how to interview for courage and innovation

How to Interview For Courage and Innovation

Violet recruited Brian into the General Manager role because of his long track record of success at an established Fortune 500. Her company was on a trajectory of fast growth, so she wanted Brian to up their game. In the interview, he shared lots of best practices from his old company.

Brian’s previous employer was known for its best-in-class training and consistent customer service. The more she heard in the interview, the more excited she was. Brian was perfect for the job.

Until he wasn’t.

As it turns out, Brian thrived in a high-clarity culture. When handed a playbook, he knew exactly what to do. And did it flawlessly. But in the whirlwind of a fast-growing start-up, he was completely lost. He had trouble transferring what he had learned in his old role to his new job.  Frustrated by the lack of guidelines and procedures, he kept going to his boss for help in making every little decision. He was too overwhelmed to innovate. He was lucky to just get through the day.

In the interview, Violet had been so focused on what the company was doing, she didn’t get a good sense of Brian’s capacity to replicate it on his own.

On the rebound from Brian, Violet went in a different direction. This time hiring Sal, a bright millennial with tons of ideas. Sal was the poster child of gung-ho. He had been wildly successful in his last gig at a company known for their innovative culture BECAUSE he had a right-hand guy who operationalized his ideas.

Without that guy, Sal was lost. Violet had been so impressed with Sal’s energy and charisma in the interview, she forgot to ask him about his role in actually making those ideas come to life.

Has that ever happened to you?

You deliberately recruit from a company with the culture you’re looking to create. Your recruit looks great on paper. S/he’s got a tremendous track record of success. But within the first ninety days, you know you’ve made a wrong choice.

When it comes to hiring for courage, innovation AND the ability to execute with clarity, it makes sense to fish where the fish are most likely to be—to identify companies with cultures that are doing this well and to recruit for the leaders who are making this happen. Make sure you also dig a levelInspiring Innovation Cover deeper to ensure your candidate has actually been instrumental in what you’re looking to accomplish and in similar circumstances to what they’ll encounter in your organization.

Ideally, your candidate will have competencies on both sides of the clarity-curiosity dance so vital in building a courageous culture (for more on building a Courageous Culture, download our FREE Whitepaper)

Or you can strategically build integrated teams with complementary skill sets.

Courageous Culture Interview Questions

Here are a few structured interview questions that will help you dig a level deeper with your candidate to gauge their experience in contributing to, and building, a courageous culture.

Their Track Record of Courage and Innovation

  • What’s the best idea you’ve ever had to improve the business?  Tell me about the idea. What did you do with it and what happened as a result?
  • Tell me about a time that you strongly disagreed with your manager. What was the issue? How did you work to resolve the conflict?
  • Describe the most difficult problem you’ve ever faced at work. How did you work to overcome it? What are most proud of about your approach and what would you do differently the next time?
  • What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made at work? What did you learn?

Leading Others to Be Courageous and Innovative

  • Have you ever lead a team through a large scale change? What was it? Describe the process you took. What was the result?
  • What techniques do you use to encourage employees to share ideas to improve the business?
  • In this company, we require every employee to think and act like a customer advocate. How would you know if that were happening on your team?
  • How do you build problem-solving and critical thinking skills in your employees? Tell me about your biggest success story in this arena?

Your turn. What are your favorite interview questions to uncover courage and innovation?

Posted in courageous cultures and tagged , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Love your questions. We used some of them in state government, but my ace in the hole was not about assessing how they answered questions, but looking at where they received their education and what they thought of it. Uncanny. Works. It gets at how they learn and what they do with it.

    • Hi Byron, thanks so much for adding that! I think that would be very interesting to hear how they applied there education! Really appreciate you sharing that.

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