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How to Answer ‘What Does Leadership Mean to You?’

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Employers value employees with a strong leadership philosophy regardless of the position. Even if you are not applying for a managerial role, you may be asked to describe what leadership means to you during an interview. This question allows employers to better understand you as a person and assess how well you will fit in the organization. This article will help you prepare for the interview question, ‘What does leadership mean to you?’

Why employers ask, ‘What does leadership mean to you?’

Employers ask this question to learn about your views on leadership, what you consider a leader to be and what you value in a leader. This information provides insight into your personality and helps employers assess your fit in the organization. Regardless of whether you are applying for a managerial position or not, how you answer this question speaks volumes about your confidence and personal values.

If you are applying for a managerial position, this question helps employers assess what kind of leader you will be and if your leadership philosophy is a good fit in the organization. It gives them insight into how you will manage a team of employees and what employees can expect from you as a manager.

If you are not applying for a managerial position, this question helps employers assess what you value in a leader, what style of leadership you respond to and your confidence in your skills and abilities. Leadership does not only reside with people in managerial positions but can come from all levels of an organization. Employers use this question to estimate your ability to collaborate on a team and drive innovation even when you are not in a managerial position.

Surprising ways employers ask, ‘What does leadership mean to you?’

Employers may gather information about your leadership philosophy through more subtle questions. 

Here are some surprising ways employers ask about leadership during an interview:

  • What major problems or challenges did you face in your last position and how did you handle them?
  • How do you handle situations when you disagree with your manager or believe they are wrong?
  • What advice would you give your previous boss?
  • How would you persuade someone to do something they didn’t want to do?

Asking this question in different and surprising ways prompts answers with greater honesty and perspective, which allows employers to develop a more accurate image of your leadership philosophy. 

How to answer, ‘What does leadership mean to you?’

Here are some steps to help prepare for questions about leadership during an interview:

1. First, consider the traits of good leaders that you admire

Make a list of people in your life who represent good leaders. It can include people you’ve worked with, managers you’ve had, family, friends or prominent figures. For each person on your list, consider what qualities demonstrate good leadership. Consider the traits that you admire and would like to develop in yourself. Think about if your examples of good leaders share any traits. Those are the traits that make a good leader.

2. Second, consider the traits of poor leaders you might know

Repeat the first step for people in your life who represent poor leaders. Consider what it is about their leadership style that makes them poor leaders. Consider what traits they share; these are traits that make a poor leader. Think about how you would change their leadership styles to make it more effective. 

3. Then, study leadership skills

Research leadership skills to further understand the different components that make up a good leader. Identify the skills you currently have and the skills you would like to develop. Leadership is as much about how you treat yourself as it is how you treat others. You can be a good leader without a title or position of authority.

4. Next, define your own leadership philosophy

Compare and contrast the traits of good and poor leaders to help you define what leadership means to you. Identify the traits that align with your character and which you can improve to develop stronger leadership skills. Developing your own leadership philosophy helps you clearly articulate what leadership means to you. 

5. Lastly, use the S.T.A.R. method

When you understand what leadership means to you, think back on your work experience and identify an example of a time when you demonstrated leadership. Describe the event using the S.T.A.R. (situation, task, action, results) method by explaining the situation, the task you had to complete, the action you took and the results you achieved. This allows you to answer the question, ‘What does leadership mean to you?’ and provide an example of when you have demonstrated leadership accordingly.

‘What does leadership mean to you?’ example answer

Here is an example answer for the question, ‘What does leadership meant to you?’:

‘Leadership means inspiring others to work together toward a common goal. It encourages and enables people to do their best work. Leadership is understanding your own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the team, then leveraging individual strengths to compensate for individual weaknesses and overcome insurmountable challenges. It is recognizing that a team is more than the sum of its parts, and people work best when they work together.’

When answering this question for yourself, think about what a good leader is to you, what qualities good leaders demonstrate and what skills are important to be a good leader.