ESP Interview Training: Identifying Leadership

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In an organizational leadership seminar that I teach at KUIS in Japan, we were looking closely at behavioral-based interview questions in the career guide of a large university in the United States. All of the questions seemed to be asking for examples of “leadership.”

Consider the following nine questions from p. 26 of The Triton Career Guide (2013-2014 Edition) of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

  1. Describe a situation in which you saw a problem and took action to correct it.
  2. Describe a time when you had to organize a project under a tight timeframe.
  3. Tell me about a situation in which you used teamwork to solve a problem.
  4. Give me an example of a time you had to deal with an irate customer/client.
  5. Describe your leadership style and give me an example of a situation where you successfully led a group.
  6. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done. 
  7. Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead. 
  8. Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem. 
  9. Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.

Now, let’s look at how leadership is conceptualized. Liu (2010) had Conversations on Leadership (book title) with “global management gurus” (i.e., leadership experts) including Kouzes, Bennis, Senge, Gardner, and Kotter. From those interviews, he summed up leadership to be the following:

  • “First, leadership is about activity [emphasis added], not about position.” (p. 3)
  • “Second, leadership is about change [emphasis added], not about management.” (p. 4)

I discovered the same core themes of act and change in the data obtained from my own semi-structured interviews of leaders in the public, private, and academic sectors. In view of the conceptualizations of leadership above, the nine behavioral-based interview questions from the career guide are asking for examples of leadership. In other words, the interviewer is asking the interviewee, “Are you able to influence others and thereby change our organization for the better?”

So, what is an organization? Schneider (2001) writes:

A growing literature on organizations takes the perspective that knowledge in organizations and organizations themselves are constituted through communicative practice (e.g., G. Miller, 1997b; Sarangi & Roberts, 1999; Taylor & Lerner, 1996). Organizations, from this perspective, are regarded as ongoing social accomplishments in which “resources are produced and regulated, problems are solved, identities are played out and professional knowledge is constituted” (Sarangi & Roberts, 1999, p. 1) through social interaction. From such a perspective, knowledge in organizations cannot be regarded as a fixed, stable body of facts or information. Rather, it must be seen as situated, dynamic, constantly negotiated, and constantly shifting, as members of organizations work to have their version of the organization legitimated as the one that counts. (p. 228)

When you view organizations from the perspective of Sarangi and Roberts (1999) above, you understand the importance of communication skills. That is where ESPers add value. By helping our learners to use English language communication skills as a tool in their work or training, we are helping them to change their workplaces for the better.

Good luck with your efforts to transform your learners into leaders who create positive changes in their organizations!

All the best,
Kevin

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (doctoral candidate in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is Chair of the ESP IS (2011-2012) and will become Immediate Past Chair (2012-2013). He teaches English for specific purposes (ESP), business, and organizational leadership in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career Program) and the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Japan. He has over 25 years of experience during which he has worked for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research is on leadership communication and development.
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One Response to ESP Interview Training: Identifying Leadership

  1. Margaret van Naerssen says:

    Kevin,
    Useful insights on what constitutes leadership–good input for programs providing practice in interviewing

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