It’s kind of crazy out there at the moment, isn’t it?

A lot of the training we deliver focuses on leadership, which seems more relevant than ever these days. We enjoy great conversations with groups about what it takes to lead, and lead well; and a key ingredient I’ve noted over the years is the ability to inspire followership.

Derek Sivers makes the case that leadership is over-rated, because it’s never really about the leader – at least not in the long run. He argues that to be a leader, you need at least one first follower, and that this person is actually a form of a leader in their own right.

Using YouTube’s shirtless ‘dancing guy’ as an example, Sivers identifies some key milestones to developing a movement:

  1. Stand out and withstand ridicule – we see the ‘dancing guy’ on his own, throwing his crazy shapes. Most people are laughing, but he sticks with it.
  1. Welcome a follower as a partner – it’s the first person to join in who’s the most important. As Sivers says: ‘the first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.’
  1. Allow further followers to follow each other – As a third person joins in, Sivers notes: ‘three is a crowd, and a crowd is news. So a movement must be public…followers emulate the followers, not the leader.’
  1. Watch the movement develop – There’s safety in numbers; as more people join in, it’s less risky to follow. In fact, not joining in poses the risk of ridicule.

There are some depressing parallels here with current events that you don’t need me to point out. Not all ‘movements’ are so benign as dancing guy’s.

However, less benign movements, when you peel away the layers of followership, are generally leader-centric: the ‘dancing guys’ in those instances remain highly visible – it’s visibility that sustains them. These leaders aren’t interested in empowering their followers; quite the opposite.

I’d love to end on a positive note, so here we go: history has shown us that the egocentric leader attracts scrutiny, challenge and, eventually, revolution. There’s no longevity in it. But in the meantime, hold on tight.

To quote Simon Sinek in ‘Leaders Eat Last’: ‘the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest’.

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