Solid questions for identifying leadership potential in an interview

While companies are looking at hiring candidates with good skills, they are also on the lookout for people who can lead from the front

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Aug 17, 2016 09:37:04 AM UTC
Photo: Shutterstock

"Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." Dwight D Eisenhower

A lot of weightage is given by organisations to candidates for their existing knowledge and skill-set at the time of hiring. However, now companies are realising that skills can be taught and knowledge acquired far more easily than changing a person’s attitude. They want candidates with high leadership prospects.

Senior executives are emphasising on leadership potential or experience as a necessary quality in their employees across levels. Various forums that bring these senior executives together with their dilemmas are now filled with asking for solutions on how to address this new mind shift.

In case of new hires, the interview process is a golden opportunity to evaluate leadership qualities. While for existing employees, identifying the spark for potential and then igniting it by giving them the opportunity to go through a formal leadership development plan which involves mentoring and coaching is the way to go for most companies.

Here are some compiled questions and their explanations on identifying existing leadership prowess or potential in your employee or would be-employee.

1. Who is your favourite leader and why? This question allows you to know which qualities the candidate already demonstrates or wishes to develop in themselves and their team in the future. The person they pick, most likely has the values that resonate the most with your candidate. Leaders are usually well known for their attributes and not really their skills. Skill levels are easier to decipher. This is a quicker way to gauge the attributes of the person you want to bring on board. The value system of a person is something that is very difficult to operate against. It is best to bring in people most aligned to the values of the organisation.

2. Give me an example of how you have operated in adverse situations?
It is in difficult times that true leadership emerges. If one has crumbled or never seen failures in their life, there is a possibility that they may not be able to stand up to the challenge if such a situation were to arise, which is something they are bound to encounter as a leader.

3. How do you motivate your team? How do you motivate yourself?
With employee engagement being a concern for most companies, especially in India’s current high growth environment, it is extremely important for leaders to know the pulse of their people. The corollary to this is knowing your own motivation factors and triggers. Leadership starts with self. Once leaders understand themselves better, they can be more tuned into motivating their teams.

4. What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is a word with many interpretations, each quite personal to the individual. Understanding your candidate’s definition and idea of leadership is important before you make them a part of your team.

5. When you left your last job, how many people followed you to be part of the new company?
Leaders are called leaders because they have followers. They need to be able to create influence. If one is influential enough, people want to be working with them regardless of the organisation. Of course there may be reasons like change in location of your new job where this may not be possible.

6. What is the one thing that you think you know and understand well but the world doesn't get it?
This indicates the passion of the person. It also demonstrates their frustrations, maybe things keeping them away from being great. Would you want to be able to help this person grow in your organisation knowing this about them? In an interview, this also helps elevate their energy level so they are in a better frame of mind to give their best answers.

7. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organisation?
This question displays the scope of decision making responsibility bestowed upon this person in the organisation.

8. Give an example of the methodology you use to communicate the core values of the organisation?
Core values are crucial for defining and retaining the culture of the organisation. Relaying them effectively requires the leaders to understand them thoroughly and live them in their day-to-day lives.

9. What leadership books have you read in the past and which ones spoke to you the most?
This shows that the candidate is serious about self improvement and self learning. After all, actions speak louder than words. If people see their seniors working on self improvement, they tend to imbibe those behavioural traits in themselves. It also suggests the style of leadership this person follows and their strong beliefs and preferences. Leading by example is a crucial method to inspire action.

10. How do you make decisions when you don't have all the facts?
Decision-making and dealing with ambiguity are two things that people in leadership positions have to do all the time. How do they deal with ambiguity? Will that style work in your environment? Knowing how your candidate understands this and executes it gives great insights into their personality.

11. What has been the difference in your approach in managing up vs managing down?
In India, especially as a culture, it is easier for people to manage up. We are used to a hierarchical way of life. Now, though it is becoming more and more important to keep your employees engaged and fulfilled while promoting their growth, performance and doing so with a sense of control and discipline. In reality, the approach should not be very different in the two cases.

12. Give one instance when you were very proud to display your leadership skills.
This will again give more insights into the character, personality and style of your candidate.

While questions are important to know your candidates better, significance of listening to your gut instinct while making a call on hiring a person cannot be undermined.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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