The Importance of the First Follower
Two weeks ago, we had one of our wonderful Lower School Tree Talks. For those of you who are not familiar with our Tree Talks, they are gatherings that occur about once a month at which the entire Lower School meets in the gym to discuss one or more of our Character Tree traits—Courage, Dedication, Compassion, Responsibility, Spirit, Honor, and Respect.
At this particular Tree Talk, students gathered in a circle so everyone was united and focused around an open space in the middle of the gym where the “performances” would take place. A group of fifth graders were charged with acting out several different skits that portrayed typical scenarios that could occur at school and put students in difficult situations.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
“The Lunch Room”
A group of girls are sitting at a table when a student approaches and is told she can’t sit there because the seat is being saved. Her feelings are hurt because this behavior is repeated almost daily and she sets off to find another table.
A group of students is playing foursquare and one student is having difficulty because she is not very good at the game. Another student repeatedly shows his frustrations and says unkind things to the student who is having difficulty during the game.
A student is being verbally picked on in the hallway by another student while a group of students watches and listens.
As I watched all these scenarios play out in front of us at the Tree Talk, I was struck by two things:
1) Our fifth graders were demonstrating leadership as they creatively taught the rest of our student body how powerful our words and actions can be;
2) The first follower can be extremely influential in changing the direction of any situation.
In the lunchroom skit, one girl at the table had the courage to stand up and say it wasn’t fair or nice to tell the student she couldn’t sit there, and she picked up her lunch and went to go sit with the girl who had been told to sit somewhere else. After this simple act, one by one, the other students got up and followed her over to the other table — including the student who had first hurt the girl’s feelings. Apologies were made and it was clear this situation wouldn’t happen again.
The playground and hallway skits had similar endings; one student stepped up and reminded everyone else about what it meant to show respect. Their acts of courage made the bystanders turn into blockers and made the bullies or bulldozers realize they were making a mistake and should stop their inappropriate behavior.
In each scenario, after the leader had stepped up to initiate a movement, it took just one follower within the rest of the group to change the situation for the better.
I recently watched a TED talk by Derek Sivers that discussed this importance of the first follower when trying to start a movement. Through this humorous video, we are reminded that it is often the courage of the first follower and not the leader that has the power to start a movement.
As we begin to explore leadership and citizenship within our new strategic vision, we all need to carefully examine the role of followership as a crucial element to effective leadership.