Interview Insights | Key Question: Tell us about your leadership style.

Interview Question: “Tell us about your leadership style and how you inspire teams to perform at their best.”

This question comes from one of my top clients who went through my rigorous interview preparation boot-camp however he is not the first interviewee who has had to answer this question.

It pops up quite frequently for obvious reasons namely — what company doesn’t say that it wants to attract leaders?

As a result, it’s important to think through your personal and professional leadership priorities, ways you’ve identified employees to lead, and reputation.

You can cop-out and use the very common and often quoted phrase and say that you are a servant leader.

Otherwise, you can talk about your situational leadership.

I advise neither.

Instead try this:

  • Reflect on what you have deemed to be priorities throughout the course of your leadership roles. Have you always been driven by that monthly dashboard? In that case, perhaps you were an analytically-driven leader or a leader whose decisions revolved around what can be measured.
  • Consider how in the past you have cherry-picked potential leaders to join your team (s). Were you mostly drawn to the quiet genius types who rarely spoke up during meetings but when they did they shared something incredibly brilliant? If this is you, then maybe your leadership style is centered around being the voice of aspiring leaders?
  • Think about the key moments in your career where your leadership reputation has taken shape or when it has shifted. You could have been a type of leader who believed in leveraging resources and experts whenever possible during the 90s and following the Great Recession you have prided yourself on being a resourceful leader who has maximized very few resources with great success.

The key insight is that rather than select an overused adjective to define your leadership style. It’s better to exercise your self-awareness skills and think about truly what has been the secret to your success in the past that is relevant to the task at hand in the job you desire.

Here’s an example to get you started while trying to tackle this extremely common question for anyone who has had direct reports in the past (or plans on this responsibility going forward).

My leadership style has evolved as a result of the type of professionals that I’ve selected to lead throughout the years. My best hires have been professionals who are quiet. The ones who really don’t believe in marketing themselves nor their ideas. Some folks would classify them as “unlikely” future leaders.

These are the folks who are quiet in meetings yet when they say something it’s always well thought-out, hyper-relevant, and quite frankly brilliant. As a result of my hiring folks like this, I would say that my style is all about serving as the voice of humble geniuses whose ideas would otherwise not get air time. I’ve had multiple opportunities to draw out from my employees their best ideas and have continuously figured out ways to coach these leaders so that they’ve become more comfortable selling their best ideas.

My best example was when I encouraged an Account Supervisor in X firm to draft a plan of his idea of having IBM’s supercomputer Watson actually play against humans on Jeopardy. Mike drafted the road map that made his idea a reality. Actually, Mike even played against Watson on TV. I can’t say how impressed and proud I was to have mentored Mike. Mike is currently an editor with where he filters stories that are published in its Marketing Ideas section and has represented the publication on numerous panels.

Are you struggling with the best response to this typical interview question? Leave a comment below and I’ll provide the guidance you need to get unstuck.

Melissa Llarena’s craft is coaching top executives on how to strategically dissect and deliver the perfect job interview. Get instant access to a 20-page interview preparation kit that will give you an edge. Join the thousands who’ve read her career insights in Forbes and The Huffington Post. Follow her at @CareerOutcomes.