Forget the leader, it’s the first follower who deserves our praise

I love the concept of the ‘first follower’ – wonderfully illustrated in this You Tube hit – because of its relevance to change communication and creativity, my two favourite work subjects.   As the commentary on the video neatly points out, the real hero of many stories is not the leader at the front but the first person to follow.   It can take more courage to be the first follower than it does to be the ‘nutter’ at the front.   The subsequent appearance of a third, fourth and fifth follower allows others to join without being noticed, eventually leading to a tipping point where it actually becomes not only acceptable, but cool, to join the crowd.   As we see in the video, new joiners are no longer following the bare-shirted ‘crazy’ leader but following the followers.  It’s a nice visual analogy.

For us change communicators it highlights the importance of working hard to reach the tipping point whereby it becomes acceptable among the community to engage with and hopefully embrace the change.    We don’t need to convince every single stakeholder to ‘buy in’.  We just need to convince the first follower and others to do so, knowing that the crowd will follow.    Of course, we want to take everyone along with us and we’ll try our best to engage at an individual level, but the lesson here is that it only takes a few colleagues to take those brave few steps.   Reaching the tipping point on the change curve is our goal, when the organisation shifts from resistance to exploration, but by highlighting quick wins and supporting the first followers, we comms people can help get people on their feet.

First followers are just as important in creative environments.   Someone comes up with an idea that everyone else instinctively thinks is impossible, impractical or just plain crazy.  But what if one person stands up and backs it, and then another?  Where’s the tipping point?   Putting forward ideas and challenging the way things are takes courage, but so too does saying “I agree” or “good idea”.   It’s far easier to be negative than positive, we all know that, so first followers are vital to nurture ideas with potential.   Personally, I think the You Tube video acts a good analogy for the acceptance of creativity at work, or even creativity in internal comms.   Those of us who believe strongly about it are the mad dancers waving our arms around on the sidelines.  But it only takes a few brave first followers and then you watch the crowd run.   I don’t care, as long as we’re all up dancing.

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