To close off a management offsite a little while ago, we were shown a video, “First Follower: Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy”. The video (or at least the commentary?) was created by Derek Sivers and has been adapted into a TED lesson by Amanda Bjorn. If you haven’t already seen it before, then go and watch it right now (go on, it’s only three minutes!).
Gotta say, I loved it!
The video is excellent and contains many lessons, each of which is worthy of a complete post; however, something struck me that wasn’t explicitly covered. From the video:
“It takes guts to be a first follower! You stand out and brave ridicule, yourself. Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.”
Think about that for a moment, and think about how many times you’ve seen someone stand up for a cause. Alone, he or she is facing tremendous odds, but so much changes with just a single follower: “The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.” The piece that I thought was missing is that the arrival of the first follower is as critical to the leader as it is to other potential followers. A leader standing alone might face a moment of doubt, and the arrival of a follower will bolster the leader, and give him or her the strength to keep going. It’s no surprise, then, that a good leader embraces the first follower with such genuine excitement and admiration. In many ways, not standing out is a part of our species’ make-up; standing out in the wild often means getting eaten. As a consequence, it can be very difficult to start a movement and doubts creeping in are nature’s way of telling us to duck down before a predator sees us.
Similarly, stepping up as an early follower has risks, but is vitally important to the success of the cause:
“There is no movement without the first follower. We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.”
I suspect that too often we might spot someone taking a stand or leading an initiative and think, “Good, I’m glad someone’s fighting for that cause” (or similar), without actually joining, supporting or explicitly encouraging. Maybe we don’t want to stick our necks out, or maybe we’re too busy, or maybe we’re a bit jealous that someone beat us to it. In any of those cases, and especially the third case, we must remember how important the followers are, first or second or later. We don’t have to start a movement to make a difference, we need only support it. Mahatma Gandhi advised that we should
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Let us not forget that the act of following the right cause can be as effective a force of change as leading it. Good leaders certainly recognize the importance of all of their followers.