Being a leader is a difficult goal to strive for. People say leadership takes courage, character, confidence, charisma, etc.… and they aren’t wrong. However, when defining a leader, people tend to miss the true defining characteristic: someone needs to follow. A leader isn’t a leader if they are leading no one. One could make the connection that a leader is only a leader if they were leading someone. Profound stuff I know, but at its core, the statement is extremely accurate. Any leader of value has always needed one person, and that person is known as the First Follower.
The First Follower is an underrated form of leadership. The leader typically gets the majority of the credit but it’s the First Follower that often finds themselves unknowingly determining a leader’s success. In his TED talk “How to start a movement”, Derek Sivers states that “the First Follower is what transforms a Lone Nut into a Leader.” He continues by showing a video of a lone dancer. At first glance, it is obvious that the lone dancer is very courageous, but also a bit awkward. About 10 seconds in, one person gets up and starts dancing alongside (First Follower). It only takes a second for the First Follower to start encouraging his friends to join. Around 30 seconds, dozens of people are out dancing along with more running into the group every second. With the combination of the Leader and the First Follower, they were able to start a movement within minutes. Below I outlined some responsibilities for the Leader and the First Follower to make this work.
The Leader – Although it takes a strong amount of courage to put yourself out there, its takes almost an equal amount of courage to be the first one to stand up and follow. That is why the moment you receive your first follower, its critical to raise that person up and accept him as an equal. The message must change from “follow me” to “follow us.” Future followers need to trust that everyone out there is in this together. It’s the leader’s responsibility to limit the risk to his follower while enforcing the belief that “we win together, or we lose together, not separately”.
The First Follower – You have taken a risk by being the first one to join your leader. Your job from here is to encourage the people who trust you to trust the leader. At this stage, you are now a leader yourself, so all the above statements apply. Build up anyone that decides to come along, and encourage them to encourage others. When you do, you will instantly see the impact you had on the movement.
As a closing thought, I want to encourage everyone to keep an eye out for an opportunity to be someone’s First Follower. I won’t lie, it may be hard depending on the change you decide to stand up for, but it just might be one of the most rewarding experiences you have. Not to mention it could be the only thing standing in front of success for the leader. I also encourage everyone to watch Derek’s video below. It has heavily influenced my way of thinking. And of course, please leave me comments if you have any insight to share.