Answering "Are You A Leader Or Follower?" In An Interview

When an interviewer asks, “Are you a leader or a follower?” you might be thinking to yourself, why would they ask that? It’s actually a trick question and you need to be prepared to answer it in the way the interviewer is looking for. Let’s go through some examples of how you might answer it and what the interviewer would interpret your answer as, so you can better understand the correct answer to this interview question.

What if I say I’m a leader

This is the most common case, interviewers feel the need to say they are a leader. Of course! Saying you’re a leader means that you will get hired. It’s tempting but it’s not really what the interviewer is looking for. The reason is, if you say you are a leader, it shows some sense of arrogance. It portrays that you might not look at yourself in a selfless way, meaning you won’t put the company or your teams needs before yourself. You are telling the interviewer, in an indirect way, you must lead at all costs. That can be a dangerous way to answer this question.

What if I say I’m a follower

If you say you are a follower, the interviewer might interpret that answer as though you won’t step up to the plate when needed. Meaning, you could be a more passive employee. At times when the company needs you the most, you might decide to walk away because you don’t feel confident or compelled enough to own up to the situation. This is also not what the interviewer is looking for in an ideal candidate.

What are they looking for with this interview question

The answer is a combination of both. The interviewer is looking to understand that you are willing to lead and also willing to follow. You need to show the interviewer that it entirely depends on the situation and work at hand. In reality, this is how great work gets done. It is not about serving your own needs at work, it is about serving the needs of the business or the customer. When you begin to operate with a crutch or arrogance, you are risking doing that core duty.

When you are answering the question, it is important to put it into context. That it depends on the situation and that you are willing to lead and follow. Using a short story to go along with your answer will go a long way with the interviewer. Here’s a few examples of a story to go with your answer.

“I find myself both leading and following, depending on the situation. For example, at my last company, there was a project that my colleague Matthew was incredibly passionate about. He also spent a significant amount of time performing research on the topic area. My managers felt confident he was on the right direction. So when Matthew asked us to do something for him, we followed. We let Matthew lead because he was the most qualified in that circumstance.”

As you can see from the example answer above, we show the flexibility of the candidate by being able to tell a quick story in our prior work experience. If you have a story that’s related to leadership, here’s another way that you can tell such a story.

“I find myself both leading and following, depending on the situation. For example, at my last company, there was a project that no one wanted to touch because it had a long history of failing to meet business needs. No one volunteered to take ownership of the next iteration of the project. So I decided to take a risk, step up and give it a shot. The result was spectacular, we achieved our business needs. It took time, effort and grinding it out, but we achieved it.”

Tips on answering this question

When you are answering “Are you a leader or a follower?” it’s important that you try and emphasize or focus on a few points in your response.

Related interview questions

If you are looking for related interview questions, the following should be helpful:

What are your leadership examples
Describe your leadership style
What do you know about our company
Tell me about a time you failed
What motivates you
What makes you unique
What interests you about this position

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