It’s Not Leadership, but First Followership That Counts


Watch this deceptively simple 3 minute video clip about a lone person dancing in public.  You may see him as a goof ball or someone who had a little too much to drink at the park – but his actions ultimately attracts attention of a single person who decides to join in.   Now there is a dancing couple, and then more join in and there is a small group, which becomes a small mob, and then a movement that becomes hard to avoid.

While the video seems strange to watch, it does illustrate a several interesting ideas about how change sometimes happens.

It begins with a single leader, who is motivated by an idea.  The motivation is sufficiently strong that he initially doesn’t care what others think, say or do.   The leader has enough passion for it that he persists, even in the face of evidence that no one cares or seems inclined to participate.

The leader must convey his or her idea in a way that is simple and easy to follow.  When you start out with a new idea, concept or way of behaving, people have to”get” it.   They have to process it, and reflect on it until it becomes something that begins to move the heart of the listener or viewer.  When we want people to adopt a new idea, it helps if it is simple enough that taking the first step does not seem so daunting.

The First Follower is crucial.  As you watch the video, it seems that the initial dancer is out there alone for an excruciatingly long amount of time . . . dancing . . .  in his own world.   As you watch you start to wonder when he will give up.  But then all of a sudden, that first follower appears.  He overcomes inhibitions and starts to join in.  The lead dancer is energized.  He acknowledges the first follower, and then proceeds to pursue their now-shared cause with abandon.    Sometimes there are opportunities for us to lead, but if we want change to occur, and we have the good of the entire organization at heart, there are times that the most potent act we can take is to follow someone else’s lead.

Being second to follow is now easier.  In the moment that the first follower appears, the lead dancer was transformed from lunatic to visionary.   The idea is now BIGGER than him.  Another person validated it, and seems to have been converted.   Now it is not so much about the person, but about the idea.  Once the first follower appears to support the idea, the social risk for the next person to join is reduced. People might be attracted to it out of curiosity, or just because the idea seems interesting.

At some point it becomes hard NOT to join in.  As you watch this fascinating clip, you can clearly see that as the third, fourth, and fifth people join the dance, the momentum dramatically increases.  It gets to the point that you could almost be trampled by the hoards of people rushing to join in.   It’s like a herd mentality.

What a lesson for anyone with a cause.

When you think about leadership, think more about the VERB, than about the NOUN.  Leading is an act that can be performed by anyone of us, irrespective of the rank that they hold within the organizational hierarchy.   When  your ideas are sound and your actions are WORTHY of being followed, it is amazing what can happen.

Does it work in Corporate America?  I think the answer is yes, and offer up the following article called Waking Up IBM: How an unlikely Gang of Rebels Transformed Big BlueThe title is kind of self-explanatory.  It tells the story of how IBM went from being asleep to becoming an e-business force to be reckoned with.   Sometimes you can drive change from the middle.

See also:  Leading Change: It’s not (always) on top, it’s (often) inside

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3 Comments

Filed under Innovation, Leading, Managing Teams, Personal Leadership

3 responses to “It’s Not Leadership, but First Followership That Counts

  1. adrian McGinn

    most interesting and stimulating! and for any of you interested in Followership, we welcome you to join our Linkedin group called Followership

  2. That is unbelievable, really telling. It does make so much sense that a good leader will easily make people want to follow them, but its also seems obvious when you think about it that a good follower, follows somthing worthwhile even though it’s difficult, especially initially before it has taken off!

  3. Pingback: Leadership in Action 2011 | Elizabeth Kate Switaj

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