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TED Talk Tuesday: Leadership Is About Following, Too

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This 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.

Entrepreneur Derek Sivers understands the critical role of those who follow bold leaders. A musician himself, Sivers founded MuckWork, a marketplace where up-and-coming musicians can connect with talented assistants to help them break into the music world and grow their careers. According to Sivers, behind every great leader, innovator (or musician!) is his first supporter, who is equally, if not more, important.

In his TED talk, Sivers demonstrates the critical role that followers play in starting a movement, and offers advice that leaders should adhere to if they want their movement to stick and make an impact.

Read on for three takeaways from his talk below.

"A leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed."

Being a leader requires a certain amount of fearlessness—after all, it's not easy to be the first to propose an unprecedented or risky idea that ultimately might not catch on or be effective. A good leader, according to Sivers, needs to know not only how to humbly accept credit for a job well done, but also how to receive criticism for a mishap.

For example, when a proposed project backfires at a meeting with the company board, a good leader will hold her head high and learn from the feedback rather than sulk. Knowing how to respond to praise and acceptance is easy, Sivers said—but knowing how to accept critique and even ridicule is the true test of a leader.

"Leadership is over-glorified."

Despite the importance of good leadership, leaders need solid followers to make an impact. A leader without supporters is just an individual with an idea. But, with a team of supporters, suddenly that individual has a movement to direct, Sivers explains. The first follower is perhaps the most important because being an early supporter is an underestimated form of leadership in itself. "The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader," Sivers says.

His advice for nurturing a leader-follower relationship that ensures the longevity of any movement? Treat followers as equals—that way, the movement remains focused on the cause (be it a project at work, a volunteer initiative or another effort) rather than on the individual at the helm.

"Have the courage to follow and show others how to follow."

Early followers play an important role in enticing more supporters because without that first handful of like-minded individuals, a movement has no hope of reaching a critical mass. Sometimes leadership means following, and encouraging others to do the same.

"If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow," Sivers says. So the next time someone proposes an innovative idea at a company meeting, be a leader by being the first to support it.

Photo: TED

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