Several years ago, a friend shared a short YouTube video with me called, “Leadership Lessons from a Dancing Guy,” narrated by Derek Sivers. Have you ever had a moment where you were dumbstruck by the simplicity of a message and how well it was illustrated? This is the reaction I had the first time I saw this video.
The content has now become a pivotal part of all the management classes I teach and I am certainly not alone. It is commonly shown in graduate leadership courses and corporate events. If you have not seen it, look up the title in your favorite search engine and links will flood your screen.
Spoiler alert: In this column, I will be sharing my perceptions of the content and what I see as the greatest lessons for distribution leaders.
In this rather comedic video, taken at an outdoor music festival, we are shown a shirtless guy dancing alone on a hillside. Dancing might be a liberal interpretation for the wild body gesticulations he is engaged in. In a few moments, a couple of other concert goers join him in his enthusiastic self-expression. Pretty soon, a couple more people join in and then you start to see this change of momentum.
Over the next couple of minutes, you see more people joining this merry band of dancers. Finally, there is this mad rush by those nearby to leap up and join the throng before the music dies. From lone dancing goofball to massive dance party in about three minutes. How and why did this occur? What causes people to join a cause or activity? Sivers explains how leadership is dependent on cultivating the first few followers.
Leaders Must Be Willing to Be Unconventional
It isn’t easy to move away from the status quo. This is especially true in times of prosperity. When things are good, what motivation do we have to stir the pot? Unfortunately, the status quo often leads to complacency and overindulgence in self-worth. Problems occur when the economic tide shifts out of our favor a bit. If we have not been practicing creativity and reflection, the business climate has a way of coming up and slapping us with a dose of reality.
I am a firm believer in the expression, “You only coast one way.” As leaders, we must continuously look for new and better ways to manage our organizations. How can we serve customers even better than we do today? How can we move products through our system even better than today? How do we implement better productivity tools?
Sometimes this inquisitive nature can make others in the company uncomfortable and cause them to question your judgment. Time to thicken that skin and break a few eggs. Leadership is not for those who always want to look good.
Treat Your First Followers as Equals
Everyone knows the organizational hierarchy. It is not necessary to state it every day. The best leaders invite their followers to join them in the big picture. When leaders see the spark in someone’s eye, they must work to foster that interest.
Collaboration and public acceptance are strong motivators for the first follower. If we want to keep those first few people interested in the cause, whether large or small, we need to continually give those followers a greater role and opportunity to reap the inherent benefits of success.
Be easy to follow. Don’t make the goal or objective so complicated that it confuses your team. When you simplify the concept, you reduce the risk of failure. Don’t get me wrong; failure is a natural byproduct of creativity. But we don’t want failure to remove the team’s desire to continue the process.
I believe it comes down to three basic steps: introduce the idea, be vulnerable enough to go out on a limb and make it safe for others to join you.
Leaders Allow Others to Shine
True leaders understand that they do not need to take credit for every great idea or direction in the organization. If they are truly the cause of every success in the company, which is most certainly not true, then why do they need others? I have seen countless “leaders” work ridiculous hours to make sure everything was running according to their plans. As I am sure you would agree, this thinking is fundamentally flawed. It will ultimately result in burnout, resentment and continuous turnover in the company.
There is nothing wrong with being the fire starter, but others must fan the flames. You may have lit the match, but the real success of the fire came from the others willing to join you in the activity. By giving credit to those who really do the work, followers will be more willing to recognize an opportunity when you bring something home.
As leaders, we should be continuously working ourselves out of a job or responsibility. Ideally, we want to foster this creative spirit so others can bring great ideas to the table. By stepping aside and letting others shine, we open ourselves up to seek the next change in direction.
I have shown Sivers’ video to hundreds of class participants over the years. Not only does it give a bit of comedic pause for those sitting in the seats, but I am always amazed by what they take away from the content. They share unique and thought-provoking perspectives every time.
As an educator, I live for that lightbulb moment in the audience. As a business leader, you should constantly find ways to ignite that spark of curiosity in your followers. Remember, leaders are not self-appointed. Good luck.