Management and leadership

If you’re looking to step up in terms of responsibility, you can expect this to be a hot topic during the interview: everyone thinks they’d be a good manager but in practice some people struggle. Make sure you have your management philosophy and experience ready to impress the interviewer.

Here are some common questions on this theme:

Alternative and related questions:

Are you a good manager?
How would you describe yourself as a manager?

The meaning behind the question:

The interviewer is specifically looking for you to provide them with an explanation as to why you think you’re a good manager.  If you’re up for a management role (which you most likely are if they’re asking you such a question) then your answer could be very revealing for them.

Your answer:

Well, you’re not exactly going to describe yourself as a bad manager are you!  Of course you’re a good manager and you’re going to tell the interviewer precisely what that is the case.

So what makes for a good manager?

  • Good managers develop good working relationships with their subordinates.
  • Good managers align the aims of their employees with those of their organisation.
  • Good managers set challenging but realistic targets.
  • Good managers use motivational techniques to facilitate the achievement of goals.
  • Good managers are fair and treat their subordinates equally and objectively.
  • Good managers demonstrate empathy, making people feel that their opinions are recognised.
  • Good managers demand the best of people but are aware of their limitations.
  • Good managers are prepared to take appropriate measures with those who fail to perform.
  • Good managers praise in public but criticise in private.
  • Good managers delegate tasks to others who can best handle them.
  • Good managers inspire their subordinates.

I could go on – but it’s already a long list!

In answering this question aim to pick up on several of these qualities.  You won’t want to repeat the whole list; just pick a few qualities which you feel are particularly strong points for you and which you feel are of particular relevance to the post for which you are applying.

Example:

Yes, I would.  I believe I’m particularly good at motivating my subordinates.  For example, I aim to align their aims with those of their organisation.  Once an employee is able to understand – and empathise with – the overall aims of the organisation, they are normally much more motivated to help achieve them.  I also believe I’m good at getting the best out of people while being aware, of course, of their limitations.  I strive to set challenging but realistic targets and ensure people are treated fairly, equally and objectively.

Word of warning:

A natural follow-up to this question will be for the interviewer to ask you to cite specific examples of where you demonstrated the qualities you’ve mentioned.  Be ready with appropriate answers.

Alternative and related questions:

Are you sure you have management potential?

The meaning behind the question:

The interviewer is likely to ask this question is the job you’re applying for would represent your first step up into a management role – or if you’ve only just recently moved into management in your current or last role.  They’re not by an means suggesting that you’re not management material; they’re just asking for you to prove to them that you are.

Your answer:

In formulating your answer you need to draw on some of the ideas we covered in the previous question.  Your answer to the question obviously starts with a ‘Yes’ but then needs to go on to give the interviewer some evidence to back up your assertions and to show confidence in your decision to move into management.

Look back to the last question to see what makes for a good manager and mention a couple of those qualities, supporting your answer with a statement as to why you now feel ready for a management role.

Example:

Yes, I do.  In my current role, I’m the most senior and experienced member of the team and, in all but my job title, I’m already undertaking many elements of a management role.  The team is highly dependent on me and most of my time is taken up in supporting and managing the teams members so that they are better able to undertake their own roles.  I have extremely good working relationships with my team members and seek to extract the best from them while being aware of their individual limitations.  I’m also responsible for training and coaching new team members.  I consequently feel that now is definitely the right time for me to take a step up to a management-level position – hence my applying for this role within your organisation.

Alternative and related questions:

Do you delegate?
Do you know how to delegate?
Do you have difficulties with delegation?

The meaning behind the question:

Delegation is an essential management skill, definitely one of the very most important.  The interviewer wants to know if understand the importance of delegation and whether or not it’s something you’re capable of doing effectively.

Your answer:

If you have people to whom you can reliably delegate a task – and within whose job function it is to carry out such a task – then you should delegate it.  So much time is lost by handling tasks which would be best delegated to someone else.  It’s a manager’s job to delegate and to supervise that delegation; it’s not possible – or desirable – to do everything yourself single-handedly.

The perfectionists among us often have considerable difficulty with delegation.  Perfectionists tend to fear that a task, once delegated, simply won’t be carried out to their own high standards.  This may be true – but does it actually matter?  While perfection is always highly desirable, it’s often not very practical.

Show the interviewer you appreciate that delegation is a necessity and that you know precisely how to go about delegating tasks.

Example:

I believe that delegation is an essential management skill.  It’s a manager’s job to delegate and to supervise that delegation; it’s not possible – or desirable – to do everything yourself single-handedly.  Of course, it’s often a judgment call.  You can find yourself spending more time explaining how to carry out a task than it would have taken you to complete it yourself.  You have to weigh up how long it will take to explain to someone else how to undertake the task by comparison to how long it would take to just do it yourself.  Small one-off tasks are typically best done yourself but lengthier tasks – or tasks which are likely to need to be repeated in the future – are often best delegated.

Alternative and related questions:

Can you give me an example of a time when you have displayed leadership qualities?

The meaning behind the question:

The interviewer knows it’s very easy for you to say that you’re capable of leading from the front.  What they want with this question is for you to prove that to them.

Your answer:

The interviewer has used the word ‘lead’ here.  Leadership and management may be related but they’re not the same thing.  Leaders demonstrate vision.  Leaders inspire others with that vision.  Leaders are capable of ‘thinking outside of the box’.

If you’re being asked this question then you’re most likely up for a reasonably senior management position and so should be more than capable of coming up with an appropriate example.

Example:

I frequently have to lead from the front.  To give you a recent example, in my current role I initiated the design and implementation of a completely new database system.  The plan was met with considerable resistance from the day-to-day users of the old database system who, quite simply, were happy with the status quo and didn’t see the need for change.  While it’s true that the old system did an entirely satisfactory job, I had identified a variety of weaknesses and inefficiencies and was convinced we could create a new system which would be at least 25% more efficient, resulting in considerable savings.  I discussed my proposed changes with existing users and managed to bring them round to my way of thinking, emphasising that any disruption would only be short-term and that the long-term gains would more than justify the project.  Ultimately, not only did I manage to persuade them to follow my vision but I also got them greatly involved in the process, providing a lot of valuable and relevant ideas and feedback.

Alternative and related questions:

Are you able to make difficult decisions and tough choices?

The meaning behind the question:

This question is clearly related to the question we covered in the previous chapter, “Are you able to make difficult decisions and tough choices?”  The interviewer wants to establish if you’ve ever had to make a difficult decision of this nature and, if so, how you handled it and how you felt about it or, if not, how you would feel about it.  The chances are that the role for which you’re applying may require you to handle such situations in the future.

Your answer:

If you have had to perform this inevitably unpleasant task then a simple ‘Yes’ definitely won’t suffice.  The interviewer will want you to describe the situation in detail and how you handled it.  I’d suggest you refer back to the example I gave in the previous chapter under Question 6.  That should help to give you some ideas to formulate your answer.

If, on the other hand, you’ve never had to fire or lay off a member of staff then your answer could, of course, just be a simple ‘No’.  But I’d suggest you follow that up by demonstrating that you would be capable of doing so if it were necessary.

Example:

No.  But, although I’ve never had to do this in the past, I’m not one to shy away from my responsibilities and I fully recognise that such decisions do need to be made from time to time.  It’s not a task I’d take lightly, of course.  But, if it came to it, I’d be quite capable of handling the situation and ensuring I complied with the necessary procedures and legislation.

Alternative and related questions:

How would you describe your ideal subordinate?
What would be your ideal team?

The meaning behind the question:

In describing their ideal team member, most candidates will automatically and subconsciously describe how they see themselves as a team member.  That makes this a very interesting question for a trained interviewer.  It’s another question which will give them insight into what kind of a team player you are yourself.

Your answer:

This is quite an easy question to answer really.  Focus on two or three positive qualities in a team member, aiming for ones which are universally popular.

Example:

My ideal team member is someone who is firmly committed to the common goals of the team, someone who is not afraid to roll up their sleeves and ‘muck in’ to get the job done – someone who is prepared to take personal responsibility for getting the job done.  Loyalty is obviously also important, loyalty to their colleagues, their management and to the organisation as a whole.  They also need to be a good communicator because communication is key to successful working relationships.