“What is your leadership style?” is an interview question that can easily trip you up if you’re not prepared. And for many of us, the answer to this question requires a bit of professional soul-searching.
This guide will teach you how to describe your leadership style in a job interview, and make a great impression while doing it!
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Common Leadership Styles
Your leadership style says a lot about you. It indicates how you behave when directing a team and provides insight into your methods for developing strategies, responding to change, and managing expectations. This is a powerful leadership interview question that unveils character traits and can indicate whether you’re a good fit for leading others in this new position.
And if you want to be able to describe your leadership style in an interview, it’s helpful to be familiar with them. Here are five of the most common styles that you might fall under.
Also known as “Laissez Faire” leadership, this style is about trusting your team. It’s the least intrusive and doesn’t require a ton of micromanaging. With this style, you delegate tasks and let your collaborators accomplish them on their terms.
This leadership style allows for great creative flexibility, but it requires help from a competent team who knows what they’re doing.
A transactional leadership style is sometimes referred to as “managerial.” Techniques used with this type of leadership involve rewards for wins and punishments for failures. It’s about following a well-defined structure and creating natural motivation for teams to get work done.
It can be highly efficient but involves following strict procedures, rules, and responsibilities. If you get asked “What is your leadership style?” and your answer is transactional, you might need to provide additional information on how you operate.
A participative leader wants to contribute to the end goal and uses a democratic approach to get there. Rather than leading by force, this style will have you communicating with your team and involving them in key decision-making processes. It requires mutual trust and respect.
This leadership style can be successful in many situations. It encourages natural collaboration while holding individuals accountable for their work.
With transformational leadership, the emphasis is on inspiring others and working towards a shared vision. It’s about harnessing every team member’s true potential to change projects for the better.
These leaders usually focus on the future and help individuals develop their skills to contribute to the project in their own unique way.
If you have an authoritative leadership style, you prefer to lead by example. Contrary to how it sounds, this isn’t about ruling with an iron fist. Instead, these leaders motivate team members by developing plans and encouraging others to follow.
Authoritative leaders also provide regular guidance and feedback, helping the entire team succeed as one.
How to Answer “What is Your Leadership Style?”
“What is your leadership style?” is one of the most important interview questions for displaying your leadership potential. It’s a given that this question that a variation of this question will come up if you’re in the running to get a managerial position or take on the role of a team lead.
But you might be asked to describe your leadership style even if the position you want doesn’t involve leading a team. What interviewers learn from your answer can still factor into their decision, making it more critical than ever to develop a memorable response that leaves a good impression.
Here are a few tips to help you do just that.
1. Determine What Your Leadership Style Is
Before you ever step foot into the interviewer’s office, take time to develop this answer at home. “What is your leadership style?” is a question that holds much more weight than you think, and giving a bad answer could negatively impact your chances of getting a job offer.
Think carefully about your true leadership style when crafting your response. It’s easy to say that you fall into the mold of one of the styles discussed earlier. But in many cases, people will go through this process and choose what type of leader they think they should be instead of the one they naturally are.
Think back on times when you took charge and led a team. That’ll be easy if you’ve had a leadership role in the past. But you can also reflect on collaborative projects and team situations. How did you fit into those groups, and how did you develop a strategy to succeed?
Focus on your interactions with others and your overall methodologies. Look at the leadership styles above and choose one that you fit into seamlessly.
“What is your leadership style?” is a question that requires some honest self-reflection. Don’t hesitate to contact previous collaborators or subordinates if you need help. Sometimes, it pays to get an outside perspective on how you tend to manage teams.
2. Come Up With Examples of Your Leadership Style in Action
Don’t just tell the interviewer what leadership style you use, tell a story and provide real-world examples that exhibit your capabilities!
Like the previous step, this requires careful thought and reflection. Ask people you’ve worked with if you need help jogging your memory.
Provide specific answers when talking about what kind of leader you are. Vague responses provide nothing to work with and don’t accurately depict what you can do when leading a team. Interviewers want to hear about your leadership style in action!
When telling them what your leadership style is, talk about unique challenges you overcame or focus the discussion on how your approach made a difference. Maybe one method wasn’t working, so you switched gears and saw better success. Or perhaps you received commendation for helping others and leading a team in a way that made everyone feel inspired to do better.
Whatever the case, talk about it and don’t be afraid to go into detail.
3. Show That You’re Flexible
Here’s an important tip: Don’t make yourself sound inflexible. While you might have a preferred leadership style you frequently use, the company may want you to try something else. Leadership skills aren’t difficult to learn, and there’s always room for growth.
Indicate that you’re open to other styles and approaches. The goal is to talk about techniques that you know work well for you while still leaving the door open to try something new.
You can try talking about times when you combined strategies to create your own leadership techniques. That’s always an excellent way to show flexibility. Alternatively, you can discuss how and why you believe your preferred style is right for you.
When you do that, talk about the other techniques you’ve tried. Highlight your flexibility and ability to keep an open mind.
4. Practice Your Answer
Last but not least, don’t forget to practice your answer. “What is your leadership style?” isn’t a question you want to craft a response for on the spot. You need to think about your past reflections and choose your words wisely.
Do all that before you head into the interview and even try a quick mock interview with a friend! The goal here isn’t to drill an over-rehearsed answer into your head. It’s about knowing what you want to say and having the ability to do so with confidence.
The only way to get there is to practice.
What to Avoid in Your Answer
A good, well-thought-out response to this question can dramatically improve the chances of getting a job offer. Hiring managers love bringing people with excellent leadership skills into the mix. Even if the position doesn’t require you to manage a team now, there are always opportunities in the future.
That said, a poor answer to “what is your leadership style” can also work against you. Here are a few things you must avoid saying in your response.
Highlighting Your Inexperience with Leadership
If you’ve never led a team in your life you can still give a great answer! Telling the interviewer that you’re not a leader or don’t have any experience taking charge won’t help.
There’s always something you can think of. Even if you have to dig back to your days in school, it’s better to have examples in mind than not saying anything. There are always experiences you can pull from your past.
Perhaps you were part of a group school project and decided to take the reins to get things done. Or maybe you were a sports team captain who simply led your group by example.
While it’s ideal to provide professional examples of your leadership style, those personal scenarios can work, too. They show that you have initiative and can take charge if the situation calls for it!
Sounding Too Rigid
Earlier, we mentioned that you must indicate that you’re flexible in your leadership style. Hiring managers want people they can mold to the company’s strategies. If you’re too set in your ways, it shows that you won’t succeed in this setting.
Strictness is fine, but always leave the door open for flexibility. When describing your leadership style you don’t want to make it seem like you’re unwilling to change when needed.
Bringing Up Negative Experiences
Think long enough, and you’ll probably remember some nightmare leadership scenarios from your past. We’ve all been in those situations where teams don’t work, and your attempts to lead end up with nothing but a disaster.
But bringing that up when answering this question won’t help you.
“What is your leadership style?” is best answered with positivity and optimism. Refrain from bringing up negative experiences. Whether that’s acknowledging your own failures or talking ill about the people you led, it’s not what this question is for (there are other interview questions that will give you this opportunity).
Acting High and Mighty
No one likes a disrespectful dictator. Leading a team is about more than being this authoritative figure. You must be respectful of others and work collaboratively to achieve your goals.
Even as a leader, there should be a level of mutual respect. When describing your leadership style in a job interview, avoid saying anything that makes you sound like you feel superior to others. That’s a huge red flag for most hiring managers.
Have trouble coming up with an excellent response to this question? We have you covered. While everyone will describe what kind of leader they are a bit differently, you can use the examples below for inspiration while forming your own.
In our first example, the recipient wants to highlight their ability to communicate with others and trust team members. They have experience leading a team, so they pull a real-world example to highlight their skills and demonstrate what they can do.
The answer is simple, but it’s effective and shows the hiring manager exactly what the applicant has to offer.
“I believe that my biggest strength as a leader is communication. My leadership style is all about delegation and trust.
In the past, I’ve led a few teams on projects of varying sizes. Each one required unique skills that I didn’t have. As a leader, it was my responsibility to figure out what every collaborator could bring to the table and find ways to use their skills to their full potential.
I always delegate tasks to whoever is best equipped to complete them. I focus on communicating what needs to be done and why. My goal is to eliminate confusion and provide complete transparency.
I firmly believe that proper delegation and strong communication at the start of a project saves time as the work moves forward. After going through the details, I trust that my team can handle their duties.
I’ve seen great success using this leadership style. I’m certainly open to trying other techniques, but I found that clear delegation is what works best for me.”
Our next example involves an applicant who prefers to use the authoritative leadership style. Their response to “what is your leadership style?” provides valuable insight into what it’s like to work under them.
With their response, the interviewee shows that they are a dedicated leader and are not afraid to get in on the action and take responsibility. It’s a one-two punch that gives hiring managers more than one reason to think they would be an excellent addition to the company.
“For me, leading by example is the most effective way to produce excellent results in a collaborative setting. I don’t mind trying other leadership techniques, but I’ve found that tackling complex tasks and demonstrating how they should be done is the best way to motivate people.
For example, I was a project manager at my previous job. One instance that comes to mind is creating a scheduling calendar. Before that, we had nothing but fundamental deadlines. I made a calendar with milestones I thought our team should hit to stay on track.
It worked well, and other team members found it much easier to stay organized. I set smaller realistic deadlines for every major phase of the project. I regularly checked in on everyone along the way to see where they were.
My team members began marking milestones and reporting their progress. Not only did we finish the project on time, but we completed all the crucial tasks before the final deadline. That allowed us to reflect, make minor improvements, and submit the best deliverables possible.”
Once you know what your leadership style is, all it takes is a little practice to get your answer down. Describing how you like to operate doesn’t always come naturally, but you’ll find success by following the steps above!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.