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,

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to ESP Interview Training: Identifying Leadership

  1. Margaret van Naerssen says:

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.