While reviewing a book proposal a few weeks ago, it struck me that here was another great missive working on the assumption that people get to choose their leader. It was suggesting that what you need to do to be a great leader is figure out why your followers are following you.

Nice idea, but, certainly in the world at work, most of those decisions are taken by a higher authority. Followers just have to put up with it, unless they are in the rare and cherished position of being able to simply walk. And, don’t delude yourself that because you recruited said followers, they chose you. Most often, new hires choose the job, not the person holding the leadership position. Of course, that you are a brilliant and inspiring individual must have counted somewhere in the decision, but was probably not the critical factor.

As you develop your ability to lead, and help others learn how to lead, here is a great question to stimulate discussion…

If your team had a free choice, would they choose you as their leader? Here are just a few things you can do with this question.

Challenge Yourself

Do some soul searching. If you jump to the positive ― are you sure about that? Are they simply being nice to keep in your good books? Perhaps they are really choosing the job and you’re just okay. Then again, if they had a choice, would they prefer someone else to be in your role?

If you’re tending to think the answer is negative, why is that? What is it about you (or them) which is making it likely that they would not choose you if they had the chance? Perhaps you are a little too demanding, or not giving fair recognition. Are you too soft on them?

And finally, so what? Do you think you should make some changes in the light of this thinking? That choice is yours, but the more likely your team would answer “no” to the big question of choice, the sooner they will wander off. Then you’ve got to go and find someone else to work for you.

Since you are here reading this, my bet is that you will do something.

Challenge Others

If you are a leader of leaders, use this question as a discussion point at your next team meeting. Get them challenging each other with it ― please, create a climate of fun and good humour rather than creating a stick to beat people with. If you are more likely to wave the stick, make sure you use the big question on yourself first, eh?

If you really like the idea, perhaps the question could form the basis of a leadership development campaign which could run for a period of time. At your regular one-to-ones with your leaders, you could agree actions to increase the likelihood of a high score. What can you do to make it more likely that your team would choose you as their leader? What have you done to become more choosable? Hey, why don’t you move it to the next idea…

Get Feedback

Yes, go ask the teams! Make this decision carefully. The last thing you want is a flood of negative feedback which destroys you or the leader in question. If it is likely to be that bad, work hard on leadership development first. Then role this out when you are fairly sure the answer is likely to be good but not good enough.

There are many ways you could run with this idea. Ask your team at a team meeting. Split them into smaller groups to discuss their decision and report back how they weighed up their answer. Run a little survey using Survey Monkey or similar. Incorporate it into staff opinion surveys. Make it a core part of your leadership culture and selection processes.

Okay, now I‘m starting to get a little carried away so I will stop there. I’m not saying that you should go as far as giving people free choice (tantalising as the idea may be). What I am saying is that if you focus your leadership development on increasing the likelihood that the question would get a positive response, you are certainly going to benefit.