Be The First Follower: Stand Up and Join In

One of my favourite Ted Talks is Derek Sivers’ “How to start a movement”. Not least because he uses a fairly wacky example of one, then two, then a rapidly growing ‘crowd’ of people dancing wildly on a hill to demonstrate a point, but because what he does is completely deconstruct the concept that to be a responsible for a movement, you must be the person who generates the idea – a notion that we all hear quite often. In fact, Sivers’ point is quite the opposite: that to create a movement, what is most critical is not the person who initiates the ‘idea’, but the ‘first follower’.

The concept of the first follower

Sivers shows us that the actions of the first follower are the critical turning point in the lifecycle of a movement – and that the first follower is the person who turns the ‘lone nut’ into a leader. By having the courage to risk ridicule and failure by standing up to support the first person, they show others, many of whom may be ‘on the fence’ but lacking courage, how to follow – a critical factor in creating a successful movement. Yes, you may argue, the first person kicked it off, but it’s actually the first follower who is responsible for the movement’s success.

How does this relate to your role as a finance leader?

As experts in our respective fields, we chose everyday whether to agree with suggestions, interesting ideas and outright challenges to the status quo. As leaders, we encourage ideation from our teams, and also from each other, from peer groups in the form of steering committees and strategy sessions. As managers of managers, we also create, or like to think, that we create the same environment for the teams that report to us. Up the chain, we may be sounding blocks to more senior managers, or the executive team. It’s easy to separate this role as a ‘listener’ of other’s ideas from traditional ‘leadership’, and just part of our roles. However, as Sivers suggests, actually our actions as the first followers, or supporters of ideas, can be as critical, if not more critical, in successfully driving a movement than the idea in the first place.

How can you be more of a first follower?

We’re not talking about the simple suggestions we all make decisions on whether to follow or reject everyday. This concept is more about having the courage of your convictions to support great, or transformative, ideas, even if that means standing out from the crowd initially, to make it happen. As Sivers’ video demonstrates, the ‘crowd’ is just relative concept – it’s a leader with the biggest group of followers, with the first follower influencing buy-in or fragmenting the earlier ‘crowd’, or existing way of thinking.

Above all, being the first follower isn’t only about taking a stance, it’s about showing others HOW to follow. Resisting change, or rejecting challenges to the status quo is easy. Being an early adopter is hard, and by being the first follower, we not only show others how to follow, but indeed the process of how to make a movement successful. In effect, whilst the first leader may be the ‘ideas guy’, it is the first follower who leads and shows others how to lead the movement. Which is, undoubtedly, the definition of a great leader.

Watch; Derek Siver’s TED Talk here.

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