We can play with words for hours. Leader, manager, boss. Does it really make such a big difference? And doesn’t everyone imagine something else when hearing these monikers? In my opinion, a good leader can be also a great manager and a superb boss. You do not necessarily have to be one or another. When interviewing for a job, however, and especially for any position that entails leadership of some kind–think supervisor, team leader, manager, executive, etc, you will often get one of these strange questions. What should you do in such case? What should you tell the hiring managers?

We will look at 7 sample answers to this intriguing question in a moment, but before reading them let me give you a few pointers. First of all, you should think about the job you try to get, and people you will manage or lead. When your goal will be mostly to manage the daily operation of some business or team, saying to people what they should do and where they should go, manager is the role you should refer to in your answer. But when you will work with creative and intelligent people, and your main goal will be to inspire and empower them, then it is better to stick with the leader.

Secondly, always try to elaborate on your answer. Simply saying that you are a leader won’t do the tricky in 95% of job interviews. You need to explain it more, or demonstrate your leadership on a situation from the past. Last but not least, you can always try to convince them that you can be both an inspiring leader and a strict manager, depending on the situation in the workplace, and what approach is better. Let’s have a look at the sample answers.


7 sample answers to “Are you a leader or a manager?” interview question

  1. I am definitely a manager. In my experience, leading a successful operation on a construction site requires strict approach to your employees. Let’s face it–many of these people earn minimum wage or close to it. They may enjoy their work to some extent, but they are there mostly because they cannot get better jobs due to lack of education or other reasons. You won’t succeed with inspiration and big vision when leading such a group. On the contrary, you have to be a strict manager, giving orders, and always keeping your eye on the employees, making sure that they aren’t smoking cigarettes instead of working. Hence I will characterize myself more as a manager, and believe I will benefit from it in my new job.
  2. I am tempted to say that I am a leader, but I also know there’s still a lot of room for improvement. In general I am good in motivating the employees, making sure they see the connection of their personal goals with the big vision we follow as an organization. And I enjoy empowering smart and motivated people in the team, giving them more responsibility, making sure they grow under my leadership. But I am also aware that I do not always succeed, and may make a mistake, and that’s why I am not complacent with my leadership yet, and continue working on my skills.
  3. To be honest, I do not know yet, because this is my first job application for any managerial job. I can assure you of one thing though: I will try my best to understand what works with my team, whether they deliver the expected results and thrive as employees while managed tightly, or they perhaps do better when they enjoy more liberty, and a chance to put their own creativity and inner motivation to the test. It may take me some time to understand these things, but I believe that once I get a good grasp of it, I will manage the team effectively, and achieve desired results with my work.
  4. I prefer to lead, but I can also manage people. Let me explain. In my opinion, if you want to be truly successful in any managerial or even supervisory role, you cannot rely on one approach to managing people only. Because you will always have various personalities in the team, and face different challenges. In some situations, the best you can do is coming up with a big and motivating vision, and let the employees handle the situation. In other cases, however, you have to be present in the team, 100% of time, telling them exactly what they should do. And this is true for different people as well. Someone needs a leader, other a manager. Hence I really prefer an individual approach to every employee and situation. I may lead, I may manage, and I may do the combination of both. At the end of the day, I always keep my goals on my mind, the results we try to achieve. And I will adjust my management accordingly.
  5. Definitely a leader. First of all, it comes naturally to me, and secondly I didn’t have any other option, working as a school principal. Because we had over 100 staff members, and I had so much to do every day. If I tried to manage the people, even just a close circle around me, it would not work. Instead of managing, I did what I could to empower them. I made it a point that everyone understands the values we promote at school, our mission, the goals we try to achieve. It was a powerful vision, and unless a teacher identified with it, I didn’t want them in our team. But when everyone was identified with the vision, and it united the people at school, things really worked great and we managed to create an environment where everyone thrived…
  6. I am who I need to be on any given day. Sometimes I lead people, other times I manage them, and, in some cases, when there is no other way, I do not mind bossing them. I can tell you that certain things are against my nature. I definitely prefer to let the people more liberty in the workplace, so they can realize their ambitions and grow as both employees and people. But I known that in certain situations such attitude doesn’t work, and you have to approach them with a different mindset. I can do that, and honestly believe it is one of the reasons why I achieved great results in my last managerial role.
  7. Speaking honestly, such a division does not make much sense to me. Because before we can say we are one or another, we have to ask ourselves: Who is a leader? And that’s not an easy question to answer, especially when we look at it from the perspective of the “followers”, or the employees if you want. Some employees need a person who always tell them what they should do, and always keeps an eye on them. They may even enjoy it, and call such a person their leader, whereas a common terminology would call them more of a manager… What I try to convey here is that I do not like such categorization, and do not want to say I am this or that. All I can say is that whenever I lead a team of people, I try my best to make sure people thrive in the team, and that we achieve the goals as a team. That’s what I focus on, and I do not care much whether others consider me a leader, a manager, or whatever.

Final thoughts

As you can see on my list of sample answers, you can approach this intriguing question from different angles. One of them is thinking about the job, and considering whether it is a leadership position, managerial one, or anything in between. Then you pick the moniker accordingly, and explain it a bit.

Another alternative is saying that you can be both a manager and a leader, and prefer individual approach to each employee and situation in the workplace. And while you can definitely come up with a big vision that motivates your people, you also do not mind micro-managing someone in their job, if it is necessary for the success of your team.

Last but not least, you can opt for a philosophical answer, just like sample answer no. 7 on my list. Saying that you do not care about such classifications and focus more on the results of your team can definitely help you stand out in your interviews… In any case, I hope you know how to answer this one now, and wish you best of luck in your interviews!


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Matthew Chulaw
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