The word ‘leader’ can conjure up several mental images, from national or political figureheads, famous historical military commanders, to global cultural icons. In terms of leadership in the workplace, our minds may turn to the corporate executive of a global organisation or accomplished young founder of a cutting-edge tech firm. Theorists have come up with different definitions for the essence of leadership, however, professionally speaking it is commonly agreed that an effective leader is a person who can:
- Create an inspiring vision of the future.
- Galvanise senior and subordinate colleagues alike to engage with their vision.
- Strategically manage its delivery through others.
A successful leader not only uses their knowledge and strategic and analytical skills to assess and carve out a better path for their division and organisation that they work for, but also compels buy-in to that vision by making it inspiring, relatable, and meaningful to a diverse audience with sometimes conflicting priorities. Great leaders do more than give instructions. They unite and add value by nurturing a supportive and dynamic environment where individuals’ skills are recognised and promoted, and productivity is maximised.
Whether you’re applying for a senior leadership role, an interviewer will ask questions to understand more about your leadership skills and the value you can bring to the role. Belowe are four common leadership competencies with questions and guidance on what the Interviewer is looking for in order to help you prepare better answers.
Building Capacity: Fostering team capabilities for now and the future
Q: ‘Describe the capabilities required to deliver the vision and priorities of your team today and in the future. How does this inform the way that you allocate resources, including recruitment and promotion decisions?’
This question is assessing whether you think strategically about your team and their mix of strengths and abilities to meet the needs of the business now and in the future. In other words, have you got the right people with the right skills to do the job? What are you doing to make improvements in training, promotion, and recruitment?
Proactively empowering others
Q: ‘How do you identify talented individuals? What do you develop them?’
This question is assessing whether you are proactively empowering others to grow and develop. Give an example where you identified leadership potential in one of your team and gave them a challenging or high-profile project. How did you support them through the work? How did you track their progress? How did you acknowledge their success?
Inclusiveness and diversity
Q: ‘Describe how you foster diversity and inclusion in your team? Which strategies have been successful, and which have not?’
This question is assessing whether you value inclusiveness and diversity and what you have done to promote or increase this in your team. You need an example where you have identified a diversity or inclusion problem and what action you took. What have been the benefits that you helped deliver? If, for example, there was a gender issue in your team and a recent recruitment drive did not increase gender equality, what other ideas did you have? Another example could be making sure you encouraged more diverse views across your team or being more inclusive with junior members of the team.
Collaboration: Partnering to find and build new solutions
Interpersonal skills and collaboration
Q: ‘With whom do you find it most difficult to work and why? What do you do about it?’
This question is assessing your interpersonal and collaborative skills. You should demonstrate in your answer that you recognise people as having different perspectives and priorities, not as being difficult. You are focused on listening and helping them, even if this means you and your team must be adaptable and work differently, showing that you are focused on finding solutions. An example response might be where someone in another team had a different perspective or way of working and how you ensured cooperation despite conflicting priorities or perspectives. How did you build a lasting relationship with this person/team and what were the benefits of your approach?
Q: ‘How are you driving towards more collaborative way of working within your teams to ensure alignment at all levels? Give examples.’
This question is assessing the value of working together. It is asking for an example of where you identified that your team could improve cohesiveness and working together. You could use an example of improving collaborative working across your team or across other parts of the business. Think of an example of where you noticed a problem and introduced a better way for you team to work together. Did you face any resistance and what has been the long-term benefit of introducing the change?
Seeing the bigger picture
Q: ‘Talk me through an example of when you contributed to an initiative that did not immediately impact on your division’s goals. What helped you collaborate efficiently?’
This question is assessing whether you are interested in contributing to the wider success of the company even when your team or division doesn’t directly benefit. Give an example when you have been involved in a team/project which was of benefit to the whole organisation. This could, for example, be a change initiative or a wider charity/community initiative.
Influencing: Persuading and influencing stakeholders
Networking and building strategic relationships
Q: ‘Who are the key people you need to influence? What is important to them?’
This question is assessing whether you network and manage and build relationships strategically. You need an example where you worked on a cross-functional project and how you went about networking and building relationships. How did you decide who was important and how did you reach out to them? What did you do to understand their priorities and influence their view? How do you measure the success of the relationship and what impact did it have?
Q: ‘How do you handle ambiguity?’
This question is assessing your ability to make strategic decisions during periods of uncertainty and change. Give an example where you had to make a decision when you didn’t have all the information at hand. What did you do to make the data more robust and who did you reach out to? How did you assess and mitigate risk? What pragmatic decision did you make and what does this example demonstrate about your ability to make sound decisions?
Natural curiosity and continuous development
Q: ‘Talk me through an example of where you have used a relationship in your internal network across CRO, Business partners or other infra structure functions to import an idea or best practice.’
This question is assessing whether you are always looking to see how your team can work more effectively by being curious about best practice in other teams. You need an example where, through your relationships in your internal network, you heard of an improvement or change which you learnt more about and introduced to your team. Why did you think the initiative/change was valuable to your team and how did you share the idea to your team? What obstacles did you overcome?
Inspiring others: Building motivation
Self-awareness and adaptability
Q: ‘How have you adapted your leadership style to suit people from different functions?’
This question is assessing your self-awareness as a leader and your ability to flex your leadership style. You need to talk about your natural style as a leader and give an example of where you had to take a different leadership approach. Why did you need to take a different approach? What impact did it have on others? What did you learn about yourself as a leader?
Integrity and values
Q: ‘What do you stand for as a leader?’
This question is assessing your values and thinking as a leader. What is important to you? You need to give an example which demonstrates your ability to role model your values and lead others.
Performing under pressure
Q: ‘How do you handle pressured situations? What would people see from you as a leader at those times?’
This question is assessing your self-awareness, how well you cope with stress and under pressure and what constitutes a pressurised situation for you. You need to give an example which demonstrates a highly pressurised situation and demonstrates your coping techniques. What impact do you think you have on others when you are stressed and what have you learnt from these situations?