interview questions about leadership

Interview Impressions: Are You a Boss or a Leader?

In all the executive searches I did (over 400), I never had a client say, “Please find us a person who will sit behind a desk and direct the activities of others.” Thus, you should be prepared to answer interview questions about leadership with enthusiasm.

I say this because I interviewed many people who told me they just wanted to direct the activities of others. They didn’t want to get their hands dirty anymore. They were above that. The had earned the right to be a boss.

Are You a Boss or a Leader?

Thus, I loved this graphic my cousin posted on Facebook the other day:

It’s a great illustration of a common interview failure point. Are you the boss behind the desk or the leader at the front of the team?

Prepare to Answer Interview Questions About Leadership

Knowing the difference, building a track record of leading rather than bossing, and being able to convey all that in a job interview matters. It could easily be the difference between a job offer and a rejection letter.

One of the easiest ways to prepare to answer interview questions about leadership is to review/upgrade what you say about leadership on your resume.

Check these in-demand leadership skills, feature them on your  resume, and prepare interview talking points about them:

  1. Retaining and developing talent.
  2. Managing complexity.
  3. Leading change.
  4. Choosing integrity.
  5.  Acting as an internal entrepreneur.

If you’re set to go with StARs on those topics, you will be better able to keep your boss dream to yourself — because sharing it won’t help you get job offers.

Prepare Your StARs

What’s a StAR? It’s a situation/action/result description of something you’ve done. Like this:

Situation: When I started leading the IT applications group at X Corp., we measured employee engagement at 40%.

Action: I worked with HR to develop a new career ladder for analysts and programmers. We provided my people with classes and on-the-job learning opportunities. And we made sure they aligned with skills we needed to develop to support the company’s strategic plan.

Result: Engagement zoomed to 78% in two years. Retention increased commensurately. And we were able to convert half of our entry-level job offers to hires.

Keep Your Boss Dream to Yourself

If you’re careful, you can figure out the boss/lead balance it will take to succeed in any job you interview for without tipping your hand. Do that to keep your options open. It’s better to have an offer you decide to decline than no offer at all.

What About the Hiring Manager?

BTW, you might want to determine the hiring manager’s personal approach to bossing versus leading before you accept a job offer.

Graphic: Source Unknown
Image: Fotolio/tostphoto
Updated May 2019

© 2013 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 5

  1. From a military point of view, the pictures kind of depict the difference between the Marines and the Army…although it does result in more casualities in the junior officer corps, Marine 2nd and 1st Lieutenants are trained to lead from up front, not the rear.

    Having not served, I’m in awe of all who have. The differences between the services are interesting. Regardless of which, they produce some of the finest leaders I’ve ever had as colleagues. I’m guessing you’re a Marine David. If that’s right, thank you for your service. Donna

  2. I couldn’t agree more with this article. I was spoiled when I first entered the workforce by having a boss and regional manager who were great leaders. It has been something that has been hard to find again.

    As a manager I have a rule not to ask anything of my employees that I am not willing to do myself. It not only earns their respect, it earns their confidence in me, and helps keep me grounded as a leader.

    Amen Heather. Thank you, Donna

  3. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. As a leader, inserting yourself into a situation that needs fixing/tending/guidance shows you care and makes you vulnerable – it’s possible your team will see you struggle or fail and you are dependent upon them as much as they are upon you, but that’s also what makes it so powerful. You shouldn’t be in leadership if you don’t have the wearwithal and perseverance to fail/struggle/lose and get up and fight again. More than winning, your team needs to see this quality alive in you as a leader. Becoming vulnerable fosters trust and if your team trusts you, they will follow you anywhere.

    Being vulnerable is being human — and yes, it fosters trust. Thank you for your insights Matthew. Donna

  4. I know it may seem odd but the metaphor for me in this picture are the logs. The logs are what are enabling everything to move forward. Without the logs nothing gets done. The logs represent those workers that leaders and their direct C-level reports often forget about. They enable all of us ‘leaders’ to move that big block (vision/mission) forward. How we treat them determines how well we do. So, don’t forget about the logs! Treat your people right, at all levels, and you will go far as a leader. :)

    Hi Glen,

    I think my belief that most things that get done in this world get done through Administrative Assistants is a corollary to what you just wrote. Yes, I’m one of those recruiters who asks the Receptionist and the Administrative Assistant what they thought of the candidate. Their veto power is just as weighted as the hiring manager’s in my book.

    Thank you,


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