When an interviewer asks you this question, it might be tempting just to respond that you are a leader, since taking on responsibilities sounds like what a potential employer would want. However, a hiring manager is looking for something more complex. He or she is trying to see if you are versatile and are willing to assume different roles based on what the company needs.
As you are answering this interview question, it is important to talk about past experiences that show you display characteristics of both a leader and a follower. Remember, every organization values some leadership qualities but wants someone who will follow directives as well. Try to maintain a balance between the two. You are both a leader and a follower—the individual situation dictates which is more predominant in a given situation. Here are the do’s and don’ts to consider when answering the interview question “Are you a leader or a follower?”
- Talk about times where you took charge and assumed responsibilities.
- Discuss times when you followed instructions successfully.
- Demonstrate that you understand the appropriate contexts in which one would be a leader vs. a follower.
- Emphasize skills that would benefit both a leader and a follower.
- Mention past experiences where you were both a leader and a follower.
- Focus on how being both a leader and a follower has a positive impact on the business.
- Answer this question in a way that lets the interviewer know that you possess the capabilities to assume both roles, and that you can change based on the needs of the position.
- Say you are solely a leader and only talk about your leadership traits.
- Say you are solely a follower and only talk about times where you took orders and performed tasks.
- Come across as indecisive–you must provide answer that proves you possess the fluidity to be both a leader and a follower.
Human beings are storytellers, so tell a story that illustrates how you can be both a leader and a follower. Use the STAR method to frame your answer, focusing on Situation, Task, Action, and Results. When you talk about results, avoid the temptation to merely focus on personal growth and understanding. Be sure to discuss the business impact of the result. This is what the hiring manager is looking for.
A hiring manager is trying to get a sense of how you would benefit the company as a whole, and you are showcasing your ability to serve a number of roles within the organization. An organization needs both leaders and followers, and one is not more important than the other. In fact, being a good follower makes you a stronger leader.
A good way to answer the question “Are you a leader or a follower?” is with a response like this:
In past jobs, I have been able to adapt to whatever was expected of me. When a group needed a leader, I was more than capable of handling that role, but at the same time, I recognize when it is better to take a step back and take direction from someone who is more knowledgeable than I am.