One of my favorite videos on leadership is entitled, “How to Start a Movement”. It’s a TED talk and it features Derek Sivers narrating a clip where a lone “nut” is captured on amateur video dancing by himself.
I call him a nut because he dances with such vigor and doesn’t seem to care how ridiculous he looks or that everyone is staring and laughing at him. He simply dances alone in the crowded park.
What happens next changes everything. Another person joins him and starts dancing with him and you can still make the argument that they both look ridiculous but that doesn’t seem to deter them. They continue to dance unapologetically. Soon, several people get up and start dancing with them, and so on, until it’s no longer cool to be the ones who are sitting on the sidelines watching.
When narrating the video, Sivers places the emphasis on the first follower. He suggests that it is the person who joins the dancer that is the most important because he turns “a lone nut into a leader” by the sheer act of following.
As it pertains to starting a movement, followers are a necessary ingredient because they create the tipping point – the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.
But before there can be followers, there has to be that one person who is courageous enough to not care about the people on the sidelines ridiculing them.
This sounds pretty simple. It’s the same as saying, “Don’t worry about what anyone thinks about you.” And yet, the more I watch people, the more I have come to understand that fear is the single most thing that holds people back from nearly every aspect of their lives – the fear of being judged by others.
I’m not fond of aging. I loathe everything that comes along with becoming more and more distanced from youth. That is, except for the fact that with age and maturity, there comes a better understanding that so much of our lives is wasted on worrying what other people think. We may not all get there at the same time, but there comes a moment where the outside noise becomes irrelevant.
I have such clarity now as I watch those who spend most of their time criticizing others. The people we fear the most are those who are the outspoken judgers. They are often loud and believable and they don’t miss an opportunity to point out the fallibility in others. They ridicule with contrived intellectual superiority and they hold dominion over the weak minds who follow them.
Leaders who don’t use their power for good also have followers. People who are clever and charismatic enough are capable of getting people to stand with them.
These people are powerful because they shatter the confidence of those of you who are trying to do good and if you aren’t careful they will break your spirit.
Who you choose to follow and why you choose to follow them reveals everything about who you are. Do you simply follow those who can benefit you the most? Or do you follow those who genuinely care about other people more than they care about themselves and put the organization before their individual needs?
We need more people to rise to leadership who have their values in alignment with solid principles. That’s a scary thing to ask of someone because for every principle-centered leader, there will be another who rises to ridicule and judge. There is strength in numbers and so we must be the ones who stand with those who use their power for good.
If no one is leading, don’t wait for someone to rise up and take charge of the things you care about. Stand up and dance.
Even if you have to dance alone for a little while.