How to Answer, "What Qualities Do You Think Are Necessary to Become a Leader?"

The interview is going great so far. You know your technical skills are exceptional, and you’ve aced every question. Then the interviewer lobs a question you didn’t expect: “What qualities do you think are necessary to become a leader?”

Isn’t that a matter of opinion? Doesn’t each company have its own definition of what it means to be a leader? What if you get it wrong?

The truth is that leadership is more universal than you might think. While the specifics may vary by job and by industry, the facts are that years of study of successful leaders have identified some key characteristics. Even if these aren’t the specific qualities your interviewer is expecting to hear, there’s no arguing that they’re important skills for any great leader.

Strategic thinking

While successful leaders are always thinking about their “to do” lists and making sure they meet their deadlines, they’re not blinded by “tyranny of the urgent”. Great leaders always have one eye on tomorrow…and the weeks, months, and years after that.

  • Where is the industry going?
  • What are the opportunities and threats? What’s around the next corner?
  • What skills will your employees need in the future? Can you hire for those skills now?


Collaboration means shifting from a mindset of competition to one of cooperation. So what if you’re competing for resources with another department? You’ve both got the same goal, right? Continued growth and profitability for your employer? How can you combine forces to achieve that shared goal?

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is all about exchanging assumptions for facts. So what if something has always been done a certain way? What was the reason for doing it that way to start with? Is that reason still relevant? And do you really know what’s causing a particularly challenging problem, or do you just think you know? When you set aside assumptions, what do the facts say?

Ability to motivate and inspire

Sure, the job market is tough. But fear only gets you compliance; it doesn’t get you motivated, inspired effort. Managers let people know what needs to be done and what happens when they don’t do it; leaders know how to infuse that work with meaning and passion.

Clarity of purpose

Good leaders have a very clear idea of what they stand for; therefore, so does everyone who works for them. Nobody has to ask a great leader what their ideals and values are, because it’s obvious in the way they go about the job every day.


Great leaders don’t just know how to teach; they thrive on it. They love taking their own skills and experiences and using them to help a beginner find his way. They show rather than tell, and they do it naturally as the opportunity arises rather than scheduling a particular time for “coaching.”


Feedback is an important part of coaching, and great leaders don’t hesitate to give accurate, concise, specific feedback. Sometimes it’s positive, and sometimes it’s negative. Either way, it contains enough specific examples that employees are very clear on what they need to keep doing – or stop doing.

When it comes to answering questions about the qualities that make a good leader, don’t try to guess which ones your prospective employer values the most. Instead, rely on facts, and talk about leadership qualities that are recognised across industries and functions as being critical to success.


photo credit: flickr via bpsusf, 2010