Demonstrating leadership skills
August 24, 2019 11:10 PM   Subscribe

How would you demonstrate leadership skills, in the context of applying for jobs, if you have never managed a team or been someone’s supervisor, and are not really the sort of person who takes charge in a group setting?
posted by EatMyHat to Work & Money (5 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I see "leadership" in its current, corporate form as recognizing a need and stepping up to do something about it. I think how you demonstrate that depends on the job and work environment you're hoping to join. Some jobs, leadership is standing up for whatever you're trying to accomplish - so a time when you advocated for a particular change or outcome. Other jobs it really is about leading projects and then you have to think of a time even if it's not work related - leading a volunteer thing, etc. And yet other times it can be about developing a strategic vision instead of focusing on day to day. There's even the leadership thru influencing angle - when have you gotten something done that other people did not see the value in at first?

To be cynical, there are also plenty of cases where leadership is synonymous with "handsome white male who can talk a good talk but never actually does anything" And there will be nothing you can do to be seen as a leader unless you fit that particular mold, or are simply so amazing that you knock them out of the water.

In any case, a leadership story you tell in an interview should have a positive outcome, even if it isn't exactly the outcome you were going for. If you led a failed project, don't focus on the failure, focus on what you think you did right.
posted by cabingirl at 11:53 PM on August 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: When you're writing up your criteria response to leadership, remember that it isn't just people who are led hierarchically (in an authoritative boss-worker relationship), but also;

* you may have led a project, by independently planning or coordinating a task,
* you may have demonstrated leadership by introducing a new process or procedure, or identifying problems or solutions,
* you may be an implied leader as a subject matter expert that people turn to,
* you might have led others by behaving well under difficult or high-pressure situations,
* you may have led by consulting, negotiated between parties, or resolved conflicting interests, or
* you may simply have been a leader as someone who exhibited independent prioritisation and task management skills (i.e. leading yourself).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:09 AM on August 25, 2019 [15 favorites]

if you have never managed a team or been someone’s supervisor

When we talk about leadership, I'd actually put lesser weight on situations like this, and more weight on situations where a person is acting among a group of peers or even better, acting from a position of power disadvantage.

I mean, if I'm the boss, and I just tell people what to do, how is that demonstrating leadership? That's just leveraging the structural power that my position gives me. It's like you can't be said to demonstrate bravery by physically fighting someone weaker than you - it doesn't make sense at all.

Leadership is when your boss wants your team to do something that you know is wrong, and you devised a strategy or a way to convince and influence them into realising that your way is the better way, either from a technical or ethical point of view.

If you're not the person who "takes charge" in a group setting unfortunately there's only two ways the company perceives you - either you never have anything valuable to contribute to the group that could improve their operations (technical or ethical point of view) - or, you DO have something to contribute, because you're smart, but you're too insecure to ever do anything about it. That's why companies look for people with "leadership" skills. Being a leader doesn't necessarily mean you have to "be in charge" - that is just a task that can be delegated to anyone - it's mainly important that you influence the room enough that your solution is the one that ends up being implemented.
posted by xdvesper at 12:57 AM on August 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I don't recommend using jargon you've only read about, but if maybe you recognize some of yourself and what you've done in descriptions of servant leadership, authentic leadership, or transformational leadership (as opposed to more stereotypical models of management), that might offer some clues about what to emphasize when talking concretely about things you've done. Jargon like ownership and accountability is more widely used, and I think those concepts are often discussed as initial indications of potential leaders. I suspect plenty of organizations publish assessment rubrics online.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:10 AM on August 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I've been the interviewer in situations where the interviewee doesn't have any actual leadership experience, in the form of managing an actual project or team. But we've still asked them to talk about their leadership skills in an attempt to suss out their potential for leadership roles. In addition to the excellent responses above, one thing I've been impressed by is someone who demonstrates they can think beyond their particular little area of turf. So, do they have a sense of how their Little Area of Turf fits into the larger picture? Do they understand how decisions are made at a level higher than their normal level of responsibility? Leaders, ime, are people who must be able to see the bigger picture. If you haven't actually led anything, but you can explain how your job/role/team fits into the success of the larger entity, I would be impressed with you in an interview.

Not sure this fits exactly what you're looking for, but it's something I've encountered in the past, from the other side of the interview table.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:37 AM on August 25, 2019 [9 favorites]

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