Can’t be in charge? Start a movement

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: August 07, 2015

Let’s face it: you’re not in charge of it all. Almost nobody is really in charge of it all. Your boss can disagree with you. Your colleagues can push their own agendas. Even your team members can push their will over yours. We are in the 21st century. The old industrial hierarchies, where the boss calls the shots, just don’t work anymore. Get over it (from my column).

If you have a good business idea, try something new: start a movement. Put your idea out, demonstrate how it works, and then–this is key–find the first followers.

It takes three to fill the dance floor. At the 2009 Sasquatch outdoor music festival, one guy got up and started to dance. Hundreds of spectators wondered, “What’s he doing?” It took a while before the first follower arrived, a guy with the courage to join the first dancer. Still, the crowd was watching. Then a third guy had the guts to get up and join the dancers. Now there was a crowd. This was the tipping point. Within minutes, people came running from everywhere to join the movement, eager not to be left out (you can view it here).

Movements start by one leader taking a risk, trying something, and showing its effect. Then it’s all about finding the first followers.

If you want to get an idea moving in your organization, consider three steps:

1. Ask yourself: “what’s my movement?” Look for an idea that’s close to your heart. But choose one that could have wide appeal inside your organization, such as serving customers in a new way or getting a new product to market. PS: The best ideas for company movements are close to the revenue line.

2. Dare to go first–show how your idea works. As the leader of a movement, your role is to get up first. Show people how your idea works in practice. When T-Mobile manager Dee Dutta had the idea of prepaid mobile phone fees, nobody liked it. Dee and his colleagues got up and, through successful tests, proved his idea. It changed the industry. Getting up first is risky, but that’s a risk you get paid for as a leader.

3. Find the important first followers. Once your idea is out, shift your focus and find followers who will adopt it. The successful Syoss hair care brand exists only in Europe, because former CMO Tina Müller found the one country manager who dared to launch it. It worked and quickly turned other skeptics into followers. Finding the first followers is an underappreciated leadership skill, but it’s key.

You can’t be in charge of it all.  But you can start a movement.