Why following is the next big thing in leadership

As leaders or managers we sometimes want people to follow our orders. To follow the path we planned.

I know I have.

Or we believe that we have to be original, come up with the vision for change on our own and find ways to make others follow us. Or that we need loads of money, influence and a big promotional platform so that we can create the next breakthrough that will change everything for the better.

Some even hire change making consultants and speakers to come into an organisation, get everybody pumped with their research, wisdom and programs, and once they leave the building, most of the organisation revert back to their old habits.

If you’ve also been doing this for a while, you’ve probably figured that making all of this change making is pretty hard to set. 

Solving Hunger With A Simple Idea

The good news is that there is an easier and super effective path to making real change happen. 

Great leaders are those who become great at identifying who to follow.

An example of this simple idea comes from Jerry and Monique Sternin.

They went to Vietnam on a mission to help starving children. The vietnamese government asked them to help fight the problem of malnutrition in the country’s village. But once there, the government announced them that they had six months to produce results. Then they’d head home.

Faced with an impossible timeline to solve the systemic problems of poor sanitation, ignorance, food-distribution patterns, poverty, and a lack of access to good water, they knew that while they were there they could import tactics and outside techniques that they knew would work, but as soon as they’d have to leave, all of their solutions and resources would leave with them. And nothing would change. So they would have to take a different angle. 

They went to seek families who weren’t starving. Moms who weren’t just getting by, but thriving. 

And then they made it easy for these mothers to share their insights with the rest of the group. 

Sounds like common sense, but it’s sometimes pretty hard to accept when we’re all looking to sell OUR solution. OUR idea.

And yet, if we want to make long lasting change, this might be an easier path, and an idea that’s much easier to sell around you.

This is an idea that keeps working over and over. People follow those who share what’s working, whether it’s theirs or not.

But this idea doesn’t apply only to helping solve malnutrition.

With BrainPickings, Maria Popova has built one of the biggest blogs out there by curating and promoting books she’s loved and getting millions of readers on her blog.

FreeCodeCamp is getting millions of views on its Youtube and blog channels by sharing tutorials of little known experts that teach how to learn to code and get a developer job.

Instructables has created a way for people to spread their DIY tutorials. 

Github has made the same thing by giving a way for people to share their code and get it to spread.

And many other media platforms, like TED, Tim Ferriss or Marie Forleo, invite people to speak about different disciplines and share new ideas that are bound to make change happen.

The formula is simple:

  • Find leaders (heretics or pioneers who are doing things differently and making change inside or outside your group), 
  • Amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers
  • Change happens for the better.

This idea saves children’s lives every day. And all it took for the Sternins was to find the mom with the healthy kids. And then they helped the others in the village notice what she was doing. They gave that mom a spotlight, encouraging her to keep it up and, more importantly, encouraging others to follow her lead and offer incentives to adopt a new behavior.  

There are people out there pioneering ideas that need new leaders to take them mainstream. People doing reforestation. Creating new ways of doing regenerative agriculture. But also people making a difference in art, culture, transportation, business, marketing, manufacturing, energy, water stress, waste, biodiversity, and so many other different fields that need change to keep happening. 

Look for the deviants doing things right. By helping them spread their practice you’re spreading change much faster than if you started from scratch. And people will start following you, asking you to do it again and again.

Credits: This article was inspired by a story from Tribes, by Seth Godin and Positive Deviant, by David Dorsey in Fast Company

Thank you for reading this far. I’d love to hear from you and from what you might be wondering on how to make positive change spread. To ask a question just write in the comments below or hit me up in the contact section. Every week I’ll pick one or two questions and will do my best to answer them.

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Photo by Andhika Soreng on Unsplash

Jaime Arredondo
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