Not even the best leaders are perfect, because leaders are human. But the best leaders learn from their mistakes and grow from them. If you can prove to the employer that you can recognize mistakes and adapt something about your leadership style as a result, you’ll make a very impressive leadership job candidate.
Behavioral Interview Question: Give me an example of a time when you were leading a project team or group that did not work out as well as you would have liked. What happened? What did you learn?
These types of leadership behavioral interview questions are always dangerous. Indeed, any interview question that asks you to talk about a mistake or weakness is dangerous, but with leadership questions even more so because a leader that makes a big mistake can take down an entire company.
Let’s first talk about what NOT to mention:
- Don’t mention any colossal failures. You don’t have to be that honest.
- Don’t mention any failures that you blame on other people.
An ideal answer would be a mistake you made when you first started out, or one that you were able to fix. Keep in mind that the focus of your answer should be more on what you LEARNED, not so much on the mistake itself, which you should try to minimize as best you can.
“My first year as manager, I wasn’t always as aware of the steps needed to make sure a project was successful, and was relying a bit more on my personality rather than planning. On one particular project I was leading a team of 5, and we were all getting along great. They were excellent talent. We were working on the development of this marketing project, with each person playing a role. A day before it was due, we gathered for a meeting and talked about updates. It turned out that a portion of the project was not completed – because no one knew who was supposed to do it and assumed it was someone else’s responsibility.
This was entirely my responsibility. I had never given them any detailed plans, handouts, or a list of who was accountable for what. I had discussed plans in a meeting and assumed that others were writing it down and moving forward. Ever since then I have integrated fully detailed project plans into each project I’ve worked on, complete with the names of who is responsible for what component, and the due dates for each component. I also use a free survey software that sends out an update survey every other day, and request that all employees briefly fill out the survey with their updates so that I can tell how progress is going. Since then the problem has been solved.”
Notice how completely understandable this mistake was. You were new to management, you were working well as a team (the entire story reads positively), and you learned from it. You may not have an answer quite so ideal, but as long as you don’t talk about any terrible errors, and put a good focus on what you did to recover, you should impress the employer with your leadership skills.