Every leader needs a first follower.

Our culture loves leaders.  We talk about them, we study them, and we want to be like them.

We talk about leadership so much that we even have difficulty defining it.  For example, I have conversations with lots of people who mistake management for leadership.  Management is a form of leadership, but it is driven by the vision of someone else, another leader.  Management tweaks and brings efficiency to another's vision.  To be true leadership, vision has to be at the core.

Over the past decade I've been to 20+ leadership conferences in various fields and they always feature keynote presentations from successful leaders, visionaries who looked out into the future and saw where the field needed to be shifted.  These leaders are celebrities of sorts.  We secretly want to be them.  So, we ask questions about how they order their days, what they eat, what books they read, etc, all in a hope to be just like them.

It's a fool's errand though.  We can never be like them.  We can mimic everything they do, we can part our hair the same way, we can wear the same brand of designer blue jeans, and we will repeatedly fail to produce the results.  Why? We can't replicate something I've never heard one of these leaders ever mention, yet they all possess.....first followers.

First followers? Yes, first followers.  Entrepreneur Derek Sivers reveals the need for first followers in this wonderful TED talk.

According to Sivers, until you have a first follower, a leader is just a lone nut with an idea.  The first follower transforms the lone nut into a leader.

First followers are leaders.  Their core vision is to be able to recognize the brilliance of a potential leader's idea, and encourage the masses to embrace it.  The movement starts with the first follower, not the lone nut as we've been led to believe.

Now, Sivers does point out some things a leader can do to make it easier for the first follower to join, but after that, it's up to the first followers.

Lincoln, Churchill, Alexander the Great.  All of them lone nuts until someone chose to follow them.

So while there are leadership conferences aplenty, and no end to leadership resources (books, blogs, etc), perhaps we should invest some energy studying the first followers.  What obstacles do they have to overcome? What pride do they have to swallow? What accolades do they choose not to get? How do they decide which leader to follow? How do they handle it when the leader turns out to be a fraud?  How about a conference for how to cultivate, develop, and keep first followers in our organizations?

It makes me think about my work and leadership differently.  I am in awe of people who had the courage to embrace my ideas and transform me into a leader.

If you are a leader, take a moment and look around.  Consider the first followers who embraced your vision.  Seek them out.  Encourage them.  Celebrate them.

You can be sure in any organization I work with in the future, I will seek out the first followers and laud them, deliver praise to them, and take good care of them.

Josh leverages creativity, innovation, and collaboration in organizations working strategically for the betterment of humanity.

Josh leverages creativity, innovation, and collaboration in organizations working strategically for the betterment of humanity.

Without first followers, we leaders are just lone nuts.