9 Clouds Automotive Marketing Blog

Where automotive meets digital marketing.


The Courage to Follow

The first follower turns a lone nut into a leader. 

So says Derek Sivers in his hilarious and insightful 3 minute TED talk.

Two weeks ago, I changed from a lone nut into a leader thanks to the diligent work of the courageous followers who helped launch TEDxBrookings.

Three years ago, 9 Clouds evolved from an unfocused idea into a true company thanks to the bravery of our first true follower.

This week, I had the opportunity to speak to Leadership Decorah and impart one important lesson on leadership:

Visionaries create ideas, leaders follow and help realize ideas.

Importance of Leaders

A small number of people can make dramatic change in a business or community.

Thanks to technology, anyone can access resources, connections and ideas from around the world. No longer does leadership refer to the experienced person with the biggest Rolodex. Instead, leaders are those willing to take an audacious vision and force it into reality.

As Sivers notes, a business, event, project or community with a lone visionary is unlikely to succeed. A follower is needed. The first person to join and push the vision forward takes a big risk. That follower is actually a leader, making it safe for others to join. They create momentum and help realize the vision.

At 9 Clouds, my brother and I had plenty of ideas. Business improved dramatically, however, when we found the leader who was previously missing. Sarah joined our team and shaped our visions into workable ideas, created timelines to ship our projects and, most importantly, helped our ideas seem possible.

Although she joined as the first true follower, she was actually the first leader. Her leadership skills blossomed as she created the foundation for future success. She showed future employees what was expected and what was possible. By joining the company and becoming a leader, she enabled future employees to similarly join and develop themselves into internal leaders.

Most imporantly, she helped me be less of a lone nut.

Every business or organization needs a leader to compliment the visionary.

If you are the visionary, be brave and step forward to start your big idea, but keep your eyes open for the person who can join and validate.

If you are more of a follower, look for that visionary whose idea you can support. In doing so, you are actually performing the most important act of leadership.

Finding Leaders

Leaders are often not asking to be leaders and instead need to be gently pushed into the role. Every event, project or client is a new opportunity to push someone into the role of leader and see how they do.

The first TEDxBrookings event was hosted in February 2014. With about 80 people in attendance and a handful of speakers, it was a modest start that excited the community. After the event, an attendee came up and asked if she could help with the next event.

Little did she know that she would run it.

Amanda took the lead in the fall of 2014. More accurately, she was gently pushed to take the lead. For TEDxBrookings to truly establish itself, I needed someone else to join in the vision and establish themselves as a leader. As Amanda proved herself more than capable, she quickly took on more leadership.

TEDxBrookings 2015 was held two weeks ago to an audience of 300 people. We renovated a run-down city building to show the potential of how the space could be used. We hosted over 20 speakers from around the globe. More imporantantly, Amanda recruited a new crop of leaders who helped bring the event to life. Now, we found more community leaders who have the confidence and credibility to lead their own events and help build the community.

If you need to find leaders, create low-risk opportunities for others to lead.

In Brookings, we host an event every Wednesday called 1 Million Cups. One person shares for eight minutes about the business or project they are working on, and the audience has 20 minutes to help them improve or finish their work.

This event is a perfect opportunity to invite potential leaders to take a leadership role. Whether greeting attendees, introducing the speakers or helping promote the event, this event is a frequent, low-stress way to push someone into the spotlight. Some people will stick with the event and prove themselves ready for additional leadership. Others will decide it's not for them.

Instead of waiting for someone to ask, create opportunities to groom leaders and then gently push potential leaders forward.

As we look for leaders, it is important to simultaneously diversify leadership.

Invite women and people of color to lead. It spurs creativity and profitable businesses. The push is also needed because significant roadblocks prevent talented female and minority leaders from stepping forward. Give a gentle push and you will find capable leaders in your business and community.

Build the Stage, Shine the Spotlight

If you are a visionary who is leading a company or hosting community-building events, your most important work is building leadership. In short:

It's not what you do, it's who you inspire.

The sustainability of your work and your capacity to envision new opportunities is dependent on your ability to let others lead.

Instead of taking credit and carrying the load on your shoulders, focus on building the stage upon which others will stand. Allow your potential leaders to stand on the stage and feel the warmth of the spotlight. Find them, push them, thank them and enable them. They will change you from a lone nut into a successful visionary.

Photo: Luke Redmond


Also published on Medium.