Built into questions about demonstrating leadership is a hidden subquestion: What does leadership mean to you? So you’ll want to make sure you start your answer by making your definition clear.
There’s no one way to be a leader, so as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what leadership means to you personally, you’re not going to give a “wrong” answer. Your interviewer doesn’t want you to guess what they think a leader is. Instead, it’s more important to show that you’re self-aware, that you’ve reflected on what leadership looks like, and that you know it’s a journey. “I would want to hear something that is authentic and intentional,” Moyer says.
Before your interview, take some time to think about what you think makes a strong leader and what sort of leader you are and want to be, whether or not anyone would be formally reporting to you in this role. Start by thinking about your past experiences both as a leader and an employee and what worked and didn’t work for you. For example, maybe you’ve thrived in work environments with regular, clear communication between teammates and team leaders at each step of a project. Make a list of the qualities, skills, and actions you value in a leader and use this to define what leadership means to you.
If you’re interviewing for a job where you’ll be managing people, this definition is especially important. A theory of leadership will help you stand out in the crowd, Moyer says. It shows you understand the power you have over people’s jobs in a management role. As the saying goes, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers,” so it’s in every company’s best interest to make sure their new hires won’t send employees out the door. One way to prove you won’t drive direct reports to quit is to have a thoughtful, concrete plan for how you’ll oversee people’s jobs and elevate your team.