Leadership is a hot topic these days in corporate North America.
Here is the expectation – everyone, regardless of whether you have direct reports or not, must have leadership qualities.
That’s because in North American culture, leadership does not mean command and direct. It means influencing others to follow a clear vision.
This is a a very important cultural difference to note unlike the middle east and south and east Asia.
During the job interview, you may be asked questions around leadership and success stories around leadership, especially if you’re applying for management positions.
On the flip side, what does it mean to be a follower?
Once again, in North America, being a follower does not mean “Do as your boss commands”.
I remember for one of my job interviews in Canada, the hiring manager asked me to engage him in a role playing exercise, where he would ask me to do something that I did not agree with, and I was to challenge his decision.
Being a follower means working with your manager and the team, with the clear intent of reaching a win-win decision towards the common goal.
So what’s the right answer to the question “Are you a follower or a leader”.
“A bit of both” should be your reply.
Then you go on to explain how you demonstrate each quality.
If you’re applying for a management position where you will have direct reports, talk about how you believe in influencing your team to follow the common vision, clearly explaining and repeating what that vision is, and motivating the team to reach that goal.
Follow it up with a very brief summarized story of how you managed to do that, or a general example of how you do that every day – via scrum meetings, management meetings, town halls, one-on-ones etc.
Everybody has a manager. So everyone must be a follower as well. This is where collaboration comes in. Talk about how you work with your manager and his/her team. Talk about being fully aware of your contribution to the team, and being in constant communication with your management and the team on your status update.
Again, use an example, possibly a project where you used your communication skills to follow instructions and collaborate with stakeholders.
The “follower or leader” question is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you’re aware of North American culture. Especially for newcomers to Canada, this is an opportunity to prevent the “Canadian experience” dilemma.