I came across this video by Derek Sivers recently, and I found it helpful in thinking about how leadership functions in a movement. I wondered also whether there might be some lessons that we could glean as we look at how we as Quakers might reclaim the movement ethos that accompanied the dynamic energy and growth of the early Friends.
What stands out to me most about Derek’s video is its assertion that our tendency to glorify our most visible and outspoken leaders may be misguided. Certainly, we owe a lot to the first people to stand out and take risks for the sake of a new way of seeing and living in the world. They are the pioneers, and without their ridiculous boldness, there could be no movement. Nevertheless, as Derek points out, one person dancing to the beat of a different drummer is easily dismissed as a “lone nut.” It is the first followers that lend legitimacy to a pioneer. They transform the lone risk-taker into the nucleus for a movement.
Those who are first to join in with a pioneer leader take on almost as much risk as the pioneer herself. There are plenty of lone nuts out there, each with a the seeds of a movement in their message. But many of them really are nuts. The first followers, the first people to join forces with a pioneer leader on the margins, risk being ridiculed themselves for joining with the lunatic fringe. One person who insists on being different is written off as crazy, but a small group of markedly different people is often labeled a “cult.”
If the first collaborators are right, however, and this lone nut is less crazy than she seems, they will be able to play a critical role in the invitation of other, slightly less daring people to join in the movement. The more people who take part in the movement, the less social risk participation entails. Eventually, as Derek points out, a movement may become so widespread that it is more socially awkward to remain on the outside than it is to join.
We as Christians are ultimately followers of the ultimate lone nut, Jesus. How can we courageously follow him, even when doing so will put our relationships, livelihood and reputation at risk? How can we invite others to join in the movement of love, mercy and justice that he inspires?
Note: In email correspondence with Derek following this post, I learned that Derek is the author of the words of the video, but not the videographer himself. Credit for the video goes to dkellerm.