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6 Values-Based Interview Questions that Reveal a Great Leader

Values-based interview questions identify candidates who can drive transformative change and improve your company’s culture. Determining alignment is critical to identify your next great leader. 

You’ve probably downloaded 200 executive interview questions from the web only to find lists that won’t determine the right leader for your unique business needs. That’s because industry challenges require authenticity, and the best interview questions center on your core company values.

Recent years taught us that to thrive, companies need executives who can drive transformative change, improve workplace culture, navigate uncertainty, and grow their knowledge base—even amid chaos. As a result, traditional behavioral and operations-based questions are insufficient in an era where experience alone won’t determine future success.  

Define Your Core Company Values

Before interviewing your next candidate, determine your company values. Values come from company culture and go beyond the mission and vision statement. To illustrate, think of values as the guiding morals, ethics, and internal beliefs your business uses to make decisions.

Your company’s core values shape employee behavior, drive leadership, and impact business practices. To identify your organization’s core values, start by asking your team questions like:

  • How does leadership share bad news?
  • How do we include employee feedback in decisions?
  • What behaviors do we reward?
  • How do we make tough decisions?

Having been in the executive search business for more than 25 years, we’ve gained insight into values-based interview questions that surface authentic, transformative leadership competencies. Below, we’ve outlined 6 executive interview questions to help you determine which leader is the right fit for your company.

1. How do you motivate, influence, and inspire a team?  

Though similar, managing a team and leading a team are not synonymous. Transformative leaders do more than check boxes, monitor and control, and report back. They inspire, create psychological safety for their team, and motivate people to be authentic and innovative—even amidst ambiguity, uncomfortable changes, and industry shifts or challenges.  

Great leaders are agile, curious, and their drive is infectious. So, ask your candidate to share a specific example of a time when they successfully led a team through change. Was there a workplace conflict? A difficult project or industry challenge? Ask them what they did specifically to motivate their team to believe in themselves and their ability to overcome that situation.

2. How do you mentor new leaders?

The greatest evidence of a true leader is how they’ve cultivated others. Good leaders create space for others to grow and thrive. Ask your candidate to share a time they helped someone unlock their potential. Then, ask some clarifying questions, which may include:

  • What did the employee struggle with?
  • Did they lack confidence in their skill set?
  • Did they require emotional intelligence training or fly off the handle easily?

Encourage your candidate to walk you through the mentorship journey of an employee to leader. Such stories reveal if the candidate is passionate about connecting with and helping people. Transformative leaders are energized by enriching other people’s lives. And the journey story will help you surface the candidate’s authentic leadership style.

3. What is the most important trait of a great leader?   

Of all values-based interview questions, this will reveal the candidate’s top priorities and values. If one of your company’s core values is trust, search for answers that emphasize fostering a sense of belonging, creating psychological safety, giving employees the freedom to be innovative, and promoting authenticity.

Look out for words like integrity and honesty because they tell you a lot about the candidate’s morals and ethics inside and outside corporate walls. This is how you find the perfect alignment for the culture you currently have or the culture your organization is working toward.  

4. What lessons and experiences have shaped your leadership style?

Inquiring about a candidate’s lessons learned opens the door to a world of insights and builds connection in the conversations, which reduces nervousness and helps bring out the candidate’s authentic self in the interview. Questions centered on key takeaways show the candidate’s thought process, how they navigate challenges, and how they build relationships. With lessons learned, you can discover their ability to lead and build a meaningful culture within the organization that aligns with your company core values.

5. What feedback impacted your development the most, and how have you addressed it?

It’s no secret that effective leaders continuously seek feedback to improve their capabilities. This question provides insights into a candidate’s mindset, willingness to acknowledge their shortcomings, and desire to grow. Additionally, it shows incredible self-awareness, openness to feedback, and commitment to personal and professional development—qualities that make a great leader. Leaders with a growth mindset will enrich your team and organization.

6. How does leadership transform challenges into opportunities?

Anticipation, learning agility, and optimism are critical traits of a great business leader. Leaders must be current on industry trends and remain open to learning new things to anticipate what lies ahead, seize opportunities, and prevent pitfalls. They know your client’s pain points and your company’s challenges. Moreover, they believe leaders can turn crises into success.

This question provides insight into how your candidate views leadership’s role in an organization and society. It reveals a leader’s problem-solving skills and determines their passion for creating solutions. Subsequently, this can start a thought-provoking conversation about your company’s current role in the industry and how to move forward that you may not have previously considered.

Hiring a new business leader is a change that permeates the foundation of your company. Leaders have the potential to unroot your company’s challenges or drive them further into the ground. So, determining your candidate’s leadership style and approach is essential to aligning with talent who move your company forward while maintaining the footing you’ve already established. Use this list as a guide for your next executive search, and you will uncover the leader you need in this new era.

What values-based interview questions would you add to this list?


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