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Executive Interviews: 5 Disciplines that help to define your leadership vision

Updated: Nov 27, 2023



If you have an Executive Level job interview coming up, it is important to know that your leadership skills and your vision for the role will be assessed from the minute you walk through the door. Your interviewer is looking at you and expecting to hear some clear ideas of how you will lead your team. So how do you articulate it?


Leadership these days is all about having a vision of inclusion for all your employees that respects their opinions, input, experience and values. Your idea of leadership cannot be something you impose on the business, instead you should be fostering a collective set of ideals or values that bring your employees along with you, as you steer the ship. The challenge in an interview is that it can be very difficult to articulate your vision to a prospective employer when you have never worked for their organisation!


So here is a little cheat that you can use to help people prepare for a senior level interview:


One of the best books I have ever read on the subject of Management and Leadership is:The Fifth Discipline, by Peter M Senge. (Here’s a link to get it on Amazon). It’s a visionary book and a ‘how to’ guide on creating ‘a learning organisation’; a set of disciplines that enables the employees of a business to collaborate, evolve, and play an integral role in the growth and performance of the business.


Senge is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management near Boston, and worked with several major companies such as Ford, Chrysler, Shell, AT&T and Harley Davidson on the concept of each company to improve their organisational learning. He conducted many workshops and monitoring processes that enabled workers to feed back to their management teams on the efficacy of their systems, processes, policies and procedures. This information loop enabled everyone involved to determine the most appropriate course of action with the least amount of resistance or drag. The results were very profitable!


Senge breaks it all down to a simple set of disciplines that organisations can use to truly understand the behaviours of the people in their business. It is quite remarkable how quickly a company can transform from being broken to fixed, from fixed to good, and from good to great. Senge explains that the 5 key disciplines that great learning organisations should follow are:

  1. Personal Mastery’: A discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our own personal vision, focusing our energy, developing patience and seeing the big picture objectively.

  2. Mental Models’: These are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, or even retained mental images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. Adaptive mental models transform organisations.

  3. Building A Shared Vision’: A practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrolment rather than compliance.

  4. Team Learning’: The capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine thinking and discussion together.

  5. Systems Thinking’: The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four.

People who are ‘systems thinkers are people who know how to integrate each of the other 4 disciplines and intuitively understand how to approach a new concept with a vision that will engage the shop-floor. A tiny change in a large organisation's strategy can have a material impact on the circa 1000+ employees who will have to deal with the new policy or procedure! Systems thinkers understand the macro and micro issues in company processes, speak the language of the lowest level workers and recognise that some employees will be severely affected by the change, but they have a solution! They are credible, engaging, thoughtful, reflective and responsive to the needs of their customers, but also their co-workers. Most importantly, they want collaborative success.

 

How does this help me in a job interview?


Preparing for an Executive level interview is challenging but you can use these 5 disciplines as bullet points of reference, when you are asked about your leadership skills and how you would approach making improvements to the business.


Here is a loose example of how you could respond and touch upon each discipline.


The following example should be read as a response to a competency question like this:


'Describe a time where you were particularly successful in your career. What did you do and how did you achieve it?'


“You’ll see from my CV that since joining ACME Plc in 2015 as a VP in Sales, I have received two promotions, and I am currently the Global lead for a team of 20 Senior Salespeople. I won several key accounts for the business and through our account management processes, I’ve been able to turn those local accounts into global partnerships that have generated exceptional sales figures and now represent over 25% of our revenue."(Statement relating to Personal Mastery)


"I was lucky to have some excellent colleagues working with me and we planned carefully on how to approach, who to approach, and when. Timing was critical in several cases where our targets had contracts that were expiring, and opportunities were opening up. We had done enough to be visible with the right people in procurement and finance as well as socialising with several of the C-Suite executives in various jurisdictions."

(Statement relating to Mental Models)


"Our Hong Kong office got the first bite from a global client and we swung the product development teams, our operations teams and finance guys into action to look at a procedural solution that we could pivot to use in Australia, Singapore, Dubai, continental Europe and Latin America. The US followed on the evidence of how strong our products and delivery model had become. In total, we now have 600 people supporting the sales effort for only 5 global accounts and we are continuing to grow. My team has worked very hard to upskill every employee and ensure that they are customer focused, contributing to our feedback loop and ensuring that they are all remaining engaged. Our quarterly staff meeting is huge and invites opportunities for everyone to share their challenges, which results in better collaboration from other teams. Our training academy won an excellence award and people genuinely love working for the company. (Statement on Building a Shared Vision)


"Initially, employee engagement was a problem but by working really hard to make sure they were involved at every level and that their opinions counted, we’ve transformed the business for the better. Everyone in the business has something to teach to another employee so we have created ‘lunch and learn’ sessions to educate employees on each job function." (Statement on Team Learning)


"I think we are all very proud of what we have achieved in exploiting a market that we had not previously touched or even explored. The combined efforts of the whole team have been significant in delivering rapid growth but also determining the 10 year strategy for the group.”(Statement on Systems Thinking)


So here is the Interview Tip: Take 20 minutes to review and consider each of these 5 disciplines ahead of an Executive level job interview, and you will quickly develop your own script on how you led your team / division / business line or organisation. What Mental Models did you share with your team? How have you built a shared vision that transformed your business and is still being followed today? What examples can you give of your team learning from their mistakes and turning a business process around successfully?


Thinking about these 5 disciplines ahead of your interview will help you to sound original and credible to the interviewer, in your own natural style.


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