What Is Your Leadership Style?


What is your leadership style?

Through countless leadership interviews I have either held or have been involved with, one of the most commonly asked question seems to be “What is your leadership style?”.  Rightfully so, as an interviewer, it is important to understand how the applicant will lead.  Will their style fit within the culture of the organization?

Have you ever been asked to discuss your own leadership style?  I know I have and my answer back then is far different than the answer I give now. 

Would you say that you are a transformational leader?  Maybe you are on board with and follow the servant leadership methodology.  There are number of leadership styles dating all the way back to the Great Man theory, also known as trait leadership.  This theory suggested that all great leaders had certain attributes that make them great leaders.  However, over the years, theorist and researchers have evolved leading to a shift in mindset and leadership theories.  Many theories that became popularized on one level or another include skill, behavioral and situational leadership while some of the more recent theories includes authentic, transactional, psychodynamic and even adaptive leadership.  The list of styles seems endless. 

Hypothetically, If you were to be interviewed tomorrow and you are asked to describe your leadership style, what would you say?  Which defines you? 

Some might have to ponder on this question longer than others.  Allow me to offer up a few thoughts on this question.  If I were to ask, "How well do you run?",  this question could be hard to answer in brief terms.  Am I running in a life or death situation?  Is this a marathon or a 5k?  Is this run an attempt to avoid getting wet while going into the grocery store from the car?  The answer varies depending upon the situation, right?  Interestingly enough, the same goes for the original question I presented,  "What is your leadership style?".

What is the culture like of an organization?  What kind of organization is it?  Did you know culture is very important when considering leadership style as are the situations a leader can be exposed to.  Some organizations will thrive under transformational leadership while another may need path-goal leadership or even transactional leadership.  For example, manufacturing is often more receptive to transactional leadership than servant leadership.  A hospital is more receptive to servant leadership than authoritative leadership.

Honesty, we only limit ourselves when we are placed or personally place our self in a box by stating a particular leadership style.  

When we note servant leadership on our resumes or even transformational leadership, what we are indirectly suggesting is that we may be inflexible to shifting our leadership style.  What if your resume states “ I am a successful transformational leader who…”?  Some traits of a transformational leader include influence, inspirational motivation, and charisma.   Who wouldn’t want to have those traits, right?  On the other end though, a criticism of transformational leadership is that transformational leaders are elitist and antidemocratic (Avolio, 1999: Bass & Avolio 1993).  What if the organization you applied with is aware of this and all of the sudden, (enter Law & Order sound)…your resume is removed?  Transformational leadership is also hard to measure although the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MQL) seeks to measure with its own criticism.  You can find the same kind of concerns with servant leadership, which is linguistically very popular. 

So back to the question, how do you answer such a question?

 What is your leadership style?

 How do you place yourself in the best possible situation?  By answering this question differently than the interviewer is expecting.  In fact, many interviewers are looking for a particular predetermined answer.  My response to this question would be something along the lines of … 

“My leadership style is fluid in that I ensure my leadership style does not impede on the progress of the organization, I will connect the appropriate leadership style for the particular situation and need.  There is not a single one-size-fits-all style that will work in all situations and organizations.  Leaders must adapt as necessary to lead the organization toward the mission, vision and values of the organization.” 

While I say this, it is important to understand the different styles.  This answer could lead to deeper questioning like “ could you provide an example?”  If you are seeking a leadership position, make sure that you understand the theories of your profession.  

One can’t try out for football and become part of the team if they do not understand the rules.

Now it is your turn... how do you answer "What is your leadership style?" 

just a little food for thought...