Last week, I was thinking a great deal about leadership. I wanted to know what makes someone a leader and why do we seem to over glorify leaders above their followers. I found a few intriguing sources about the topic. One of which that stood out to me was this short TED video, delivered by Derek Sivers, one of the most curious and thoughtful people I know.
The inspiration of this talk comes from a video Sivers has watched about a shirtless dancing guy at a music concert who accidentally creates a massive dancing party. Initially, the shirtless guy dances by himself, loses himself in the music in the midst of a huge crowd. A few seconds later, because of the shirtless guy’s infectious killer dance moves, a guy from the crowd joins him. Now the shirtless dancing guy is not alone. He has a partner to dance with. Their boundless gladness electrifies the rest of the sitting crowd. Until finally everyone leaves their comfortable sitting zone and gets up to dance with them.
Sivers sees that the video embodies the process of how a movement is created. He says that in the beginning process of creating a movement, the job of a leader is nurturing her first few followers and making them clearly aware about the movement, not about the leader. Meanwhile, the job of the first few followers who want to attract more followers is by teaching people the easiest way to follow the movement.
Towards the end of the talk, Sivers says something that I agree wholeheartedly: “We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective.” Back when I was in college, I was familiar with this message because that’s what my professors and academic advisors preached. What makes me uncomfortable with this message is we seem to think that followers are unimportant, unlikely to make a profound contribution to their groups. But, the video proves us otherwise. Followers are significant too. Without them, a movement will not exist. Yes, we need leaders who are unafraid to take the initiative to make their visions a reality, but also we are in dire need of followers who have the guts to champion their visions.
Here is the transcript of the TED Talk:
“A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he’s doing is so simple, it’s almost instructional. This is key. You must be easy to follow! Now comes the first follower with a crucial role: he publicly shows everyone how to follow. Notice the leader embraces him as an equal, so it’s not about the leader anymore – it’s about them, plural. Notice he’s calling to his friends to join in.
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.
The second follower is a turning point: it’s proof the first has done well. Now it’s not alone nut, and it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news. A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see the followers, because new followers emulate followers – not the leaders.
Now here comes two more, then three more. Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point! Now we’ve got a movement.
As more people jump in, it’s no longer risky. If they were on the fence before, there’s no reason not to join now. They won’t be ridiculed, they won’t stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd, if they hurry. Over the next minute you’ll see the rest who prefer to be part of the crowd, because eventually they’d be ridiculed for not joining.
And ladies and gentleman, that is how a movement is made! Let’s recap what we learned:
If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you.
-Be public. Be easy to follow!
-But the biggest lesson here – did you catch it?
-Leadership is over glorified.
Yes, it started with the shirtless guy, and he’ll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened: It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader. There’s 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.”