Leaders or First Followers: Who creates the truth behind the story?

First followers know the real story. They may be inspired by the founders but they are the ones who often create the truth behind the dream.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth:

All great companies have two stories. The one the public knows. The other known only by a few. These few are called first followers. They are the people who showed up either by choice or accident. They were there at the founding moments before anyone cared, believed, or worse, was ridiculed. Think of telling your parents after an expensive Ivy League education that you’ve joined an unknown company called Google. Yea, right.

Here’s the thing. First followers have a far more important role than just holding a place. Just being there.

Second side note. If you don’t know the Peter Sellers movie, BEING THERE, stop reading now and watch it. My favorite movie for a whole bunch of reasons. Some related to this blog.

Back to first followers.

When my partner and I started our company twenty-five years ago, I was (still am) the dreamer, the one with nutty ideas. My partner was the practical one. Scary to see that in print. But in comparison to me, she is. I would talk about big ideas. My partner would get a customer to try out a modified version. It worked. But that’s the public story. There is a real story. The first employees. The first doers. The ones who took our insanity, our lack of grounded notions, and made them not only real but changed them. Focused them. Brought a form and discipline to the work. To the dream. Corrected us. Channeled us. Made us real. And in truth, made me mad. It wasn’t fun for me. But it was important.


They may be inspired by the founders but they are the ones who often create the truth behind the dream. And these first followers often pay a big price for the role. They are rarely publicly recognized. Rarely known. And sadly, often not rewarded. Sure some get a bucket of money. A decent reward. But first followers don’t do what they do for money. They do it for. . . dare I say. . . love. Love of the inspiration. The mission. The alignment with their values. The hope for a better tomorrow. The dream. ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD comes to mind, “It could happen.

The First Followers Role

Rational first followers make them real. They do the work. They create. But they do something even more important. They give founders credibility. The world sees a founder and questions his/her sanity. But when they see a sane and rational follower embracing the founder, they consider the possibility. “What if?” This is the true power of the first follower. They open minds to the possibility of the vision becoming reality. “What if it could happen?

This is why I regularly remind founders to take care of their first followers. 

They built this city.” And here’s the thing. If founders don’t take care of them, first followers won’t either. But here’s the good news. Most first followers don’t really care. They do what they do because it’s their nature. They follow their hearts. They believe.

And whether they want to admit it or not, they like knowing the real story. The story that only they know. So to you, the first followers, thank you for doing what you do. And thank you for never forgetting the real story. The truth. Know that while the world may never know who you are, the founders do and will never forget. If, as Being There concludes, life is a state of mind, thank you for committing to ours.

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