The First Follower is the One That Transforms a Lone Nut into a Leader

Since this is the Innovation Leadership Network, it’s probably time to talk about leadership directly. My thoughts today are spurred by two things: first, this is our 300th post, second, this TED talk from Derek Sivers that was posted yesterday – it’s only 3 minutes, and you must watch it!

It’s a great talk, and it raises several important points, including:

  • Leadership is based on relationships. The main point that he makes is that it is the first follower that makes someone a leader. Leadership is a network property, not a personal one.
  • Secondly, can you believe how many people end up dancing in that mob? It’s astonishing! Small acts can have huge effects. Remember that the next time you’re feeling helpless or overmatched.
  • Nurture your first few followers as equals. We’re trying to build movements, not a group of sycophantic followers. This reminds me of Umair Haque’s Builder’s Manifesto – where he says:

    Builders forge better building blocks to construct economies, polities, and societies. They’re the true prime movers, the fundamental causes of prosperity. They build the institutions that create new kinds of leaders — as well as managers, workers, and customers.

    When Sivers is talking about leadership, he’s really talking about building too – that’s why the people that get involved are so important.

  • This leads directly to the last point, leadership is overrated. The point is not to become the head of something, but rather to empower people to go out and make things better. When we’re talking about leading innovation here, we’re talking about empowering people to be autonomous, to help them experiment, to encourage them to make novel connections, and to help them implement their great new ideas. The most important job that a manager has is not leaderhip – it is removing the obstacles that prevent the people on the team from doing these things.

Which brings me to the topic of the 300th post. John and I have been working on this blog a little over a year now – and we are both consistently astonished and thankful at how much impact we’ve had with it. I never would have imagined that the number of people reading our thoughts would have grown as much and as fast as it has. We are sincerely grateful to everyone that has read a post, made a comment, argued with us about an idea, and contributed to the ideas that are developing here. Thank you!

And even though we have ‘leadership’ in the title of the blog, we’re really trying to build. We’re trying to be innovation catalysts. We don’t want you to follow our ideas – we want you take our ideas and use them to help you execute your own.

That’s the best possible response to what you read here – go out and do something. Let’s start building.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

8 thoughts on “The First Follower is the One That Transforms a Lone Nut into a Leader

  1. It’s been a lot of fun, Tim. Here’s to the next 300 and everyone who reads and encourages us to keep coming up with better ideas.

  2. Tim, John,

    congrats to your 300th blog anniversary!

    I really enjoy reading your blog day by day. It’s very instructive, diversified and provides a daily ‘take away’ to reflect upon.

    For me, your blog and its scope is unique and an enrichment for the innovation community – have learned quite a lot from you. Thanks for this!

    Please keep up doing your great job here. I am looking forward to the forthcoming 300.

    Cheers and happy Easter to both of you.


    PS: Oh, almost forgot – great post, as usual :-)

  3. Tim/John,
    First of all, congratulations on the 300. It has been only recently I started following this blog, and I am not disappointed – your blog has a great diversity of thoughtful & insightful postings.

    And interesting that you mention, “We don’t want you to follow our ideas – we want you take our ideas and use them to help you execute your own”. This is precisely the reason I enjoy it – while I sometimes enjoy being told what to do :-), I enjoy it much more to be given a seed of an idea and then see what I can do with it.

    Now to the post – great points as usual.The only point where I might not be in total agreement is the last one – “leadership is overrated” :-). More than leadership being overrated, I think what constitutes a leader is overrated on certain dimensions.

    In my mind, leadership is empowering people, it is enabling pathways by removing obstacles, it is building collective self-confidence in your team, it is fostering adaptation, and it is ALL about communties. A leader has to forget individuality and encourage engagement & involvement to keep the momentum going.

    And on the flip side, leadership is not (as you point out) having a million sychophants under you, it is not about promoting individual heroism, and it is not about enforcing your status, rank or power on those beneath you.

    I think many a times, folks misconstrue a certain quality as leadership, when in reality it is not — and it is that perception which leads to the overrating of leadership.

    I will end with one of the many Mintzberg gems – “..we need just enough leadership –leadership that intervenes when appropriate while encouraging people in the organization to get on with things..”.


  4. Thanks for the feedback Ned – I’m pretty much in full agreement with your comment, so there’s not much to add! Glad to see the Mintzberg interview getting used – he’s terrific!

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