11 Best Answers to “What Does Leadership Mean to You” Interview Question

The job interview question “What does leadership mean to you?” is common when applying for leadership roles. There are seven recognized leadership styles. Here are sample answers for your style of leadership, and also the best answers if you don’t know your style yet.

Here are 11 great answers to show that you have the qualities of a great leader when applying for your next managerial role.

#1. Strategy, Innovation, and Accountability.

Sample Answer:
To me, effective leadership means having not just the ability, but the courage and accountability to take the risks necessary to take the company in the right direction. The first step is to understand the company’s goals and to make decisions that strategically align the company with its ultimate goal.

Next, a good leader needs to look at a goal and see the different ways that the goal can be achieved and how their team of people can accomplish this. In the modern, fast-paced world, true leadership requires the courage to innovate, to read the internal and external environment and the industry changes, and to implement projects to get ahead of the curve.

Finally, I think what challenges most leaders in achieving this is a willingness to be accountable for the outcome of the decisions that they make along the way, both good and bad. In short, accountable strategic innovation is the key to long-term profitability and future success.

#2. Decisiveness and Confidence.

Sample Answer:
Being a leader means facing many challenges. It means being responsible for the direction of the company. This means you are responsible not only to your direct reports and the board, but to every staff member that your decisions affect. Whether your decisions make the company great or make the company, a failure will impact real people’s lives.

This means that a successful leader needs to have knowledge and skills and surround themselves with leadership experts to make the right choices. More importantly, they need to be decisive and make decisions when the pressure is on and when time matters. To navigate their team, their department, and the entire company through the challenges that arise and they must have the confidence to back their own decisions, knowing they have made the best possible decision with the information available at the time.

#3. Collaboration, Team-building, and Empowerment.

Sample Answer:
There are different definitions of leadership, and I don’t think that anyone on their own is correct. To me, the qualities of a good leader are about their people, the people they surround themselves with, how they coach and train them, and how they treat them overall.

A real leader is always building their team. This means being a good role model and mentor. It also means providing training and opportunities for experience, and building a high-performance team that they can count on. They can inspire their fellow workers to work together to achieve great things, and they can delegate and collaborate, using the strengths of each to the benefit of the group.

Finally, a leader needs emotional intelligence to look after their team, to help them maintain a healthy work-life balance, and to empower them to be the very best that they can be both personally and for the company.

#4. Strategy, Resilience, and Patience.

Sample Answer:
To me, strong leadership is about the long game. It’s about being strategically minded, patient, and resilient. Being strategically minded is about being able to make decisions for the here and now that align with achieving the long-term goals of the company. Resilience is important because there are always challenges. As a leader, you will be viewed as responsible for all outcomes, including necessary but unfavorable decisions and events outside of your control.

And the final attribute, patience, is necessary because even the right decisions made at the wrong time can be poor decisions. Likewise, rushed decisions can lead to mistakes and missed opportunities. Patience means being able to wisely use whatever time and resources are available to make the best decision possible.

#5. Autocratic Leadership (Elon Musk, Martha Stewart)

Key Characteristics of this Style:

  • Fast and decisive decision-making.
  • Preference for top-down bureaucratic structure.
  • Leaders separated from subordinates.

Sample Answer:
I think that leadership is about getting the most out of those you are responsible for. While there are different types of leadership styles, each with its pros and cons, the autocratic style resonates with the type of leader I am. When seeking to achieve complex goals, the top-down structure helps to ensure that everyone knows what they are responsible for and to who they report.

As long as I am well-informed, this style enables me to collect the necessary information quickly to make important and time-sensitive decisions in a timely and effective manner. I am aware of some of the limitations of an autocratic approach, and I make sure I set aside time to review my decisions and performance. I also try to stay humble and consult the other leaders in the company when I need additional advice or assistance.

#6. Charismatic Leadership (Oprah, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Key Characteristics of this Style:

  • Share a powerful vision.
  • Connects emotionally with their audience.
  • Creates a strong sense of positivity.

Sample Answer:
The role of a leader is summed up in the name of the title “leader.” In a leadership position, you seek to motivate others toward a common goal. I think a good manager can motivate people intrinsically, and for this reason, I subscribe strongly to the charismatic leadership style. Doing this requires strong communication skills, emotional intelligence, and strong leadership skills.

By remembering that you are motivating human beings, you can motivate them emotionally rather than relying on external motivators. By sharing your passion, vision, and conviction, they choose to follow you rather than being forced or coerced. This means the team carries a strong positive mindset which is helpful when overcoming challenges and shortfalls, and it encourages everyone always to give their best.

#7. Servant Leadership (John Mackey, John C. Maxwell)

Key Characteristics of this Style:

  • Genuinely care about those that they lead.
  • Foster a strong coaching, training, and skill-sharing culture.
  • Followers grow organically over time, usually creating a very strong sense of loyalty.

Sample Answer:
While to some leaders, it is about what you can get out of people, and for others, it is about motivating your people, to me, leadership is about serving your team and being a strong role model. In everything I do, I seek to become a better leader, a better listener, and a better servant to my team or group members. I am a fan of the teachings of John Maxwell. I believe in looking after the human factor and valuing each person.

For example, if I am managing a worker, Mark, I believe that if I look after Mark as a person, if I make sure his work-life balance is in check and that he is healthy and happy, then if Mark the person is at his best, Mark the company employee will do his best work.

In turn, Mark will be in the best place to also look after the rest of the team, and in doing so, we can all work together toward realizing achievable goals.

#8. Laissez-Faire Leadership (Warren Buffet)

Key Characteristics of this Style:

  • Strongly based on empowering others.
  • Requires high levels of trust and a motivated workforce.
  • Facilitates team members to do their best work.

Sample Answer:
Leadership, to me, means empowering others to be their best. There are a few key characteristics of a good leader as defined by the laissez-faire definition of leadership, and they all come back to empowerment. First, you need to have a genuinely motivated team with a proven track record of being reliable and consistent with minimal supervision.

Second, you must ensure that goals and outputs are clearly defined. Third, you are a servant to the needs of your team. You make sure that they have the resources and the support that they need to achieve what they need to achieve.

Finally, the trust comes back the other way, because my team knows that when they over-deliver or deliver on time, they will be rewarded or can work remotely when there’s little for them to do. I know that when they have dropped the ball or are faced with a challenge, they are more motivated to come in early, stay late, and put in the extra effort. In this sense, leadership to me is about a culture of mutual respect and loyalty.

#9. Transactional Leadership (Bill Gates, Howard Schultz)

Key Characteristics of this Style:

  • Results-focused leadership style.
  • Positive and negative results are rewarded and punished equally.
  • The measurability of results is highly-prized.

Sample Answer:
When I think about leadership and good leadership skills, I would describe good leadership as getting results that matter. I once heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done,” and I think this is accurate, so I would say that the transactional concept of leadership is a good example of my style.

I put a lot of value on the technical skills and practical outputs of staff as these are able to be reasonably measured, and meaningful KPIs set and tracked. Rigorous KPI’s not only mean that we get a better understanding of what is getting done and how much value employees are producing, but we can also see when people are overworked, underperforming, or under-supported.

I also think that it is important that performance is recognized and widely celebrated. Equally, I believe that everyone at all levels is to be held accountable when they fail to perform at the expected level. I believe this creates a culture of performance excellence built around an expectation of consistent, productive output.

#10. Democratic Leadership (Indra Nooyi, Larry Page)

Key Characteristics of this Style:

  • Includes the whole team in the decision-making process.
  • Encourages and rewards teamwork.
  • Usually has strong communication skills.

Sample Answer:
To me, the strength of a company comes from the strength of its teams. For this reason, I feel that leadership should focus on people and the connection between people. I choose a democratic approach to leadership because I feel that the team works its best when everyone feels heard and validated. It’s not about always doing what the team wants. I still have to make the hard decisions and take responsibility for my actions and remain accountable to the company.

But I find it still builds team cohesion and a willingness to work together, share skills, rely on each other’s strengths, and a feeling of mutual respect. Including the team in the decision-making process means they understand why the decision was made, even if they disagree. It also allows me to keep a “finger on the pulse” so I know what my team thinks and feels and can address issues and concerns before the team becomes hostile or disenfranchised with the company.

#11. Transformational Leadership (Nelson Mandela)

Key Characteristics of this Style:

  • Leads based on set values and principles.
  • Motivates others to effect a change.
  • Strong innovators that encourage new solutions to problems.

Sample Answer:
For me, leadership means to “know your why,” as Simon Sinek would say. I believe that a leader needs to be the greatest champion in the team for the company’s goal and vision, and they need to be able to explain and show to the team the reason, the “why” behind what they are doing. Formally my idea of leadership would be a form of transformational leadership.

It’s about leading from a set of core values and principles and sharing those principles with the team. It’s about motivating the team and charismatically encouraging “buy-in” to the “why” so that everyone is equally committed. Because we are motivated by our purpose and the change we seek, it also frees us to be creative and imaginative.

To see the goal, then find a solution that strategically aligns with the goal, with a particular aim to find solutions that haven’t already been tried. This internally motivated innovation gives the organization a point of difference brought about by a shared understanding of purpose.

Top Critical Leadership Characteristics

There are more different qualities of a great leader than we have listed here, but these are the ten most common leadership traits demonstrated by exceptional leaders.

The best leaders demonstrate the following:

  1. Decisiveness – Taking decisive action and making tough decisions without becoming paralyzed.
  2. Strategy – Having a clear vision and making decisions that consider the bigger picture.
  3. Collaboration – Leverage the strengths of all team members and direct reports.
  4. Accountability – Taking ownership of outcomes at the end of the day, both good and bad.
  5. Team Building – Providing opportunities for others to develop new skills and key traits to grow their leadership qualities.
  6. Resilience – Able to continue and push on with a positive attitude even in the face of challenges and failures.
  7. Empowerment – Empowering others to do their best work, reach their full potential, and be their best selves.
  8. Confidence – Willing to challenge the status quo and back themselves when making decisions.
  9. Patience – Remaining calm and collected, using the time and resources available to make sound decisions.
  10. Innovation – Listening to different people and being willing to try new ideas and ways of solving problems or taking a new direction.


Whether you are applying for a role as a team lead on a small project or a senior leadership or C-level role with a multinational company, you can be sure that the hiring manager will ask you about your leadership style. While all leadership styles are valid in the right role, every company will have an idea of what they want.

Research the company beforehand and learn about its culture, make sure you know what types of leadership they are looking for, and be genuine to yourself. Defense contractors, for instance, won’t usually be impressed by servant leaders, and not-for-profits, NGOs, and charities are more likely to shy away from autocrats. There is little reason to apply for a job that won’t make good use of your natural leadership style(s). It will just disappoint both you and your potential employer.

Author Biography
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.