Tough Question: What is your management style?

Today I’m addressing another one of the most-dreaded interview questions: How would you describe your management style? In my view, open-ended questions are often the hardest to answer.  It’s hard to know what information to include and what to leave out, as well as whether you should be detailed or high level.  Even if you have significant management experience, this can be a tough question to answer well.  If you are applying for your first real management role, it is even more important to ace this question so you give your interviewer confidence that you will make a good leader. So, let’s go over some strategies to make this potentially difficult question easier to tackle.

1) Think about what qualities defined the most effective leaders you have seen in action. 

It’s so much easier to think about what makes a good leader when you take yourself out of the equation. That’s why I think it helps to start by thinking about past leaders you have worked for or at least seen in action. What qualities helped to make them stand out? Were they particularly good at coaching, setting a vision, or staying in touch with their employees? Write down the top 3-5 attributes that made them effective, and think about how you could apply these to your own experience. This is particularly valuable if you have not officially managed someone else before. Whether you think about it consciously or not, you are likely going to start by emulating leaders you have worked with before. Over time, your style will become more your own, but modeling is a great place to start as you gain more leadership experience.

2) Know the major styles of leadership

This takes a bit more research, but a little effort will go a long way towards being prepared for your interview. It helps to have a basic framework for types of leaders to apply some structure to an otherwise ambiguous question. While by no means the only definition of management types, these are widely accepted and a good place to start*:

  • Commanding/coercive- dictatorship, “do what I say.” Often used in hierarchical organization (e.g. the military) or in times of crisis where there is no time for discussion or dissension.
  • Visionary- explains a vision and paints a picture of what is possible in the future to motivate people.
  • Affiliative- Focuses on diffusing conflict and creating harmony.
  • Democratic- Engages heavily with the entire team to get their input, makes decisions collectively
  • Pacesetting- Builds challenging, exciting goals for employees.
  • Coaching- Invests heavily in getting to know employees and developing their strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, certain leadership styles are more appropriate for different cultures and for different circumstances. One person is not one style all the time, and these are not hard and fast definitions. However, knowing this framework is a helpful way to categorize your style and organize your response to a tough question.

*More information on the leadership types can be found here:

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