This post is part of our monthly "TED Talk Tuesday" series, spotlighting can't-miss TED Talks and their key takeaways. You can learn more about our partnership with TED here.
Derek Sivers became an entrepreneur by accident in 1998 when he started selling CDs on his website, CD Baby, and it quickly caught on with friends. It went on to become the largest seller of independent music online, with $100M in sales for 150,000 musicians. Now, Sivers is the founder of MuckWork, which aims to lessen the burdens of creative people by matching them with assistants.
In his TED Talk, Sivers explains that, contrary to popular belief, the leader of a movement isn't as important to making change as the first follower. The first follower is what transforms a "lone-nut" into a leader. Using footage of a half-naked dancing man at a music festival to illustrate his point, he emphasizes that his easy-to-follow steps to starting a movement can be used in any situation—particularly the workplace.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk:
"A leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed."
Sivers says that all movements are public, so the leader that starts the movement needs to be fearless in the face of opposition. A leader has to be able to take criticism and stand out in a crowd, so the movement can pick up momentum. It doesn't matter if the movement starts out slow, it only takes one follower to help create a group, and three a crowd.
In the workplace, executives shouldn't be afraid to get feedback from their employees, in fact they should encourage it. Getting feedback from subordinate employees can be awkward at first, but it can be a great way to gain insights on how your leadership style, communication approach and interpersonal skills are affecting your team.
"Remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals."
Sivers explains that as a leader it's important to recognize yourself as an equal with your followers. "It's about the movement, not you," he says. The goal of the movement is not to inflate the leader's own ego, but to get a message across or complete an initiative. By making the movement a collaborative effort, the group will attract more followers because it is perceived as "less risky," allowing it to grow.
This type of attitude can be applied to the workplace as well. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman found that employees working under autocratic leaders got the job done, but the work culture and level of engagement suffered greatly. If managers motivate their employees, show that they believe in them and can give them feedback in order to succeed,the employees will respond in a positive way. The environment will begin to feel like a team and more work will get done.
"Leadership is over-glorified."
Without the first follower, there would be no leader and no movement. Sivers calls this the most important lesson of his entire TED Talk, because the first follower created the leader and helped bring in the second and third followers. Sivers goes on to explain that if everyone in the world were leaders, it would be extremely ineffective.
Sivers' mindset transforms into the workplace easily: employees are the most important people in the office. Without them, there would be no work or managers. Sivers said it takes courage to follow and join in an unusual idea, so managers should be on the lookout for not only leaders in the applicant pool, but also for people who can spot a good idea and help execute it.
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