Describing Leadership Skills: Your Approach and Impact

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: October 26, 2022

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One of the most common interview questions is ‘how would you describe your leadership skills?’ The wording might shift a little from one employer to the next, but that particular prompt has become so popular it is even starting to pop up on job applications sometimes — and not always applications for jobs that entail a lot of direct supervision of others or formal authority.

There's a good reason why this interview question is so popular, though, and why it pops up in places you might not expect to see it. It's because employers are not necessarily looking to be briefed about your formal leadership roles when they ask about leadership skills. They are asking about style, and they are looking at how you will communicate your needs and rally other people around you in a team environment. With some preparation and practice, just about anyone can find a way to talk about how they approach these moments of leadership in a way that really sets them apart.

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How to Answer the 'How would you describe your leadership skills?' Interview Question

Use an Elevator Pitch

Discuss a moment or two where you really stepped into an organizational role, and use descriptive and easily identifiable words to characterize both your choices and your choice of presentation to your teammates. When preparing to give this kind of answer, it is best to keep it brief by choosing anecdotes that demonstrate your point as clearly as possible, because the style is clearest and most effective when your answer stays between thirty seconds and a minute. When brainstorming the situation, you want to describe the ways your leadership skills made a difference. Think about how to highlight multiple skills with a single example, or how to pivot between a couple clear examples if that is not possible. The key is to keep things concise, so your answer moves forward quickly.

Write Out Your Ideas

After practicing the elevator pitch format, it helps to write out the version you feel comfortable with. This does a few things. First, it allows you to look over the organization and make sure it is as effective as possible. It also gives you the opportunity to see and clarify any points that might be vague or hard to understand for people who were not present during your examples. When speaking, these minor touches are easy to miss, and many people find them as they write, even before they read back their words. Writing out your answer also gives you a chance to see what kind of length and word count you have, so you get a sense of how fast or slow your practice delivery has been.

Match Your Answer to Their Corporate Values

As you describe your leadership skills, try to choose examples and words that mirror the corporate values of the company you are interviewing with. This demonstrates that your approach to leadership and the problem-solving roles that come with it are going to mesh well with the company's needs. It also helps you practice finding ways to naturally fit your skills and approach to employer expectations, which makes transitioning into a potential job easier after hire. Those values, mission statements, and other artifacts of corporate culture are important because they communicate that company's identity, so showing that you are paying attention to them goes a long way. Remember, they ask these leadership interview questions for a reason!

Sample 'How would you describe your leadership skills?' Interview Answers

I understand that you are looking for someone with leadership skills, and that not every leadership style is going to work for every environment. I think my leadership style is very flexible, though, because I would say I focus more on facilitation than on leading from the front. I try to make sure every team member knows what he or she needs to know to make sure the piece fits. I also put the task and the results before doing things in my own particular way so everyone is comfortable presenting their ideas in their own style, and I encourage people to discuss things until either a consensus emerges or a decision simply needs to be made.

When approaching a situation where I am leading or facilitating the discussion, I tend to take an organized approach. While top,down methods have their weaknesses, I think adapting a chain of command structure makes it easier for errors to be addressed and new points of view to be considered. The channels of communication stay clear, and as long as the focus is on how to make things work and not on any one particular team member's favorite way of doing things, you can get a lot done with that organization. The hard part, as the leader, is making sure you are doing just that, which means keeping your own preferences in check.

With a little practice and the right research into your potential employer, highlighting your own leadership skills with a few key descriptive strategies will help you craft answers to interview questions that really set you apart.

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