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  • Writer's pictureVicky Martinez Dorr

Effective leadership: How to cultivate your first follower (and create a movement).

Imagine the scene. A lone dancer at a music festival. Arms flailing, legs akimbo as others look on. What an oddball (to put it politely).

Wait - what’s happening now? A second dancer appears. He gets an enthusiastic greeting and now they’re dancing together. Slowly, others get up too. People start running over to join in, to avoid being left out. It’s the birth of a movement.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine it at all. Derek Sivers uses this video in his TED Talk on ‘how to start a movement’. He explains the importance of the first follower. And why leaders must be the first step in and “rock and roll”.

Why is this important for you? Businesses have to change to survive. And building movements for change at your business needs to be a key leadership focus.

Did you know? In US workplaces, 35% of employees are active ‘engaged’. It’s the highest level ever. And Gallup research has found that CEO and board initiatives are a key driving factor. More engaged employees means higher productivity, fewer absences and better customer service.

How to make it happen

Some leaders are extroverts, some leaders are introverts. For all, the confidence to stand up and stand out is crucial. Feeling uncomfortable at the thought of dancing to your own tune? Remember that the leader’s discomfort only lasts as long as it takes to find a first follower.

In the video, when the first follower arrives on the scene, the leader treats him as an equal. This is an important point. The follower is risking his own reputation by joining in and his role is pivotal. In a business context, cultivating your followers is also a chance to improve your ideas through input from others.

Worried that collaboration means getting entangled in endless discussions? Make time for an international perspective on decision-making:

‘Ringi’ is a common Japanese approach. At Toyota, it’s used for all projects costing over $5000. How does it work? A proposal circulates, then all interested parties can comment. This includes meetings and ‘nemawashi’ (consensus-building). Once all departments have approved the motion, it’s recorded and actioned.

This approach allows Japanese employees to counteract the effects of hierarchy. Like siloed thinking and a lack of innovation. And leaders avoid investing time in routine decisions that can be safely left with others.

In short:

- Take the confidence to present your ideas, however unusual.

- Cultivate your followers - they’re the ones who’ll create your movement.

- Value collaboration as a way of getting buy-in and refining your decisions.

Why this is important

As leaders, we have the power of influence. What are we going to do with it? Profit is a real and necessary goal. But getting back to your purpose, what else do you want to achieve for your business?

Millennials in particular want business to be a force for good. In one international study, only 55% believe business has a positive impact on society. But they would change consumer choices and part company with employers they thought were behaving badly.

Equality is in the spotlight, particularly following the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. Black and minority voices are speaking about the discrimination they face. And the impact it has on their lives. Progress has been too slow (or absent).

Feminism also started from a few voices centuries ago and is still changing life as we know it.

So starting a movement isn’t just about business, but about the societies we want to live in.

It’s time to ask ourselves: how are we going to contribute to a fairer world?

Closing thoughts

The concept of the single authoritative leader is out-of-date. Modern businesses don't depend on a lone genius or cape-wearing superhero. Instead, what counts is thousands of small decisions made throughout the organisation. It’s time to build a more compassionate, purposeful and effective business culture. It’s time to build a movement. Find your first follower.


Vicky Martinez Dorr is a qualified Branding Consultant, Business and Leadership Coach, Speaker and Author with certifications in NLP and TimeLine Therapy® and Magna Cum Laude from Solvay Business School in Brussels, Belgium. With her universe of words, she is on a quest towards helping leaders reconnect with themselves, thrive and move towards an exemplary leadership world.

Her 15+ years of MarCom experience in International Branding and Multicultural Leadership have taught her how to bring beauty out of chaos in any organisation and people's professional lives. Her findings within the fragmented (and lack of) leadership, have moved her to start working towards a more authentic business world and more humane leadership culture.

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