I facilitated a constructive discussion to explore the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.
We discussed market research, consumer behavior trends, and the goals of the product launch. By focusing on data-driven insights, we sought objective criteria to evaluate the potential effectiveness of each strategy.
To encourage collaboration and brainstorming, I prompted Sarah and John to consider a hybrid approach that could leverage the advantages of both traditional and digital marketing. We explored integrating television commercials with targeted social media campaigns, influencer partnerships, and online engagement initiatives.
Result – Through our discussion and collaborative problem-solving, Sarah and John were able to find common ground and reach a resolution. As a result, the product launch was a success, generating significant brand visibility, consumer engagement, and sales.
The ability to effectively mediate the disagreement and guide Sarah and John towards a resolution not only ensured a cohesive marketing strategy but also strengthened the team's dynamics and contributed to their overall success.
10. How Do You Guide Teams Through Periods of Change?
A 2020 Harvard Business School survey showed that 71% of 1,500 executives said adaptability was the most important quality they looked for in a leader.
This is because when they are heading down a new path, they might not have clarified their new roles, or perhaps they’re frustrated with the pace of change. Whatever the reason, they need a leader who can guide them through the transition constructively and positively.
For this question, tell the hiring manager a story about how you actively evolved your team ahead of the change. Which tactics did you use to spread positivity during a challenging time? What is the outcome?
Situation – My software development team experienced a significant change when the organization adopted an Agile methodology instead of the traditional waterfall approach. This change required the entire team to shift their mindset, processes, and working methods to embrace Agile principles.
Task – As the team leader, my job was to facilitate the alignment of the team with the new Agile methodology, ensuring that everyone understood the rationale behind the change and actively embraced the required shifts in their work practices.
Action – To align the team with the change, I initiated a series of meetings and workshops to introduce the Agile methodology and its benefits. I emphasized the need for flexibility, collaboration, iterative development, and continuous improvement.
I encouraged team members to voice their concerns, questions, and reservations openly, creating a safe space for honest discussions.
Throughout the process, I provided training and resources to support the team's learning and adoption of Agile practices. I organized workshops, brought in Agile experts for guidance, and shared relevant articles and case studies to illustrate the benefits and best practices of Agile in software development.
Result –Thanks to the alignment efforts, the team successfully embraced the change and transitioned to the Agile methodology. Initially, some team members accustomed to the waterfall approach challenged the change and offered resistance. However, through open communication, continuous support, and coaching, we were able to overcome those hurdles.
Here are other good leadership interview questions for you to reflect on and practice:
1. How do you motivate and inspire your team members?
2. How do you approach continuous learning and professional development as a leader?
3. How do you prioritize tasks and manage your time effectively?
4. How do you adapt your leadership style to different team members or situations?
5. How do you stay updated with industry trends to lead your team effectively?
Common Hybrid and Remote Leadership Interview Questions (With Answers)
Gallup research shows that more than 90% of 70 millions employee wants to work full-time in the office.
Remote work statistics show hybrid and remote working models are more popular than ever, with broad adoption globally.
If you plan to be a leader in a remote-first company, it’s no surprise that hiring managers want someone who can demonstrate their effectiveness in managing remote teams.
These are some “special” leadership interview questions you’ll want to prepare for:
1. What Were Your Challenges When Working From Home?
Co-founder at Works Capital Sam Mallikarjunan once said: “It's easy to get distracted by the many things that have to be done around the house during the day."
You may face many challenges, from increased distraction to overworking. But the problem can get even more complicated with remote and hybrid leadership positions.
In that sense, pick a challenge related to the leadership role. It could be managing people from a distance or keeping the whole team connected to ensure remote collaboration. Then, you can complete your answer with your solution.
Situation – During COVID-19, our team transitioned to working remotely from home. While remote work offered flexibility and safety during uncertain times, it blurred the boundaries between work and personal life, making it challenging for team members to establish a healthy work-life balance.
Task – As a leader, I recognized the importance of supporting my team in maintaining their well-being and preventing burnout.
Action – To tackle this challenge, I encouraged my team to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. I emphasized the importance of setting designated work hours, taking regular breaks, and creating a dedicated workspace at home. I also promoted using flexible schedules, allowing team members to accommodate personal commitments and responsibilities.
Result – By addressing these challenges head-on, I was able to maintain a productive and engaged team, navigate the complexities of remote work, and ensure the well-being and success of my team members.
2. How Do You Maintain Effective Communication With A Distributed Team?
Team communication is essential for any team. Hybrid and remote teams need more effort to keep communication spot-on despite distance.
Prepare a personal story from your experience and introduce your tried-and-true methods to boost effective communication within a team.
Situation – In my previous job, I led a distributed team spread across different time zones and locations, such as Singapore, Australia, and India.
Task – As a leader, I was in charge of maintaining effective communication with team members who were not physically co-located, which presented a significant challenge.
Action – To address this challenge, I implemented a few strategies. First, I established core working hours that overlapped with most team members. During this time, I encouraged synchronous communication, such as video conferences and real-time messaging, to facilitate immediate collaboration and problem-solving. For important team-wide meetings, I rotated the meeting times to accommodate different time zones, ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to participate.
Result – By implementing these strategies, I maintained effective communication with the distributed team. Despite the challenges of time zone differences, communication tools, and potential miscommunications, the team was able to collaborate efficiently and stay aligned.
Bonus: Explore the unique Team Communication guide for hybrid and remote teams.
3. How Comfortable Are You with New Technology?
Technology has advanced so far and so fast that Joseph Fuller, a co-chair of the Project on Managing the Future of Work and Project on Workforce of Harvard Business School, and his partners mentioned in HBR.
Are you willing enough to adapt to innovations of the future workplace?
“Yes, I am.” You can confidently say that by naming a few of the employee management software products you mastered, explaining how you learned to use it, and how it helped your performance.
Situation – As a project manager, I was introduced to Trello. This new project management tool was implemented within our organization to streamline project workflows and enhance team collaboration.
Task – My task was to familiarize myself with Trello and effectively integrate it into our project management processes to improve productivity and communication within the team.
Action – To become comfortable with Trello, I took the following steps:
Firstly, I thoroughly researched Trello's features, functionalities, and best practices for project management. I explored online resources, watched tutorial videos, and studied case studies of successful Trello implementations.
Then, I created a test project within Trello to get hands-on experience with the tool. I created boards, lists, and cards to represent different project stages, assigned tasks to team members, and experimented with labels, due dates, and attachments. This allowed me to understand how Trello's visual board system worked and how it could be customized to suit our project needs.
Result – After two weeks, I became comfortable and proficient in using Trello for project management. Tasks were tracked more efficiently, and I had a clear overview of project progress. Trello's integration with other tools streamlined our workflow, enabling smoother collaboration between team members.
4. How Do You Resolve Conflicts Within a Hybrid or Remote Team?
A 2022 McKinsey survey tells that one in four employees surveyed report experiencing burnout symptoms. Arising conflicts and workplace disengagement might happen when your people don’t work happily, especially when we have fewer in-person opportunities to strengthen relationships.
To answer this question, give an example of the situation and how you resolved it. Describe the conflict, why the dispute arose, and what actions you took to calm the situation down even through digital communication.
“I had to deal with conflict sometimes at the previous job. One team member believed in taking a risk-averse approach, while the other wanted a more innovative strategy. To resolve this, I held individual meetings to understand their perspectives and then facilitated a team call which is for respectful discussion, active listening, and collaboration. In the end, they reached a consensus. The measurable outcome included a 20% increase in team collaboration.”
5. How Do You Keep Remote Team Members Motivated and Engaged in Their Work?
The company wants business results. Hiring managers want to increase employee satisfaction and retention. And we all want to be happy and valued in the work we commit a third of our lifetime.
They sound different but all connected: how a leader provides a sense of purpose within the team to keep them motivated, strengthen team dynamics, and maintain a positive team environment.
There will be many ups and downs, but what was your smart move to make teamwork delightful if it is not an in-person team gathering?
Situation – One year ago, I was a lead in a hybrid team consisting of both remote and in-office employees. One day, a conflict arose between two team members regarding task assignments and responsibilities. The remote team members felt that they were being overloaded with tasks, while the in-office team members believed they were not being given enough responsibility.
Task – At that time, my job was to resolve the conflict between the two team members, ensuring that both parties felt heard, and find a solution that would distribute tasks fairly and maintain a harmonious working relationship within the team.
Action – I scheduled virtual meetings with each team member to understand their perspectives and concerns. I provided a safe space for them to express their frustrations and actively listened to their viewpoints without bias.
During the discussions, I clarified each team member's expectations and responsibilities. This included reviewing the initial task assignments, discussing any changes in workload, and addressing any miscommunications that may have occurred.
I facilitated a joint call between the two team members to encourage open dialogue and find common ground. I encouraged them to express their concerns and actively listen to each other's viewpoints, promoting empathy and understanding.
Once the team members agreed, we documented the tasks and responsibilities in a shared document or project management tool. This ensured transparency and accountability moving forward.
Result – Through the conflict resolution process, the team members gained a better understanding of each other's perspectives and concerns. They reached a fair and balanced agreement on task distribution, taking into account workload capacity and individual strengths.
Beyond a leadership interview: Level up your hybrid and remote management with our recommended list of 16 Remote Team Management Traning Courses and 21 Remote Work Books!
Wrapping it Up
The interview can be nerve-wracking, but proper preparation for leadership interview questions will increase your chances of success.
If you’re still nervous, remember the American author John C. Maxwell once said, “Everyone is a leader because everyone influences someone.”
They chose to interview you because they see your potential. Embrace the opportunity to shine!
Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.