Leadership communications – how to start a ‘movement’

How to start a movementYou’ve heard about leadership communications, but after watching a Ted Talk about ‘How to start a movement’ I’m now wondering if it should be changed to follower communications instead.

Almost 70,000 people have watched a talk by Derek Sivers in which he narrates a short video, explaining what the leader has to do, and more importantly the role of the first followers, in starting a movement.

It features a man without a shirt on, dancing on his own in the middle of a field. It takes courage to stand out and potentially be ridiculed, says Slivers. But what this leader does is easy to follow.

He’s quickly joined by his first follower who emulates the leader’s behaviour. This follower effectively has the role of showing everyone else how to follow. The first follower is what transforms the “lone nut” into a leader.

Another person joins in, pushing their number to three. That starts to look like a crowd and naturally gets more attention. The movement must be public, says Sivers. “It’s important not just to show the leader but the followers, because you find that new followers emulate the followers, not the leader.”

Two or three people join the crowd, and then there’s a tipping point. People who prefer to stick with the crowd arrive in their droves, as they don’t want to be ridiculed for not taking part.

What could this mean for communications pros?

Here’s a few of my ideas for applying these principles to change within the context of a large organisation, based on two key points from this video.

Nurturing your first followers

“If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you,” says Sivers.

For communications pros this could mean helping to identify and work with the early followers, the senior managers within an organisation. This could be to communicate the purpose and benefits of change to the senior managers, how the first senior management followers need to behave, and their role in helping to produce change.

The purpose of communication should give weight to the change message, as opposed to a disproportionate focus on the leader who is communicating the change message. Above all, it should be a collaborative effort.

Publicly showing how to follow

The first follower “publicly shows everyone how to follow,” says Sivers. “If the leader is the flint, the follower is the spark that makes the fire”.

While the first senior management followers set an example, communications pros can support those efforts by showing, explaining and reinforcing to subsequent middle management followers, what it is that the first senior management followers are doing differently, and how that can be emulated.

Slivers says the first follower “publicly shows” how to follow. Communications pros can now assist by engaging universally across middle tiers of management, who will in turn become levers of change within the wider organisation.  

To see the YouTube video click How to Start a Movement.

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