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Considering Candidate and Leader Fit When Hiring

By Mark Murphy


The alignment between a candidate’s working style and the leadership style of their prospective manager is paramount. A candidate who thrives under a specific type of leadership can excel and bring incredible value to the organization. By contrast, a mismatch will lead to frustration, disengagement, and even turnover.


Data from the “What’s Your Leadership Style?” test reveals that two-thirds of employees would rather their leader have a different style than the one they’re presently using. But when someone likes their leader’s style, they’re 36% more likely to love their job. So, if you want a productive and harmonious workplace, you’ll need to understand how well a candidate fits with the type of leader they’ll be working under.


Different leadership styles emphasize different values and methods. For instance, a Steward leadership style is characterized by dependability and consistency, emphasizing rules, processes, and cooperation. A candidate who values autonomy and thrives in unstructured, fast-paced environments might struggle under such leadership. On the other hand, an Idealist leader focuses on growth, creativity, and democratic involvement, which might overwhelm a candidate who prefers clear guidelines and a stable routine. Recognizing these nuances helps select candidates who will align with and flourish under their manager’s guidance.

Listening to warning signs in interview answers is crucial to this assessment process. Candidates often reveal their preferences, strengths, and potential conflict areas through their responses. By paying close attention, interviewers can identify whether a candidate possesses the adaptability and mindset required to thrive under a particular leadership style.


A great place to start is with an interview question like, “Could you tell me about a time you made a mistake at work?” You’ll notice that this question is almost painfully open-ended, and that’s by design. The report “Six Words That Ruin Behavioral Interview Questions” discovered that the vast majority of interview questions are ruined when phrases giving away the correct answer are added to the end of questions.


For instance, adding the phrase, “And how did you overcome that?” to the question tells the candidate that you only want to hear about successful outcomes. But when you’re trying to assess the fit between a candidate and a particular leader, you need to dig deep into how that candidate handles mistakes, and nudging a candidate toward a better answer ruins your ability to do that.


Armed with the interview question about mistakes, let’s look at some actual answers. Imagine that you’re hiring someone who will be working for a manager with an Idealist leadership style. Idealists are high-energy achievers who believe in the positive potential of everyone around them. Idealists want to learn and grow, and they want everyone else on the team to do the same. Now imagine that a candidate gives this answer when asked about a time they made a mistake:


“I once made a mistake where I missed an important deadline for submitting a report. I was juggling multiple tasks, and I completely forgot about the deadline until it was too late. When I realized my mistake, I felt terrible, but I just decided to let it go and move on. I didn’t see much point in dwelling on it, and I figured everyone makes mistakes, so I didn’t take any specific actions to prevent it from happening again.”

This answer is a bad fit for an Idealist leader for several reasons. Idealists are high-energy achievers who believe in the potential for growth and learning in every situation. They value creativity, open-mindedness, and proactive problem-solving. This answer demonstrates a lack of reflection and learning from the mistake, which goes against the Idealist’s emphasis on personal growth and development. The candidate’s attitude of “just letting it go” without taking steps to understand or rectify the issue suggests a lack of commitment to continuous improvement. Idealists would expect a candidate to not only acknowledge the mistake but also to show how they learned from it and took proactive steps to avoid repeating it in the future. The answer does not align with the Idealist’s coaching style, which is focused on helping team members learn and grow from their experiences.


But what if we’re hiring someone who will be working for a Steward style of leader? Imagine our candidate gave this answer when describing a time they made a mistake:


“During a project, I miscalculated the budget, and we ended up overspending significantly. I was overwhelmed with the workload and didn’t double-check the figures. When my manager pointed out the mistake, I admitted it was my fault, but I didn’t see the need to document the error or put any new procedures in place. I just moved on and hoped it wouldn’t happen again.”

This answer is a bad fit for a Steward leader because Stewards value rules, processes, and cooperation. They provide stability and consistency, and they believe in the importance of thoroughness and dependability. The candidate’s failure to document the mistake or implement new procedures indicates a disregard for process and structure, which is fundamental to the Steward leadership style. Stewards would expect the candidate to show accountability by taking concrete steps to ensure that such an error does not recur. This response would likely be seen as irresponsible and inattentive to the importance of structured processes and teamwork.


Considering how well a candidate fits with their prospective leader’s style is essential for ensuring long-term success and satisfaction. By carefully evaluating interview answers for alignment with leadership values, organizations can make more informed hiring decisions, fostering more effective collaboration between leaders and their teams.


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