It is important to ask the right strategic leadership interview questions to help you identify the essential skills and traits for the position at hand.
When hiring for a leadership role, soft skills like communication and the ability to delegate often precede technical know-how. A good leader must be able to motivate their team and give effective direction while striving to meet organizational objectives.
Use these tips and suggested questions to help identify leadership qualities in candidates for senior-level roles.
The Purpose of Strategic Leadership Interview Questions
Being an effective leader takes more than just knowledge. The right individual needs to see the company’s vision and help others get on board with it. They also need a high level of integrity. Leadership interview questions help you discern whether a candidate has these qualities.
For new leaders, the right questions can help you identify their strengths while pinpointing areas where they may need further leadership training.
When you’re hiring for a major leadership role, like a director position, the questions you ask are crucial in getting the information you need to accurately compare candidates against one another and determine the strongest fit.
Types of Strategic Leadership Interview Questions to Ask
Look for an understanding of how they motivate team members and inspire them to work toward company-wide goals. Ask about how they identify strengths and weaknesses among their reports and how they approach employee training and development.
- How do you motivate your team?
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- What are your greatest strengths?
- How accepting are you of new ideas?
- How do you decide who to hire?
- What’s your process for giving employees feedback?
- How do you promote employee development?
To be effective in a leadership role, a candidate must be able to separate the team’s daily tasks from their broader responsibilities as a manager. Ask questions to learn about their system for delegating work and how they strike a balance between empowering their employees and maintaining accountability.
- How do you delegate tasks?
- How do you set priorities?
- What tools do you use to monitor your team’s performance?
- How do you measure your own performance?
- How will you empower your employees?
Communication is one of the most important leadership skills. A winning candidate should be a strong communicator in the interview itself but should also be able to describe their strategy for conveying information to staff, company leadership, clients, and stakeholders.
- How would you describe your communication style?
- What’s your preferred method of communication?
- How do you encourage your team to share feedback and concerns?
- How do you handle confidential information?
- How do you go about delivering bad news?
One of the less appealing aspects of management is being the point person for resolving conflicts. How do they keep workplace disputes from interfering with productivity? What past experiences do they have that have prepared them to effectively control conflict on a team of this size or type?
- How do you handle disagreements between team members?
- Describe a time when you made a mistake at work. How did you handle it?
- How do you respond to criticism?
- How would you handle a disgruntled employee?
- How do you keep office politics and other distractions from interfering with work?
- Have you ever had to fire an employee?
Ideally, when interviewing for a management role, you want to get a glimpse of how a candidate’s brain works regarding their job. This will tell you a lot about whether their leadership style aligns with your company culture. Prompt them to describe how they make decisions and ask for specific examples of times when they’ve succeeded and failed.
- What does your process for making decisions look like?
- Describe a time when you had to make an important decision at work.
- If you’re selected for the job, what’s the first thing you’ll do in the role?
- What changes would you seek to make on this team?
- Who else do you involve when making decisions that impact your team?
Who the candidate is as a person matters a lot, especially for upper management roles. Values can make the difference between two well-qualified applicants who are similar on paper. Use the interview as an opportunity to drill down to what’s important to the candidate and why they felt compelled to apply for this job.
- Why do you want this job?
- What do you like about the company?
- How do you balance professional and personal responsibilities?
- What are the most important qualities of a good leader?
- Who’s a leader you admire?
More Tips For Interviewing Leadership Candidates
Use behavioral and situational questions
Most candidates for leadership roles will be prequalified with a certain level of experience, so your questions should focus less on their technical skills and more on how they’ll behave in a manager’s chair. Use behavioral and situational interview questions, which ask a candidate to ‘describe a time when…’ or to imagine how they’d react in a certain situation.
- Describe a time when you had to manage a difficult employee.
- Company leaders order you to reduce your department’s spending by 20% by the end of the week. How do you make the cuts?
- What would you do if you disagreed with the instruction from our managing director?
Creative interview questions serve a few purposes. First, they can help you assess a candidate’s ability to think on their feet and get a glimpse of how they react in unexpected situations. Second, they allow you to see more of their personality beyond what you get with the typical questions that a candidate can rehearse answers for.
- Recommend me a book.
- If you could have any superpower, which would you choose and why?
- When was the last time you did something totally out of character?
- What fictional character would make a great CEO?
Use alternative interview methods
Alternative interview methods are great for breaking up the lengthy hiring process and gaining additional perspective on a candidate, Panel interviews, for example, allow you to gather feedback from multiple company stakeholders, while a job audition can help you see a candidate’s leadership capabilities in action.
Related: Interview Formats to Use When Hiring
Watch for red flags
No matter what type of leadership role you’re hiring for, a few candidate behaviors are almost always a bad sign. Here are a few of the biggest red flags to look out for:
- Negativity in describing past jobs, employers, or experiences
- Inaccurate information in the resume, application, or interview answers
- Arrogance, know-it-all attitude, or condescending tone
- Rudeness to the interviewer, receptionist, or other staff
Finally, have a strong exit strategy to end the interview on a high note. Give the candidate a chance to ask their own questions, which can be another tool for identifying their priorities and learning more about how they think as a leader.
Related: Resume Red Flags