13 Common Leadership Interview Questions (with Example Answers)

Dana Guterman
Updated: June 20, 2023

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Be prepared to answer common interview questions about leadership.
  • Understand why employers ask questions about leadership.
  • Know how to connect your leadership experience to the role for which you’re interviewing.

Even if you’re applying to be an intern, you can expect to get a question or two about leadership. Why? Because being a leader isn’t just about managing others. It’s about setting an example for your coworkers and being willing to step in and step up when needed.

Today, we’ll look at the most frequently asked interview questions about leadership.


How to answer leadership interview questions

Most interview questions about leadership are behavioral interview questions, and that means they’re best answered by using the STAR method. When asked about your leadership abilities, you’ll want to share examples of how you’ve demonstrated leadership in the past, and then connect those experiences to the role for which you’re interviewing.

If you’re a student, chances are you don’t have a ton of professional leadership experience. However, you’ve likely demonstrated leadership in a variety of ways outside the office. Here are some examples of leadership experience to shape your responses.

For students, leadership experience might include:

  • Leading class projects.
  • Holding leadership positions in school clubs.
  • Spearheading fundraising efforts for nonprofits or local organizations.
  • Taking the initiative to revamp a process or kick-start a project at an internship or part-time job.
  • Founding a new club or organizing an event.

In your response, be sure to focus on the soft skills you honed through your leadership.

Interviewers want to hear about leadership traits like your ability to communicate, reach consensus, ensure integrity, build relationships, delegate, inspire, and persuade.


Sample leadership interview questions and answers

There are dozens of possible questions employers can ask you about leadership. Here are 13 of the most frequently asked questions, along with some sample answers.

1. Tell me about a time when you had to step into a leadership role unexpectedly.

Especially for those new to the working world, this question checks a lot of boxes: Are you adaptable? Will you take the initiative when needed? Can you inspire others?

I’ve been a DJ at ABC University’s student radio station since my first semester. I love engaging with our community and providing quality content. Then, last year, our general manager had to take a leave of absence due to a family emergency, with no warning. Given that I’d been there the longest, I took over the same day. It was a lot all at once, so the first thing I did was call a meeting to get everyone’s thoughts and goals for the station. Then, we made a plan of action for the next two months, and I delegated tasks to enact that plan among team members. This relationship-focused, egalitarian leadership style worked really well, and we were able to keep everything moving along until the manager returned.

 2. What words would you use to describe a great leader?

Remember, it’s about sharing what makes a good leader, and then reinforcing how you embody those positive traits.

The best leaders bring a strong strategic vision, great communication skills, and the ability to inspire others. They also know when to step up and when to take a step back. In my collective bargaining class last semester, our final grade was a team project in which we had to successfully negotiate a union agreement. My team played the role of management, and things got heated. But I knew that dialog was the only thing that would move us forward.

So, I stepped in and started asking questions to try to understand the other side’s point of view. This encouraged the other team to ask us questions, and soon we were discussing, rather than arguing. After running the numbers, we realized we could restructure the benefits and save enough money to cover 80% of the salary increase the union was requesting. We also invited their leaders to our monthly management meetings. It helped close the deal—and our team got an A.

3. Describe your leadership style.

Interviewers want employees who are self-aware. Be sure to back up your response with clear examples, rather than just listing a bunch of positive adjectives.

I’ve been told that I have a democratic leadership style. I worked as the floor manager at our local branch of ClothingLand last summer, and I always asked my teammates for their input and took their thoughts into consideration before making a decision. We did all the floor designs and displays together, and I was just there to make a final decision when needed. Because of this, we had the most creative window displays of any branch and even got a shout-out in the weekly newsletter from management.

4. Tell me about a time when you motivated or inspired others. 

Every company wants to hire people who can inspire others. That’s because everyone works better when supported by encouraging colleagues. Assistants can inspire managers; interns can inspire the CEO.

As the captain of ABC College’s swim team, I think the best way to inspire others is to act as more of a coach than a leader. I became captain last year, after a pretty hard season, and I knew that I wanted to focus on motivating my team members based on their individual strengths—even if it was more time-intensive for me. So, I started having bimonthly check-ins with each team member, so we could work together to create a tailored training regimen for each person. The number of missed practices has gone way down as a result, and we’re on track for our best season in four years.

5. How do you deal with disagreements when working on a team?

Strong leaders know how to manage conflict productively and efficiently. In your response, share an example of how you mediated a conflict in the past by highlighting your problem-solving process.

I believe that open, diplomatic communication is crucial to resolving conflict on a team. Every year, I volunteer with a local anti-poverty nonprofit, helping to organize and make all the decorations for their annual fundraising gala. Two years ago, I was working with two other long-time volunteers who had very different ways of working. One wanted to plan everything, while the other preferred to do everything on an as-needed basis—and not a second sooner.

We all went out to coffee, and I encouraged them to share their views and why they felt that way. I wrote down the benefits to each of their viewpoints, and from there, we went over the pros and cons, dividing up the tasks in a way that worked for each of them. They remembered why they were doing this in the first place, and working with them has been a pleasure—99% of the time—ever since.

6. Tell me about a difficult leadership challenge you overcame.

This is the leadership version of “What is your greatest weakness?” Your response should touch briefly on the challenge, and then focus on how you resolved it to reach a positive outcome.

Throughout school, I worked in donor relations, soliciting donations for our annual fund. Our team was given the same script for every donor. Donations were down, and we weren’t sure why. So, I decided to schedule a call with each former donor to ask about their individual concerns, and I offered to meet with them for coffee if they lived nearby. I prepared a survey in advance and took my findings back to the rest of the team. Along with several other students, we prepared a report for the board. By implementing suggestions based on our findings, we increased donations by 9% last year. I’ve found that stepping up, thinking outside of the box, and working with others is the best way to meet a challenge.


Additional leadership interview questions

7. Do you prefer meeting one-on-one or in a group?

8. How would others describe your leadership style?

9. How do you measure your own performance?

10. Who is your favorite leader? Least favorite? Why?

11. Describe a time when you disagreed with someone in a leadership position. What did you do?

12. Tell me about a time when you had to get others on board with your idea.

13. How would you deliver bad news to your team?

Step-by-Step Guide to Answering Leadership Interview Questions

Step 1: Understand the question

Before you start answering, make sure you fully understand the question being asked. Is the interviewer asking about a specific leadership style, a situation where you displayed leadership, or how you handle conflicts as a leader? Each question requires a slightly different approach in your answer.

Step 2: Reflect on relevant experiences

Think back to a time when you demonstrated the qualities or skills the question is focusing on. Remember, this doesn’t always have to be in a professional setting. Leadership can be shown in school projects, volunteering, or any other group activity.

Step 3: Use the STAR method

The STAR method is a common approach to answering behavioral interview questions. It stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

  • Situation: Start by setting the scene. Briefly explain the context or background of the situation.
  • Task: Describe the task or challenge that you were facing. What was the problem you needed to solve or the goal you needed to achieve?
  • Action: Explain what actions you took to address the task or challenge. This is where you can highlight your leadership skills.
  • Result: Finally, share the outcome of your actions. How did your leadership impact the situation? What did you learn from the experience?

Step 4: Connect to the role

After you’ve explained your past leadership experience, connect it back to the role you’re interviewing for. Show the interviewer how the skills or lessons learned from that experience will help you succeed in the new position.

Step 5: Practice your answers

The more you practice your responses, the more comfortable you’ll be during the actual interview. This also gives you the chance to refine your answers, ensuring they’re clear, concise, and compelling.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to leadership questions. Your responses should reflect your personal leadership style and experiences. Be genuine, and use your answers as an opportunity to show the interviewer what kind of leader you are and how you could contribute to their team.

Tips for answering questions on leadership

  • Confidence is key. Leaders are confident in their abilities, so don’t undermine your responses by being overly modest or nervous. Let your personality shine through (but don’t be arrogant).
  • Acknowledge others. Part of being a great leader is recognizing others’ efforts. Be sure to give credit to your teammates in your responses. It will show that you value others and are a good collaborator.
  • Connect the dots. Be sure to clearly outline how your previous leadership experience will allow you to add value in this new role.
  • Go high, not low. Part of being a good leader is taking responsibility. Never blame others or make excuses for a situation. You don’t need to be perfect to be a great leader; you need to be honest, hold yourself accountable, and strive for improvement.

Leadership is a fundamental trait that employers seek, regardless of the position or level you’re applying for. Mastering leadership interview questions can give you an edge in the hiring process and effectively demonstrate your ability to make a significant impact on the team or organization.

Remember, it’s not just about detailing past experiences but connecting your leadership style and skills to the potential role. Practice your responses, showcase your confidence, and don’t forget to highlight your ability to collaborate and recognize others’ contributions.

The real essence of leadership lies in your willingness to learn from your experiences and strive for improvement. By utilizing the step-by-step guide and tips provided, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle leadership questions and leave a lasting impression on your interviewers. Good luck with your next interview!