Recruiters frequently ask MBA candidates to describe their leadership style. It's a great question, and often causes even the most prepared candidates to stumble a little. What an opportunity for you to shine as a brand. So, imagine yourself in an interview room....question is asked....open air time....floor is yours....now go. Will you;
a) Wax philosophical about leadership with a lot of buzz words like engagement and balance? You've read a lot of leadership books, sound like a Fast Company article* and have a great Twitter feed so why not...
b) Talk about how you're a "collaborative" leader, because that's the right answer you heard from a friend? Everyone loves a "collaborator"....
c) KNOW your personal values, relate those values to HOW you lead, and then communicate this style to the recruiter via a compelling STORY that brings your leadership style to life?
If you didn't guess it from the bold italicized words, the correct answer is C ladies and gentlemen, C.
So let's break down the work needed to arrive at C and blow the interviewer away;
1) KNOW your Personal Values: This is a mandatory exercise for your Personal Brand and Career Management Plan, and it gives you the foundation to talk leadership with anyone. Understanding your values will help you grow personally and professionally, but it requires a lot of self-awareness and introspection. There are many tools and exercises out there to do this work. Personally, I'm a big fan of The Lift Blog, which is part of the Positive Organization movement. They recently published a wonderful post with great exercises on how to determine your personal values. I highly recommend this approach.
2) Relate your Values to HOW you lead: Once you have a Values inventory, you need to think through HOW you would relate this insight to your Leadership Style. While this is a necessary step to answer the specific interview question above, it's an even better exercise to ensure you're living life consistent with the Values you claim are important to you. So, take your Values inventory and compare it to 5-6 leadership-based stories from your past. These can be either professional or personal stories for this exercise. Think through how you demonstrated these values when leading. Did they cause you to make choices that weren't popular? Maybe cause you to have conflict with others on the project? Steer you in a direction that others didn't see? Get you to think about hard rights vs. easy wrongs? Now, when you've done a thorough analysis, determine the best way to describe that Leadership Style, based in your Values, in 1-2 sentences max. Pithy here - think Hemingway, not Proust.
3) Prepare a STORY in advance; If there is ever a time for a powerful story in an interview, this is it! Spend one of your STRONGEST examples on this answer, it's that critical. You want to move the interviewer with emotion and have this story significantly increase your brand equity in their heart and mind. So, use a real example - maybe one of the 5-6 you analyzed above. Ensure that the story has good Context, Action and Results in traditional interview format. However, you must ensure that the interviewer can clearly make the link between the Leadership Style you want to convey, and HOW that style came to life in your story. Ensure the drama amplifies your leadership style and doesn't distract from it.
4) Now blow them away; Get visibly excited when this is asked in the interview, it will pique their attention to what you're about to say. Deliver your 1-2 pithy sentences that describe you Leadership Style you determined in step 2. Then transition by saying, "I'd like to bring this to life for you with the following example..." and go into your story. Deliver with passion, conviction and confidence. If it's really aligned with your personal values, this will feel like a wonderful experience in communicating your Personal Brand and Core Values. What's even better, what a great way to demonstrate that you're a fit with a culture.
The cool part about this exercise is that it prepares you for so many different steps in the Personal Branding and Career Management journey. You can now use pieces of this story in Networking, Career Discovery, Company Research and crafting your other major Personal Brand touchpoints like Resumes, LinkedIn, Blogs, etc. Do it as early in the process as you can, and don't be afraid to revisit from time to time.
So, what are your personal values? How do you ensure that you're purposeful and consistent as you go about life, both personally and professionally? Could those around you name your values without you telling them? How are you going to demonstrate this to others?
*Note - I actually love Fast Company articles, my point is to be genuine to yourself when telling your story, not sound like someone else :-)