First Follower Leadership: You Can Start a Movement

Jordan Scott
Jordan Scott
In General
Jordan Scott is the Content Marketing Manager at Xactly. She attended The University of California at Santa Cruz, and received degrees in Literature and Education.

Does it take more courage to be a leader — or to be the first person who follows a leader?

We started asking ourselves this question a few months ago, when we first watched Derek Sivers’ TED Talk, “How To Start A Movement”, as a team. He shows a clip, where a guy is dancing all by himself on a field. He looks pretty ridiculous out there, gyrating all alone. But then, someone joins him. Then, so does someone else, and another person and another.

All of a sudden, the entire crowd is dancing.

At first, we wanted to give the first guy the credit for what happened. But, as Derek points out, “followers are what turn a lone nut into a leader.” It’s a lesson that claims it was actually the first follower who took the biggest risk and created the group dance party.

Follow (is) the Leader

You might be wondering what a shirtless guy doing somersaults has to do with you. What we’ve learned is that this idea — that movements are started not by their creators but by their first followers — it’s the first follower theory — and has a lot more to teach us about happiness and success than we originally thought.

A movement starts right at the moment that it gets its first follower: The person who says “this is a great idea, and I’m following it even though nobody else is (yet)”. Not only that, new followers emulate fellow followers, not the leader.

Think about that for a minute. How many situations are you in during a given day where you’re in a group, where people are following each other’s lead? We’re used to thinking about the leaders out in front who inspire us all — but have you ever thought about how much power to influence you have in that situation?

This Seriously Matters

These are really important things for us to think about right now. There’s all kinds of data out there that shows the American workplace is in the midst of a serious inspiration crisis:

70% of employees are actively disengaged, and it costs businesses an average of $550B dollars a year, according to Gallup.

In other words, our workforce’s performance shows the model of leadership we’ve been using is no longer working. But do we need new leaders… or do we need more first followers?

This is something that leaders like Arianna Huffington, whose Third Metric platform is literally built on redefining success beyond money and power, are already pointing out. It might also explain why Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” has gone so viral: Instinctively, we all recognize the way we’ve been doing things isn’t working any more. We need a new way.

This Seriously Matters For You, Too.

Everything is changing right now. You don’t have to be a CEO out in front of an entire organization to lead a movement. Today, all you need to make an incredible impact is to have a voice.

That’s why we’re having CompCloud this month: To talk about these changes that are happening all across our country and our world, and hear from incredible leaders — Maria Shriver, Billy Beane, and our own CEO, Christopher Cabrera — who have already cracked this starting-a-movement code.

Do you agree with the first follower theory? Have you ever followed someone’s lead when it was risky? What happened? Tell us on social.

Then, come join us at CompCloud. We want to hear about it. Consider it your first step in starting your own movement


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First Follower Leadership: You Can Start a Movement