5 Interview Questions for Identifying Leadership

Whether you are interviewing for a management role or identifying the untapped superstars that will grow in your company, one key quality that can be difficult to pinpoint is leadership.

We think of leaders as those people who are put in charge of others, but true leaders are those that lead from any position in the organization. Whether they’re at the top of an organization or starting out in their first job, they understand the values of your company and have the courage to foster an environment of respect and inclusion.

Whether quiet heralds of modification or brash commanders of disruption, true leaders have heart. They are the game changers–the talent that drives change and pushes to develop and empower those around them, ultimately motivating everyone toward success rather than just looking out for themselves.

It’s important to identify leadership qualities in the interview process to uncover the candidates that are likely to give your company that extra push versus the cowardly lions that are all roar and no follow-up once they land a position.  Here are 5 behavioral questions that can aid you in tapping into an applicant’s leadership potential:

Tell me about a situation that shows the steps you took to turn feedback into actions to improve organizational performance.

What it identifies:  If the candidate is comfortable receiving criticism or direction, that they can they implement change, and if they are invested in their own development.  Bonus question: Why was it important to make this change?

Describe a time when you went out of your way to make an employee feel welcomed or integrated into the group.

What it identifies:  Demonstrates empathy, inclusion, openness to diverse thought,  and the power to support and motivate others.

Tell me about a time you tried to communicate a message to a person or group that didn’t go as well as you had intended.  How could you have improved the situation (or What could you have done differently)?

What it identifies:  Honesty and integrity–can the candidate admit to and learn from mistakes or challenges and promote a process of continuous learning.

Describe actions you have taken in the past to ensure the wellbeing of others around you in the workplace.

What it identifies:  The applicant understands the value of team work as it relates to a company’s core values, and they are aware of the impact they have on their surroundings.

Provide a description of a difficult or complex project you have managed with specific attention to the barriers you had to overcome in order to achieve success.

What it identifies:  If the candidate is comfortable with controlled risk, how they adapt to change and maintain poise under duress, and if they can identify and celebrate wins even when faced with obstacles.  Bonus question: How did you come up with your ideas or know they would work?

In your next round of interviews, try infusing a question or two on leadership and listen to the responses.  Over time, you will begin to recognize the subtle differences between a good candidate and a great or potentially great leader by the way they view opportunities and respect others, as well as the process of learning and developing their skills to achieve greater success.

Learning to identify leadership talent that can drive change and empower others can foster innovation, promote a better team environment, and help your organization weather any storms ahead.  But knowing how to identify a leader starts with asking the right questions in the interview.  And by asking the right questions you’ll start to see a clearer picture of a person who could lead the way to continued success.

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About Robin Rayburn

Robin L. Rayburn is the Editor & General Manager of Robin was introduced to the recruitment industry in 2007 and her passion for people has never let her stray far from it since. In her spare time she manages her blog,, tweets from @interviewingcom and @chitowntexan, and is always striving to help those around her who have a vision for success. You can also find Robin on LinkedIn and Google+.

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  1. 5 Interview Questions for Identifying Leadershi...April 27, 2013 at 11:03 amReply

    […] Whether you are interviewing for a management role or identifying the untapped superstars that will grow in your company, one key quality..  […]

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