The Importance of the First Follower

Pied Piper, first follower, Leadership, Derek Sivers

A friend sent me a video link by Derek Sivers in response to my last blog post -T.E.A.M. This short TED conference presentation (3:10 mins) is on how leaders start movements. I found it very interesting so I decided to share the video with my blog’s readers along with an overview of the key points I gained from it. Sivers communicates powerful leadership principles using video scenes from an outdoor music concert.

According to Sivers, “A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous”. His leadership actions must be simple and easily replicable because if they are not easy to follow, he will not attract many people to his cause or movement.

The first follower to any movement is crucial. This is because it takes guts to be a first follower, especially if it is an unusual cause. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. Hence, Sivers argues, being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. “If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.” The first follower is influential because he attracts other followers.

The primary importance of the first follower is that he shows others how / what to follow. This is why it is essential that he follows a leader and a cause worth following or he could easily lead others astray. Movements need momentum to succeed and this is generated as more people follow the lead of the first follower.

Sivers postulates that leadership is over-glorified because, though it is true that leaders get all the credit for the success of their movements, it is however the first follower that made it possible in the first place. He concludes his presentation by stating that “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 (leader) doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.”

In other words, be a first follower!

I would love to hear your thoughts or comments on Sivers’ views on the importance of the first follower.


7 replies on “The Importance of the First Follower”

I think this is one of your best illustrations of lessons learnt from another source. Very well dissected.

It is so true that without the first follower the leader is simply a lone nut. Because what gives the leader their title is if they have people following them. But before it becomes a number of people it starts with one.

The key lesson I draw from this is the importance of letting the first follower know that they are valued and that your work as a leader is not worth as much without their input.

Gratitude expressed from the onset of setting up a movement makes a good foundation and encourages the first follower to express the same to those that will follow him/her.

This article has come on time for me. Thanks.

How timely indeed, given that this is the season of transitions and new beginnings. I definitely agree that a leader is just another person in the crowd until someone else buys into his/her vision. I also believe that the first follower is more likely the bigger risk taker b/c if the vision collapses he/she will be the ‘fool who went to follow’.

On the flip side, this is a great reminder for leaders to always appreciate their followers, especially the ones who were there from the beginning. It is also at this point that leaders should note that their office is 100% dependent on someone else buying in to their vision.

I’m with Sivers on this one, no follower, no leader. Also, it’s not the lone nut that’s the courageous one, it’s the person who buys into the lone nuts ideas that took the greater risk.

Having said all this, just ’cause a lone nut needs a follower doesn’t mean the vision is worthwhile. Research the vision first, one fool is bad enough…

I agree Oge. There is need to research the vision first before following blindly and walking into a ditch. I also like your statement “it’s not the lone nut that’s the courageous one, it’s the person who buys into the lone nuts ideas that took the greater risk.” So true!

wow! never look at it from that point of view before. now that I think of it, Siver’s view on a first follower is right on the mark. thanks for sharing…

I realy like this one Ola, as it ties in with one of the chapters on the project i’m working on; the Chapter is called “Charging Your Vision Bearers”. Looking at it from the leaders viewpoint – The first follower is the one who bears the “torch” of the vision and passes it on to subsequent followers. It is essential that beyond capturing the essence of the vision the first follower is also motivated to the goals underlined by the vision. This is where I believe alot of movements die: sometimes the first follower can uphold the values of the vision but if he doesn’t fully understand the end product, then we find that somewhere along the way there is a break down in the leadership chain which in turns leads to an adverse diversification of the vision – every subsequent follower now has a new vision that isn’t quite in line with the original vision.
Just to conclude, I would see the leaders as the spark or lit matchstick and the first follower is that first brushel that catches fire and spreads it to the rest of the forest.

WOW!!! The vid is amazing. It had to be staged though lol. Really good way to make a point.

I don’t think the first follower has to be the very first person to join a movement. They could be one of the very first to join before the crowd. As long as they make the desired impact and bring others long. For example, Paul can be considered a first follower.

Thanks unc Ola. This blog is brilliant. I am learning more each time I read.

Stay blessed.

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