The First Follower Principle in Action

Anyone who has seen the famous TED talk on "first followers" knows the speaker's argument that movements aren't just started by leaders; the first follower is just as - and possibly even more - crucial to the spread of a movement than is the originator of the idea. The first follower shows everyone else A. that it's OK to follow the movement and B. how to join in. Effective leaders embrace their first followers as equals and empower them to help take the movement to the next level.

I recently witnessed this principle in action. When the Rice football team won its last regular season game and earned the right to play in the Conference USA championship game against Marshall, it set the stage for an historic event. To show my support for the team, I changed my facebook profile picture to a scanned image of my old Rice football portrait from 1997. It attracted a few comments but certainly didn't incite any movements.

Later that day, however, one of my teammates noticed and decided to do the same thing. He had been a leader on the team so, when he changed his profile picture to one of his action shots from the glory days, many other former Rice football players took notice. He even went so far as to tag other Rice football alumni on facebook, encouraging them to do the same. With him "on board," I had enough confidence to encourage all of my Rice football alum buddies to join in too, which I did by liking his post and tagging all the rest of them.

One by one, almost every Rice football alum I knew changed his profile picture to an old Rice football picture. Soon, other players from other generations were following suit as well. That day my entire facebook wall was filled with pictures of Rice football alumni showing off the pride in and support for our team. Many of the pictures were action shots which incited story telling and reminiscing about battles out on the field in ages past. It was awesome.

Our society tends to idolize the trailblazing leaders who start big movements. Being a first follower is a form of leadership as well, though, and I witnessed it first hand last week!


Rice Football Wins The Right Way

Yesterday, the Rice football team won its first outright conference championship since 1957! The Owls are now 10-3 on the season with the opportunity to achieve the first 11-win season in school history if they can win in the Liberty Bowl this New Year's Eve. That won't be easy as they will be playing against an SEC opponent, but it's such an exciting opportunity!

More important than Rice's winning record is that they've been winning the "right" way. Rice wins awards every year for the high academic standards it sets for its student-athletes and for its student-athlete graduation rate. Rice players are not in the news for sexual assault or NCAA violations. When David Bailiff
became Head Football Coach six years ago, some of his first initiatives were aimed at engaging the players with the rest of the university and with the community - largely through service (such as helping freshmen move their heavy furniture on move-in day and holding Football 101 clinics for international students).

In short, Rice is winning with smart, good-hearted young men. That isn't wishful thinking from a proud alum; that is empirical evidence from having taught several football players and other student-athletes in my Rice entrepreneurship course over the last couple of years. There are probably exceptions to that generalization and there have been times when they have lost their composure on the field but, by and large, I am proud not so much of the fact that Rice has been winning, but much more so by how they've been winning.

Go Owls!