What if you had to be elected to your leadership position by your team, and peers?  Instead of being moved to higher leadership responsibility by the leaders in the existing hierarchy, what if your career fate rested in the hands of the people that work for you and with you on a daily basis?

What if your potential new team could interview you before you were placed in a position to be their leader, and decide whether you fit the bill to lead them?

Would your behaviors be different than they are today?

I just recently ran across an article about a company doing this very thing for their leadership positions and succession planning.  Holding elections for leadership positions in times of change.  Interesting concept isn’t it?

This notion struck close to home for me lately for a totally different and seemingly unrelated reason and had me reflect on the concept more deeply.

Last week, I had an unexpected toothache with a fever that led to a consultation with an endodontist for a root canal.  (I am on the upper end of the dental work anxiety scale, despite my frequent visits to the chair.)   To make matters worse, I am not at home for the bulk of the summer, so I don’t have the comfort zone of my own dentist for a referral to help alleviate my anxiety.

Fortunately, an antibiotic was able to treat the urgency so that I can select the appropriate endodontist .

The first one was in a polished office with state of the art technology.  He said all of the right things, told me how knowledgeable he was, and I trust that he is extremely competent at what he does.  What he didn’t do was connect with me or make me feel comfortable.  He has a certain way he does things and I can imagine he is very good at the procedure.  When I told him what part of the procedure makes me anxious, his response was,

“Most people get anxious.  We will manage you with a variety of options.  I have a job to do, so I don’t have leeway…” I’m not sure what else he said after that because he lost me at “we will manage you.”

What I needed in that moment was to feel a comfort level about his personal level of compassion and empathy.  That he indeed understood the irrational side of dental work anxiety and could adjust his “all-business” style and connect with the human side of me.

That interaction reminded me of so many corporate change initiatives I personally have been involved with or helped leaders with over the years.  When we are faced with change and placed outside our comfort zone, being told “get on board or else” or that we must be “managed” is the last approach that will garner commitment.  People may do what they are told because they feel the alternative of unemployment is not an option for them, but commitment will be nowhere to be found.

What works instead is acknowledgement and understanding.  Empathy and compassion.

I am not suggesting sugar coating or handholding.

What I am suggesting is a deeper understanding of the power of human connection to endure almost any adversity.

“We will get through this change and seemingly rough road together—and here is the vision that is waiting on the other end” works much better than:

“We are going here and here is how we are getting here—and you need to get on board and get over it now.”

What I am writing about here today sounds pretty obvious—but be honest—which approach have you encountered more frequently?  And more importantly—which approach do you use?

In the case I described above, I am fortunate that I get to pick who leads me through the ordeal of a root canal, which is no big deal in the scheme of things, I fully realize.  It’s a 2-hour deal and it’s over.

But what if employees could pick the leader who leads them through this ever-changing landscape.  What if there were two equally technically competent leaders – with one having the ability to genuinely acknowledge and connect with others with empathy and compassion?

Would you be elected to lead?

As always– drop me a note with your thoughts– I love reading all the observations you share with me.