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30 leadership behavioral interview questions (+ answers to look for)

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Hiring a leader who doesn’t mesh well with your company’s culture and employees can have disastrous consequences. Even with the right technical skills, poor leadership behaviors can hamper productivity, hinder progress, demoralize staff, and so much more. 

Thus, you need to find a reliable way to test your candidates’ behavioral attributes before you hire them into leadership roles. 

Behavioral interviews are a great way to do this. With the right questions, you can assess how potential leaders think and act in different scenarios. Plus, you can dive deeper into their previous leadership experiences. This gives you valuable insights that you wouldn’t get from scanning resumes.

In this guide, we share 30 behavioral interview questions to help you assess your candidates’ leadership traits. We also discuss best practices for using behavioral tests so you’re fully equipped to add these to your hiring and selection process.

What are behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interviews focus on candidates’ behaviors and personality traits to evaluate whether they’re a good fit for an organization. 

Behavioral interview questions tend to focus on:

  • Past behaviors and how the candidate has handled specific situations in their previous work, academic, or personal experiences. These questions typically start with phrases such as, “Tell me about a time when,” or “Give me an example of.”

  • Hypothetical scenarios and how the candidate expects to handle different events in the future. These questions might start with, “How would you handle a situation where,” and so on. 

The underlying idea is that these insights are reliable indicators of a candidate’s future behavior. 

Why include behavioral questions in your leadership interviews?

Here are some benefits of including behavioral questions in your leadership interviews.

Getting the full picture 

Testing for job-specific skills and abilities isn’t enough when it comes to leadership hiring. For instance, a candidate may be an excellent individual contributor. But, if they don’t demonstrate qualities like charisma and assertiveness they won’t be able to influence or motivate their teams.    

Behavioral interviews show you candidates’ personality traits as well as leadership and communication styles. This helps you get a better sense of their suitability for the role. 

Assessing leadership competencies with concrete examples 

Simply scanning candidates’ resumes isn’t a reliable way of assessing their competencies. Behavioral interview questions help you put candidates’ leadership abilities to the test by asking for real-life examples from their past experiences. 

Further, questions can be tailored to focus on what your company looks for in its leaders. For instance, you can ask them to give you an example of a time they’ve led a team through change. Their responses can provide powerful insights into their own resilience and adaptability.  

Predicting future behaviors 

Asking questions about candidates’ past behaviors is a reliable indicator of how they’ll handle similar situations in the future. 

But, you can also ask hypothetical questions related to future scenarios. For instance, you could ask leadership candidates tough questions such as how they’d deal with a workplace harassment case. This not only helps you understand their values and integrity but also helps you predict their ability to make tough choices in the future. 

Promoting fairness and eliminating bias in your hiring process

Behavioral interviews provide a fair way to differentiate between candidates with similar skill sets. Moreover, asking for specific examples of candidates' leadership qualities also eliminates some of the unconscious biases inherent to the hiring process.

30 leadership behavioral interview questions & answers to look for

The insights you gain from a behavioral interview are only as good as the questions you ask. Below, we’ve provided a list of 30 effective leadership behavioral interview questions that you can use as part of your hiring efforts. 

We’ve broken these down into 10 leadership competencies and shared our tips on what behaviors to look for in your candidates’ responses. 

Charisma

Questions on charisma can help evaluate how leaders are perceived by their team members and to what extent they can influence others. 

Prioritize candidates who:

  • Provide clear examples of situations where they’ve managed to influence others

  • Show that they can rally and motivate team members to achieve a common set of goals

  • Lead by example

  • Exhibit charm and present themselves as polished

Candidates who lack presence or are unable to share examples of their influencing abilities are less likely to be great leaders.   

Here are some questions to test leaders on their charisma. 

  1. Can you describe a specific situation where you were able to get buy-in from a resistant person or team?

  2. Share an example of a time when you’ve accomplished a goal through networking and building relationships with stakeholders.

  3. How would you handle a scenario where your team members aren’t aligned with each other on how to approach a crucial task or project? 

Empowerment

Empowerment-related questions look at a leader's ability to help their team members grow and develop.

Prioritize candidates who:

  • Make proactive efforts to help their employees progress in their careers through training, mobility, and so on

  • Feel comfortable promoting and giving opportunities to their subordinates without feeling threatened 

  • Are open-minded and willing to listen to their team members’ ideas

Candidates who come across as territorial and self-centered or struggle with delegation are red flags in this category. 

Here are a few questions to assess a candidate’s ability to empower their teams.

  1. How do you foster an inclusive environment where everyone feels heard, valued, and respected?

  2. What factors do you take into consideration when delegating tasks to team members? 

  3. Share an example of a time you’ve engaged in a mentorship role. How did you help the employee with their professional development? 

Integrity and ethics

Questions pertaining to integrity and ethics aim to capture a candidate’s values on these topics and assess whether these align with company values. 

Prioritize candidates who: 

  • Demonstrate the ability to make ethical choices even in tough times 

  • Hold themselves and their team to a high standard when it comes to integrity 

  • Are willing to challenge the status quo to prevent wrongdoing and protect the company’s reputation

    answers to look for in integrity and ethics questions for leaders

It’s best to avoid progressing candidates who are unable to demonstrate their commitment to honesty, integrity, and ethical business practices. 

Some questions that examine candidates’ core values and integrity are listed below.

Describe a situation where you had to choose between ethics and meeting business objectives and how you handled it. 

If an important stakeholder such as a client or investor offered you a choice that could benefit you personally but not the organization, how would you manage it?

How would you promote a culture of integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior among your employees?

Emotional intelligence 

These questions dive into evaluating a candidate’s emotional intelligence and empathy – both of which are critical to good leadership. 

Prioritize candidates who:

  • Are intuitive, sensitive to others' needs, and quick to recognize people’s emotions

  • Can strike a balance between making and communicating tough news but showing empathy and understanding

  • Are in tune with their own emotional well-being and take proactive steps to promote wellness for themselves and others

Conversely, candidates who are emotionally detached or unaware and are incapable of putting themselves in others’ shoes are less likely to lead successfully.

Here are a few questions to measure a leader’s emotional intelligence. 

  1. What steps do you take to deliver difficult or sensitive news that you know will be upsetting for your team members? 

  2. Tell me about a time when you showed understanding and support for a team member who was going through a difficult personal or professional situation.

  3. Describe a situation where you’ve had to manage your own emotions effectively in order to prevent the team from feeling demoralized or negative. 

Adaptability and change 

Change is inevitable and you need to ensure your leadership candidates can manage it successfully. This is exactly what this set of questions looks at. 

Prioritize candidates who:

  • Demonstrate the ability to drive large-scale change and transformation 

  • Are able to drive change despite resistance 

  • Can quickly adapt their leadership styles to changing circumstances 

It’s best to turn down candidates if they’re resistant to change or incapable of supporting their teams through it.

These questions look at a candidate’s ability to adapt and manage change. 

  1. Describe a time your team was faced with a big change or transformation at work. What steps did you take to prepare and lead them through it?   

  2. Share an example of a time you had to adapt your leadership style to accommodate an unexpected change or challenge. 

  3. If your team was resistant to change, how would you handle it and ensure a seamless transition into the new normal? 

Communication and feedback

It’s important to ask candidates questions that relate to their communication styles and approach to feedback. 

Prioritize candidates who:

  • Are good listeners and proactively seek open feedback from their team 

  • Provide timely and constructive feedback to their team members regularly 

  • Adjust their communication styles to suit different individuals or circumstances 

Avoid hiring candidates who are rigid or disruptive in their communication style and don’t foster a culture of open and transparent feedback in their teams.

Here are some communication and feedback-related questions to ask your candidates.

  1. Describe a situation where you had to give difficult feedback to a team member. How did you go about it and what was the outcome?

  2. What steps do you take to ensure that you’re listening to feedback from your team?

  3. Share an example of a time when miscommunication led to problematic issues. What steps did you take to resolve it?

Difficult decisions   

Leaders are often faced with difficult choices. Asking the right questions can help you determine how they think and act in these situations.

Prioritize leaders who:

  • Rely on data and don’t let personal biases get in the way of decision-making

  • Are able to make quick and effective decisions under pressure 

  • Can back their decisions and stay assertive in the face of resistance 

Don’t progress candidates who crumble under the pressure of tough decisions or tend to go into analysis paralysis. 

Here are a set of questions to test a potential leader’s decision-making abilities.

  1. Describe a tough decision you had to make that involved trade-offs between different priorities and how you approached it. 

  2. How do you ensure that personal biases and emotions do not influence decision-making for you and your team?

  3. What strategies do you use to remain calm and composed when making critical decisions under pressure?

Resilience

Questions on resilience look at how candidates respond to setbacks, failures, or periods of adversity. 

Prioritize candidates who: 

  • Demonstrate the ability to stay calm and level-headed during tough times 

  • Aren’t afraid of failure and accept it as a part of growth 

  • Motivate their team members and help them develop resilience  

On the flip side, candidates who struggle with crises, change, or high-pressure situations will be incapable of leading their team through challenging times. 

Here are a few questions to test your candidate’s resilience and how they overcome crises. 

  1. Discuss any personal or professional failures you’ve had. How did you bounce back from it and what lessons did you learn? 

  2. Share an example of when you had to navigate your team through a setback and what steps you took to keep them motivated. 

  3. In what ways do you help your team members develop resilience at work

Accountability 

These questions look at how comfortable a leader feels in taking ownership of mistakes and how they hold their teams accountable at work. 

Prioritize candidates who:

  • Own up to mistakes 

  • Can think on their feet and fix issues quickly 

  • Support their team but hold them accountable for negligence, errors, and other concerns

Conversely, avoid candidates who are defensive of their mistakes and engage in finger-pointing and blame.

The questions below can help you evaluate a leader’s accountability.

  1. Share an example of a mistake or oversight you made as a leader. How did you take ownership of it and rectify the situation?

  2. A crucial project is hampered due to a team member's negligence and you’re answerable to stakeholders. How would you handle the situation with stakeholders and what steps would you take to hold the employee accountable? 

  3. How would you deal with a team member who is top-performing but is consistently late to work? 

Conflict resolution 

Every leader faces conflict at some point – either themselves or among their team members. These questions examine how well they can mediate and handle conflicts. 

Prioritize candidates who:

  • Successfully manage conflicts with stakeholders and other company leaders

  • Understand people’s emotions and use them to mediate team conflicts 

  • Foster a culture where healthy debates are encouraged but persistent disputes are not

Don’t hire candidates who let their egos get in the way of conflict or who struggle with understanding others’ perspectives and emotions. 

  1. Share an example of a time you’ve faced conflict with someone at work. How did you handle it? 

  2. What steps would you take to ensure that conflict between two team members doesn’t affect the morale of the rest of your team? 

  3. What strategies would you use to mediate conflict between employees with diverse perspectives? 

Adding leadership behavioral testing to your hiring campaign

The best way to add behavioral assessments to your leadership hiring campaign is to use pre-employment screening software like TestGorilla that lets you create customized assessments for a tailored hiring process.

We recommend that you: 

Behavioral testing is critical to understanding how candidates will fit into your company. But, it should not be the only tool used to make hiring decisions. Use a multi-measure approach that tests job-specific skills, cognitive abilities, and personalities – all of which can be found in TestGorilla’s extensive test library.  

Conclusion

Hiring leaders whose behaviors don’t align with your company’s culture can result in demoralized teams, high turnover, and many more problems. 

Adding a behavioral interview to your leadership hiring campaign can help mitigate the risk of bringing the wrong person in. 

Good leadership behavioral interviews ask candidates for concrete examples of their experiences with influencing, conflict resolution, delegation, and so on. You can also ask hypothetical questions to learn how they’ll respond to different situations at work. 

Behavioral testing is an effective way to ensure that you hire the right leaders for your company. But it should be used alongside tests that evaluate job-specific skills, cognitive ability, and personality to give you a holistic picture of your candidate’s suitability for the role. 

To conduct behavioral tests with your leadership candidates, sign up for TestGorilla’s Free plan today. You can also request a free 30-minute live demo or watch a quick product tour to learn more about how TestGorilla can revolutionize your hiring process.

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