The Shirtless Dancing Guy Theory of Leadership

Derek Sivers gave this presentation at the TED Conference this week and got a standing ovation. It's pretty brilliant in its takeaway.

Here's the transcript. The bold is mine.

If you've learned a lot about leadership and making a movement, then let's watch a movement happen, start to finish, in under 3 minutes, and dissect some lessons:

A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he's doing is so simple, it's almost instructional. This is key. You must be easy to follow!

Now comes the first follower with a crucial role: he publicly shows everyone how to follow. Notice the leader embraces him as an equal, so it's not about the leader anymore - it's about them, plural. Notice he's calling to his friends to join in. It takes guts to be a first follower! You stand out and brave ridicule, yourself. Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.

The 2nd follower is a turning point: it's proof the first has done well. Now it's not a lone nut, and it's not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news.

A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see the followers, because new followers emulate followers - not the leader.

Now here come 2 more, then 3 more. Now we've got momentum. This is the tipping point! Now we've got a movement!

As more people jump in, it's no longer risky. If they were on the fence before, there's no reason not to join now. They won't be ridiculed, they won't stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd, if they hurry. Over the next minute you'll see the rest who prefer to be part of the crowd, because eventually they'd be ridiculed for not joining.

And ladies and gentlemen that is how a movement is made! Let's recap what we learned:

If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you.

Be public. Be easy to follow!

But the biggest lesson here - did you catch it?

Leadership is over-glorified.

Yes it started with the shirtless guy, and he'll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened:

It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.

There is no movement without the first follower.

We're told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective.

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 doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Be a follower, join a movement. That's how change happens.

Tags: TED Conference, leadership, democracy (all tags)

Comments

4 Comments

who's a nut

That's a great vid. I've seen another one, which I thought this was, in which the guy just does go on and on alone. He never got his follower!

I really dig the whole follower/following meme.

by Jerome Armstrong 2010-02-12 08:43PM | 0 recs
RE: who's a nut

The video was from the Sasquatch Music Festival at the Columbia Gorge (your old stomping grounds).

Pretty remarkable. 

Yeah, the whole follower/following meme is rather insightful. It's the followers that make a movement. Nurturing them makes sense. Getting them involved is what brings about the change. If it's all about the leader, then nothing happens but if it is about them, then something happens.

There's a lesson in there for Obama. At some point, he failed to energize his followers. They got him elected then tuned out. But that's not the way it supposed to be. He (and Michelle Obama made this point in a speech back in February 2008 at UCLA just before Super Tuesday) was going to engage the American people, make them work. He hasn't. Poof, the movement petered out. 

by Charles Lemos 2010-02-12 09:39PM | 0 recs
RE: who's a nut

" he was going to engage the American people, make them work... "

I dunno, sounds awfully Socialist to me...

by vecky 2010-02-13 03:57AM | 0 recs
RE: who's a nut

Are you kidding me Charles?  American's are not followers, we are ALL leaders!  It is unAmerican to even suggest such a thing.  Followers are weak and submissive.

No wonder nothing seems to get done around here...

I have always felt that Obama has been a leader, and has asked us to follow and do the work.  We have failed, not him.  We have leadership, we do not have followship.  Look at how he has handled the Senate..."Do your work."  Same as what he told the schoolkids.  Who do you think is actually following better? 

Most likely, this is a generational problem...we created too many Leaders, and so we now have the "proverbial" too many cooks in the kitchen.  It may be time for the current "leaders" in State and Federal Govt's to retire enmasse...maybe that is the exodus from the House.  Time to exchange 70-90 year old staunch trail-blazing ideologues for 40 year old Leader/Follower hybrids.

by Hammer1001 2010-02-13 09:56AM | 0 recs

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