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Behavioral Interview Questions About Leadership Skills

January 9 • 8 Minute Read


Every organization seeks to hire leaders. Individuals in leadership positions have a great impact on their teams and the entire company. Their leadership skills influence the productivity and happiness of the organization. Key leadership skills hiring managers look for when interviewing a candidate include:

  • Decision Making 
  • Employee Development 
  • Goal Setting
  • Motivation
  • Performance Management
  • Strategic Planning
  • Team Building

This pertains to people in management positions and employees at all levels of the organization, including entry-level positions. Organizations prefer to promote from within and therefore want to hire people who are potential leaders. No matter what position you are interviewing for, you should be prepared for questions related to leadership.  

This article will help you get ready for behavioral questions that help employers understand your ability to lead others, either directly or by example. Knowing how to correctly respond to this type of question will help you demonstrate your ability to help an organization achieve its objectives by leveraging your leadership qualities and convince the interviewer you are the right candidate for the job.

Behavioral Questions

Questions about your leadership skills are a specific type of behavioral question. Behavioral questions explore how you handled situations in your past positions and indicate what you will do when faced with similar challenges in the future. You can identify behavioral questions when the interviewer starts the question with something like, “Tell me about a time …” or “What steps did you take …”

Questions About Leadership

The best way hiring managers can learn about your ability to lead is to ask questions about your previous experiences. These questions require you to create a story and relate it in an organized and clear fashion. Interviewers will note the skills you used to lead a team, how effective they were, and how you helped the organization achieve its objectives. They hope to hear that you are comfortable assuming a leadership position and are willing to take on the responsibility this entails, either now or in the future. 

How to Answer Questions Related to Leadership

True leaders are generally uncomfortable talking about their success in leading others. The famous quote by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu states, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” However, to be seriously considered for a leadership position or convince the hiring manager that you can grow into one in the future, you must be willing to demonstrate how you’ve led others in your previous positions. If you anticipate behavioral questions about leadership and are prepared to answer them, you will find it easy to respond to these questions during an interview. 

Leadership-related behavioral questions are best responded to using the STAR format. This helps you organize your response by creating a story related to the question.

The STAR format uses the following framework:

Situation – Briefly describe a situation related to the question. Ensure the situation you use describes a time you successfully acted in a leadership role.

Task – Summarize the task or goal you needed to achieve. Describe how your leadership skills were required for the team to achieve its objective.

Action – Talk about the actions you took to lead a team or project to a successful outcome. These actions should focus on the steps you took to decide on the right course of action, overcome the challenges, and motivate the team members.

Results – Discuss the results you achieved and the impact they had on the organization. Emphasize how your leadership skills contributed to the successful outcome and achievement of the goal.

When preparing for an interview, you should anticipate this type of question and have your STAR stories ready. The stories you relate should be relevant to the position for which you are interviewing so they resonate with the hiring manager. Preparing your stories in advance and rehearsing them before the interview will give you confidence. It will also enable you to respond to the interviewer’s questions by providing compelling stories and communicating them clearly and expertly.

Leadership-Based Behavioral Questions 

Here are some examples of leadership-based behavioral questions you can anticipate during an interview, the rationale behind them, and an example of how you can respond to them.

Question: Tell me about a time you were assigned to lead an important meeting and the steps you took to make it productive.

Explanation: Leading a meeting may not seem like a challenging objective. However, interviewers will ask this type of question to better understand several qualities you must possess to be a good leader which include organization, decision making, motivating, time management, delegating, and being results-oriented.  When responding to this question, be sure to emphasize these qualities and other leadership skills which make meetings successful and productive.

Example: “(Situation) In my last role, I was assigned to lead a task force whose goal was to create an employee web portal. The team was made up of leaders from each of the departments within the organization. (Task) My challenge was to motivate these individuals to contribute to the task force’s objective without promoting their individual priorities. (Action) I set up a brainstorming exercise in which each task force participant could contribute their ideas without comment or criticism from others. Once we collected all of the ideas, we worked as a group to decide which of them should be included as features of the portal. I then divided the team into working groups and assigned them to create a plan for developing one of the individual features agreed upon by the group. (Results) Using this methodology, every department’s interests were represented in the portal, and the project was completed two weeks ahead of schedule.”

Question: Tell me about a time you led an organizational transformation and how you got your team to adapt to the new environment.

Explanation: Organizational transformations are becoming more common as companies need to adapt to technological developments and rapidly changing market conditions. Leading organizations through these changes is a challenging task for any leader. The skillset the hiring manager is looking for in response to this question involves adaptability, flexibility, motivation, and delegation. Demonstrating these qualities through a STAR story will help you convince the interviewer that you are the right candidate for the position.

Example: “Since our industry changes frequently, I am very experienced with leading teams through transformations. I was once given 90 days to integrate a new manufacturing process into our operations which involved coordinating several departments. I brought the entire organization together for a kickoff meeting and explained the importance of the project, our goal, the tasks we needed to accomplish, and the resources we had to work with. I then divided the staff into individual workgroups and delegated  one part of the project to each group. I met with the team leaders daily to assess their progress, identify any roadblocks, and plan for the next day’s activities. We were able to successfully integrate the new process into the plant’s operations with minimal disruption in production, meeting the 90-day deadline.”

Question: Give me an example of a time when you used a unique strategy to motivate others to achieve a difficult objective.

Explanation: Being able to motivate others to accomplish a challenging goal is a key quality every leader must possess. The type of motivation you use can be either positive or negative, involving rewards or punishments.  Hiring managers prefer leaders who can positively motivate others, leveraging an individual’s pride of accomplishment, desire for recognition, and sense of self-worth. Your answer to this question should demonstrate your ability to do this, rather than depending on financial incentives or punishments.

Example: “I was once assigned to lead a project which involved manufacturing high technology circuit boards with very tight tolerances. I had to use the existing manufacturing techniques and employees who had never done this type of work. I assigned the project a unique name, informed each employee that they had been handpicked for the project, and gave them each a unique badge that identified them as part of the team. After they were trained, I set aggressive production goals and quality standards. At the end of each shift, we posted the production numbers and rang a bell if the team had exceeded its goals. After a few early misses and no bell ringing, the team began to achieve its objectives, seeking to hear the bell after their shift. As a result of this program, the team became skilled at producing the circuit boards which allowed the company to pursue other lucrative contracts of this type.”

Question: Tell me how you ensure everyone completes their work on time when your team has to work on a tight deadline and give me an example of when you did this successfully.

Explanation: The key to being a good leader is empowering your team to accomplish their objectives with minimal intervention. This begins with setting attainable goals, ensuring the team understands the objective and their role in achieving it. You then need to provide them the resources required to be successful. The final element is being available when they need assistance but not micromanaging their behavior. Demonstrating your ability to accomplish this in your answer to this question will promote your candidacy for this role.

Example: “I believe the best way to accomplish a task, even when faced with a tight deadline, is to empower the team to do the job they are trained for. In one of my previous roles, our team was assigned an aggressive deadline to complete a challenging project. I knew we could do this, but I also knew it would take an extraordinary effort on everybody’s part. At the kickoff meeting, I acknowledged the challenge and expressed my faith in the team’s capabilities. I made sure everyone was clear about their role in the project and answered any questions they had. I also asked them for suggestions about how we could all work together to finish the project on time. This created buy-in to the project by all the team members. While working on the project, I noted the team held each other accountable and would step in to assist each other if necessary. My role was to ensure we hit our metrics and to provide the team with the resources needed to succeed. As a result, we completed the project on time and to the specifications. I then set up a team outing to celebrate our success.”

Question: Walk me through a situation where you helped a new employee integrate themselves into the team. 

Explanation: Recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding new employees is a key skill for managers. Doing this effectively saves the company money, makes the team more productive, and makes your job as a leader easier. Describing a time when you successfully on-boarded a new employee and quickly integrated them into your team will demonstrate your ability to do this going forward.

Example: “One of the things I’m most proud of is my ability to hire the right people. Not only do I look for the skill set and experience required for the position, but I also seek to understand the individual’s personality to ensure they will fit into the existing team. I recently brought on a new employee, primarily because of their fit. I had to fill a position quickly and didn’t have the luxury of finding the person with the exact skills and experience relevant to the position. Therefore, I focused on how well the candidate would integrate with my team and learn the skills necessary to do the job. Using these criteria, I selected a candidate who would fit in well with the rest of the team. I assigned them a mentor whose responsibility it was to train them on the skills they needed. Within several weeks, the new hire was not only accomplishing the required tasks but also asking to be trained in additional skills to fill in for their teammates when they were absent. This individual went on to become one of our foremen and was one of my best hires.”

Additional Leadership Questions

Can you share an experience of when you had to resolve an issue with employee behavior?

Talk about a time when you had to make a difficult choice, describing how you reached your decision and what the outcome was.

Tell me about a time you were successful at delegating tasks.

Can you give me an example to illustrate how you go about mediating a conflict between members of your team?

Describe a time when you were successful at achieving a goal by leading by example.

When was the last time you mentored an employee, and what strategy did you employ to achieve success?

Describe the most difficult team you’ve ever led and how you overcame the challenges to achieve your assigned objective.

What did you do the last time a team member approached you with a unique idea? 

Tell me about a time in your role as a leader when you had to persuade people to do what you want.

Give me an example of how you were able to encourage your team members’ development, making them better employees.

Looking for training for your upcoming interview?  See what behavioral questions to expect here.

The key to nailing your interview – practice, practice, practice.

As with anything, practice makes perfect. The most common ways to practice are with in-person mock interviews or a list of questions. While these options are a great place to start, they can leave a lot to be desired.

Practicing with In-Person Mock Interviews and Question Lists

One way to get valuable interview practice is to set up in-person mock interviews. Unfortunately, they can be somewhat inconvenient. You have to find someone to conduct the mock interview, and schedule a meeting every time you want to practice.

Question lists offer a much more convenient way to practice interviewing. Unfortunately, they do little to recreate actual interview pressure. In a real interview you’ll never know what’s going to be asked and this is exactly what can make interviews so stressful.

Interview Simulators – The best of both worlds.

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My Interview Practice offers a simulator that generates unique questions each time you practice, so you’ll never see what’s coming. There are questions for over 120 job titles, and each question is curated by actual industry professionals. You can take as many interviews as you need to, in order to build confidence.

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