Leader From Thin Air

He’s a born leader. I don’t buy it.

Leaders come from thin air. Leaders are people infected with an idea who make others jump the chasm of doubt and ridicule.

I’ve had some good ideas, but FAILED to lead them.

Here’s a reflection on progress and movements, and the role of leaders & followers.

Yin and Yang of Leadership

Progress lives or dies on the yin and yang of leader and follower. Today one leads, tomorrow one follows. Leadership is NOT permanent. Leadership is transient. Sometimes one is compelled to be an enthusiastic leader. Sometimes one is inspired to be an enthusiastic follower.

Leaders and followers have the same qualities. Number one is they both can recognize a good idea.

Leaders and followers are essential to progress. Without followers, there’s no movement. Without leaders, there are no ideas.

Leadership Defined

Leadership is the ability to bubble up, and publically champion, ideas that others feel compelled to follow.

Characteristic of a Leader

Leaders seem to be that slightly off-beat person bursting at the seams with enthusiasm about an idea that’s waaaay too good to ignore.

This idea is so good, I can’t seem to get any sleep over it.

Management & Leadership Distinction

Historically, managers control.  Leaders inspire.

Placing Management and Leadership on a Venn diagram, I’m not sure they’ve ever intersected in the communities I have inhabited. 

We are in a period where Command & Control Management is a rapidly metastasizing cancer. The prognosis is good because my notion is that a percentage of the attrition is being backfilled with Facilitators or re-purposed Managers.

The reason so many organizations hire consultants as coaches is that they’re trying to re-purpose the water-logged dead wood of command & control managers into wave-bobbing buoys (facilitators).

Facilitators create non-threatening conditions where a team of people are free to try slightly crazy things without fear.

Contemporary Challenges

  • The speed at which movements go viral
  • The din of new information makes it challenging for leaders to find a forum suitable for engaging others.
  • The realization and acceptance that one will never be a permanent leader.

To Lead a Good Idea

I have FAILED to lead my best ideas. Upon reflection, to lead the next good idea, I want to

  • Understand how ideas and movements “go viral” – then determine how it applies.
  • Be public about the idea knowing that enthusiasm must infect people.
  • Be courteous to naysayers, but not court them.
  • Attract, welcome, engage, and sustain Derek Sivers‘ concept of First Followers.
  • Convince First Followers that they make the idea live or die.
  • Find First Followers who can teach others.
  • Get to the equilibrium of co-ownership ASAP


These ideas are inspired by Derek Sivers‘ 3-minute TED talk Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy.

David Koontz emailed me a leadership philosophy questionnaire with questions like: Do you make a distinction between management and leadership? If so, what is it? David’s series of questions guided me in arranging my thoughts.

To be concise in my critique, Alan Cooper coached me to use the phase Command & Control Management, rather than the blanket term Management.


2 thoughts on “Leader From Thin Air

  1. So looking at how the Scrum process became viral in the Agile community and the practice of CSM – the Certification without a test of any kind. Which I view as a new wave form of the “old-boys club” with a secret handshake. All that was a masterful stroke of genius. Creating the CSM program was a way of embracing the First Followers.

    But now that the First Followers are taking over the movement and becoming self-directing and having a say in where the movement continues, the leadership (off to the side) is trying to figure out how to get back in the lead. I'm referring to Ken starting another Scrum certification body (http://www.scrum.org/assessmentoverview/).

    When should the leader step aside and start to follow the followers?


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