Great leader can make all the difference in any team at the workplace, or outside of it. Once you interview for a job in which you will lead someone–be it only one person, or a department of dozens of employees, or anything in between and beyond, you can expect to get at least a couple of questions about leadership.
They can inquire directly what leadership means to you, whether you consider yourself a leader or a follower, or they can ask you to share with them an example of a successful leadership from your last job. We analyze all these questions on different pages of InterviewPenguin.com, and no we will look at another one–the question about your leadership style.
Before I proceed to 7 sample answers to the question, I want to make sure you understand two things. First: job interview is not a school exam at the college of management. Second: people sitting in the interviewing panel are not teachers. And though we have many categorizations of leadership styles and you can relate to one of them in your answer, the most important thing is to describe, in a language they will understand, how you lead the people who work under you, and the great results you yield with your leadership. Or how you plan to do it, if this happens to be your first job application for any leadership role. You do not need any special terminology for this purpose…
Let’s have a look at the sample answers. I tried to come up with a variety of answers on my list, including some unconventional answers. Just to make sure at least one of them will resonate with you. Do not forget to check also my concluding thoughts at the end of this article.
7 sample answers to “How would you describe your leadership style?” interview question
- I would describe my leadership style as results oriented. In an ideal case I’d like to have goals in place for every single employee–regardless of how simple their job is. Once we have the goals in place, we can set milestones, or daily schedule for everyone, and I can lead them on their way to continuously attain their goals, by checking their progress daily, making sure they know what they are supposed to do, delegating work, counseling them, and so on. It is also important to me to lead people in the way that they can see the bigger picture. Their work may seem routine or even lacking sense at times, especially here in automotive. That’s why I make it a point to personally explain everyone the role their work plays on the final product, the role they play in the team, and why it is indispensable. In my experience, it works wonders with their motivation. At the end of the day, we are all looking for a purpose, for a meaning to our everyday work and existence…
- I would characterize my leadership style as highly democratic. Always trying to empower the people, and make them participate on the decisions we make in the department, I am no strict leader. In such a working environment everyone learns from everyone, and the entire department grows under my leadership. In my opinion, in an organization of this size, with so many employees working under me, empowering people and letting them to make decisions on their own, any time a situation allows it, is the only way to meet deadlines and progress faster than our competitors. Of course, it is my role as a leader to make sure every employee understands our values, and the direction we follow in the company, and decides accordingly…
- Working on a construction site, I believe that only leadership style which works is a strict authoritative leadership. Let’s not be naive. Most of the people working here do not love their jobs. If they had better education or an opportunity to do something else to pay their bills, they would not be here. Hence they will do just as much as they have to, in order to keep their job and get their wage. If I do not set a specific deadline for finishing something, they will work slowly, spend a lot of time smoking cigarettes, and simply won’t progress at a desired pace. Hence it is crucial to set strict goals, to be present in the workplace, and do not allow for too much of independent decision making of the laborers. In my opinion, this is the only way to succeed as a construction supervisor.
- I can talk about an example from my last job. Leading a group of seven creative people in a graphic design department, the best thing I could do was to set an overall direction for the team, tell them the final goal of each campaign, and then simply let them brainstorm, dream, imagine, and work. You can call it Laissez-faire leadership style if you want. And I would love to do the same in your company. Of course, it is crucial to have weekly or even daily team meetings, to make sure people stay on the task, and progress, and to encourage them and give them feedback and everything. Except of that, however, I believe it is best to let people work independently. Interfering too much would only limit their creativity.
- This is my first application for a leadership job, and it hard to define my leadership style at work. However, I have an experience with leading some sport teams, such as at the college, or a group of friends. And I would characterize myself as a positive leader. I never hesitate to recognize someone for a good job they’ve done, praising them for their work. In my opinion, praise beats criticism. I also try to lead by an example. I would never ask someone to stay longer in work if I was to leave at time. In my opinion, this approach can yield great results, though I haven’t tested it yet in a corporate environment.
- I would describe myself as a flexible leader. Having led various people and teams in my long managerial career, I’ve learned that different things work with different people and teams. Hence I do not like to limit myself to one leadership style only. As a good leader, I always try to assess the strengths and weaknesses of my team members. And I also like to test their decision making ability with some seemingly trivial decisions. If I see that the team works great without strong intervention from my side, I won’t intervene. On the contrary, if I see that the motivation drops quickly and so does the effectiveness, or other problems occur in the team–such as regular conflicts, I will opt for a more authoritative style of leadership. And when it comes to exceptional employees, people I can imagine in my own role one day, I will give them a special attention and try to work with them as a coach. To sum it up, I try to adjust my leadership style to the people I lead, situation in the business, and other circumstances. The goal always remains the same: to achieve the best long-term results for the business.
- It would be probably better to ask my former subordinates. What I wanted to achieve, and how I wanted to lead them, and what they perceived, can be a completely different story. Anyway, I always tried to give a special attention to every employee. Regular one on one meetings formed the core of my leadership. Understanding what each employee wanted, and how it related to the goals of the business, as well as what their strengths and weaknesses were, I tried to coach everyone to achieve their best at work. Was I hard sometimes on them? For sure I was. But I did it with the best intention, and at the end of the day I also had goals to meet as the leader of the department. And I never hesitated to praise someone for a good job they’ve done…
Think about the job, working environment, and a fitting leadership style before your interview
Different working environments require different leadership styles. You will hardly succeed letting ten construction workers “do whatever they want”, letting them a complete freedom in the workplace. If you did so, you may as well return to the construction site after six hours and find people talking together and smoking cigarettes, having made no progress whatsoever.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, leading a team of creative engineers with an iron fist would not only hinder the progress of the team. Such people would simply leave the company, because freedom to decide and to think creatively and implement their own ideas is the reason why such people love engineering.
* Special Tip: This isn’t the most difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent leadership role. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, solving problems, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace and with the people you manage. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 50 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!
These are two extreme examples, of course, but I hope you got the point. Think about the company, values they try to promote in the workplace, type of people you will lead, and a style of leadership that should work well in such an environment. It should help you decide about the right answer to this tricky interview question.
Describe your leadership style in three words
Trying to avoid lengthy answers, the hiring managers may sometimes ask you to describe your leadership in three words. It is especially common on job application forms, and during the first rounds of hiring process, While I personally do not like the question, since each word can be interpreted in various ways, and without you elaborating on the “three words” they can make a completely wrong impression about your leadership style based on such a short description, you may face the question, and it is better to prepare for it.
One of the three words in your answer should perhaps characterize your leadership in general, such as authoritative, autocratic, democratic, etc. The other two words should help them understand the way in which you actually lead the people or project. Some good words you can use (depending on your way of leading others) include: friendly, inspiring, motivational, goal-oriented, demanding, personal, coaching. Choose some of them and then hope that the person reading or hearing the words will understand them correctly :).
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also sample answers to other tricky interview questions about your leadership: