A Situational Leader’s Approach to Interviewing

With the “Great Resignation”—also coined other “greats” like the reshuffling, reimagination and reset —record numbers of people are exploring roles in new organizations and industries to restart, reshape or revitalize their careers. If this is you, you are well aware of the hours and energy expended (multiple times!) to complete online applications, tweak your resume and craft clever “why I want to work here” responses!

If you don’t want to do this all again 6-12 months from now, how might you discern if a certain organization will be a place where you can fit and thrive?

Two strategic ideas come to mind. First, if you have learned and implemented Situational Leadership®, you might fit and thrive in an organization that has also adopted it as their leadership paradigm and language. Second, to share the best of yourself in an interview, you should respond from your Situational Leadership® perspective. Allow us to address both for you here.

Ways to detect a “situationally minded” organization

Mid adult manager meets with male employee for progress report

We know that what people need and want from work varies from person to person. Every job-searching candidate should create a priority-ordered list that reflects their absolutes, convictions and preferences. As a Situational Leader, you understand the concept of strongest-felt need, so be aware which of the motivators on your list are extrinsic, or things the employer could possibly provide (think pay, hybrid work, advancement, etc.), and which are intrinsic, that come from deep within you (think values, priorities, societal impact, etc.).


We have realized for quite some time that leadership is something you do with people, not to them. Short of simply asking if Situational Leadership® courses are the foundation of their leadership development efforts, here are some strategic questions that can help you find a situationally minded organization:

  • Are people at every level of the organization expected to lead and influence? Ask for examples
  • How does this organization define, set and hold people accountable for success?
  • How important is engagement in this organization? Ask how they both measure and foster it
  • How important are 1:1 meetings and how often do managers have them? Is there a suggested outline or template they can share with you?
  • What professional development opportunities are offered? How do managers support the implementation of learning? Ask for examples—of both supporting and implementing
  • What are the values of the organization and how do leaders model these? Ask for examples

Yes, you noted the emphasis on examples. There is often a disconnect between ideals and realities. Asking for example gives the organization the opportunity to explain how they “walk the talk.”

Ways to demonstrate that you are a situationally minded candidate

Since the Situational Leadership® Model is the most successful and widely adopted leadership model across the globe, you can proudly highlight your training as a Situational Leader on your resume.

One of three popular interview approaches you may encounter is (aptly named!) the “situational interview” style where you are asked to demonstrate a skill or required competency. For behavioral skills (like leadership), they might discern your style by asking, “What would you do, or how would you handle a situation where …?”

Strong responses could sound like:

  • “It depends on the situation …,” then ask further questions about the specific task and the Performance Readiness® of the person or team in the suggested scenario
  • “I like to learn the behavior style and communication preferences of each person, but as important as those are, I try to lead a person for the particular task, since everyone brings a different level of ability and willingness …”
  • For role-play, use the four steps of the Situational Leadership® Model to guide you

A second popular approach with candidates is the “behavioral interview” which presumes you will respond in the future similarly to the way you responded in the past. This direction of questioning often starts with, “Tell me about a time when you …”

Experts recommend responding with a S.T.A.R. outline:

  • What was the Situation—set the stage, players, environment, etc. at the time
  • What was the Task to be completed (as we clarify in Step 1)
  • What Action you took—summarize your (Step 2) diagnosis of Performance Readiness® and how you (Step 3) matched and communicated the correct amount of direction and support to bring about the best result
  • What was the Result or outcome—“testify” as to how a Situational Leadership® approach met (or exceeded!) the expectation(s)

Finally, a third interviewing strategy is to discover your “behavioral profile,” which includes such things as strategic and analytical skills, time management, communication style, resilience and perseverance and so on. This is particularly effective when filling mid- to higher-level positions where motivators are as important as, if not more important than, practical skills for the role. Here, they are looking more for how you would handle yourself than what you would do leading others.

You might respond with:

  • It’s important to me to clarify the expectations of the leader/customer/colleague before responding with a particular solution or style of leadership in that situation …
  • I thrive with light supervision from my leader when I know I can be successful and fully engaged in even difficult situations; conversely, I am quick to reach out to leaders, mentors and experienced peers when I lack knowledge and experience for tasks that are new or particularly challenging for me …”

Situational Leadership® is one of the most respected leadership models ever developed and is more relevant now than ever. Use your situational experiences as the lens through which you can confidently explore your next “great”… hopefully, a “great situation” with a role where you both fit and thrive.