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There is a distinct difference between interviewing a candidate
who has a formal leadership role and those candidates who do not. 


When a candidate has reached a position of formal
leadership, their technical skills become relatively less important to their
ongoing success. The critical factor that has the candidate consistently
deliver high performance in a leadership position is, overwhelmingly, their
competency in establishing and developing effective relationships. Unless a
leader can use relationship building and influencing skills to get things done
through others, he or she will fail at their job, regardless of how well they
may perform in other parts of their job. 


Consider the four primary types of work relationships
a leader typically has that tests that leader’s influencing capability: 


  • The
    person(s) who report to them
  • The
    person they report to
  • Their
    internal peers
  • External
    stakeholders (including customers/clients, suppliers etc)

A resume is, in almost all cases, spectacularly
ineffective at helping a recruiter understand just how competent the candidate
is at leadership, compared to exercising bureaucratic power, which is done
through having a job that includes one of ‘chief’, ‘director’, ‘manager’ or
‘leader’ somewhere in the title.   


Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre explain this distinction brilliantly
in their Harvard Business Review article from last month, How to
Lead When You’re Not in Charge
   (HBR, 2013) 


“…too many leadership experts still fail to
distinguish between the practice of leadership and the exercise of bureaucratic
power. In order to engage in a conversation about leadership, you have to
assume you have no power — that you aren’t ‘in charge’ of anything and that you
can’t sanction those who are unwilling to do your bidding. If, given this
starting point, you can mobilize others and accomplish amazing things, then
you’re a leader. If you can’t, well then, you’re a bureaucrat.”


If you want to be a recruiter who can consistently
identify a genuine leader from a bureaucrat then you will need to be using a
range of behavioural interview questions to uncover the relevant evidence. 


Here’s a selection of behavioural interview questions
I suggest you consider using when interviewing a candidate who is in, or
aspires to, a leadership role to enable you to distinguish a real leader from a


Questions for people in a formal leadership role:  

  1. Describe
    an instance where you have been required to set specific goals for your
    team. What methods or techniques did you use to ensure that your team
    understood goals that they were working towards? What was the outcome?
  2. Sometimes
    we develop a vision or a strategy that does not always meet everybody’s
    expectations. Can you tell me about a time where you encountered
    resistance from key stakeholders? What did you do?
  3. Describe
    an instance where you needed to involve your team in making a decision.
    How did you decide what information to share, which would assist them in
    achieving their goals?
  4. Open
    communication and sharing of ideas is integral to running a successful
    team. How have you encouraged team communication and the sharing of
    relevant information in the past? Which techniques have you found to be
    most helpful?
  5. What
    was the most recent important project that you delegated to a person or a
    team? What did you do to ensure that the person or the team would be
  6. Describe
    a time you disagreed with an important decision made by your boss. How did
    you communicate this disagreement? What was the outcome?
  7. What
    up-line relationship do you regard as the most successful of your career?
    Why? What did you do to make that relationship so successful?
  8. What
    sorts of things have you done to motivate others to demonstrate the
    company’s vision and values?
to help understand leadership capabilities, regardless of position title:  

  1. Getting
    people from outside your work area to cooperate often requires them to
    commit time for your benefit. Tell me about a time when you asked someone
    outside of your work area to commit time for your benefit. What did you
    say to gain their cooperation?
  2. Successful
    partnerships promote value for both parties. Describe a time when you have
    worked to clarify mutual benefits with another organisation, department or
  3. Successful
    external partnerships often depend on support from internal stakeholders.
    Tell me about a time when you obtained commitment from others within your
    organisation to support an external partnership.
  4. Tell
    me about a time when you used networking at an industry conference or
    event to initiate a relationship that then turned into valuable business
    for you or your company. What steps did you take to convert that prospect
    into a customer?
  5. Often
    we need to sell the benefits of a particular project or plan before it has
    any chance of getting off the ground. Describe a time when you had to
    demonstrate the benefits of a plan or idea to gain someone’s commitment.
    What happened?
  6. Have
    you ever worked with others to develop new and innovative ways to solve
    problems? What were they and how did you do it?
  7. Can
    you think of a time when you were required to partner with someone on an
    important project/assignment, where their goals and objectives were quite
    different from your own? How did you go about managing the relationship?
    How successful was the outcome?
  8. Detail
    a time when team morale was at a low. How did you restore the spirit of
    the team? What was the result?
  9. When
    working as part of a team, we sometimes find ourselves having to work with
    difficult team members to accomplish team goals. How have you managed
    conflict with a fellow team member in the past? What did you do or say?
    What was the outcome?
  10. Have
    you ever noticed someone on the team doing things that were inconsistent
    with your company’s values? What did you do?

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