A recent conversation on leadership and change-makers led me to a deeper epiphany that applies to change in general – that leadership is overrated. I was reminded of this Ted Talk suggested by a friend where the presenter Derek Sivers deftly uses a dance festival to demonstrate how the first followers turn the acts of a ‘lone nut’ into a ‘movement’. In organisations as well, it’s the number of quality followers catching up that determines the sustainability of an idea.
Here are 5 reasons followers call the shots:
The driving force of a company, entity or a nation is the quality of its critical mass.
India’s growing economy, in comparison to our challenged neighbours, can be attributed to the fact that we have the highest number of 18-35-year olds in our population. It’s this section that is aspirational and open to progress. They can independently think for themselves and collectively make decisions that are future forward for the country – by simply focussing on how their own growth contributes to the nation’s.
Followers define trends.
A leader can introduce innovation but whether it becomes a trend or not is determined by the one who follows. Elon Musk cannot lead us to sustainable mobility entirely without making Tesla more accessible to a larger group of people – which is something Mahindra’s electric vehicle e2o is trying to achieve.
Technology has democratised decision-making power.
Right now, more and more people are equipped with great computing power. This is why open source technology like Linux and Android is succeeding. Anyone can drive numbers and be an influencer now in the social media space – what makes the ones count are the conversion rates – followers who actually adopt the ideas put out by said influencers.
Sustainability of a firm depends on whether it can survive without its leaders.
Just like Satyam resurfacing as Tech Mahindra, there are plenty of examples where the sheer commitment of team members has helped an organisation survive. For instance, the collapse of leadership at Lehman Brothers did not wipe it out of existence. The team rose again with a buyout from Nomura.
True leadership lies in empowering the followers.
Followers are the ones who execute the ideas put forward by the leaders. This is why leaders must nurture them as allies. Once leaders look at themselves as enablers, the work received from the team is then an act of reciprocity and not compulsion. This is very succinctly put as ‘servant leadership’ by author Stephen Covey.
There is a lot more to say about how this shift in power impacts the way your organisations work. In the next installment of this article, we will talk about the influence of followership in workspace design.