What do you call someone who others follow? A leader? Sure, but I prefer lone nut. A lone nut isn’t motivated by societal norms or popular belief. Instead she is oblivious to conformity. She is true to herself, and it’s not about getting people to follow her, but rather expressing her authenticity. If you join in, great! If not, so what!
But for any leader looking to gain a following, you need a first follower, someone who is brave enough to get behind what you are doing. That’s what gets others to follow. It is the first follower who transforms a lone nut into a leader. This guy dancing in a crowd of motionless people proves that. It inspires me, and makes me remember the power of standing on your own.
I had my first lone nut moment when I was in the second grade.
When I was 8, I decided I wanted to start a business. I wanted money to buy candy and Archie comic books. My parents probably gave me some kind of allowance, although I can barely recall, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy my sweet tooth or my bookworm cravings.
My 19-year-old brother was working and had made enough money to purchase a car. That was my inspiration. If my slightly rebellious, girl-crazy, fast-food frying teenage brother could make money—then why couldn’t I?
I was a girl on a mission.
It was the summer of 1992 in Okinawa, Japan. My father served 22 years in the Marine Corps., so we were stationed overseas.
No one was going to hire an 8-year-old, so what could I do that wasn’t illegal, wouldn’t get me grounded, and that adults would trust and allow me to do with little to no supervision?
That’s how Kit Kat car wash was born. Who wouldn’t mind paying an adorable, well-mannered kid a few bucks to wash their car? Apparently lots of my neighbors. I rallied a group of my friends and for almost three months we went door to door asking neighbors if we could wash their cars.
My parents thought I was crazy. It was a drought that year and the base had put a mandatory limit on water usage for each home. But I was compelled to press forward with the idea. I was going to make enough cash to buy all the Red Hots and Archie comic books I wanted. Some neighbors turned us down, but others couldn’t say no to our kid charm or were amused by our efforts so they just gave us money.
But it didn’t matter how I got the money—it just mattered that I had an idea and went through with it. And it worked. Why? Because I didn’t care what others had to say about my plans. I had a vision and I was loyal to it. I guess that makes me a lone nut and my friends’ first followers.
A lone nut doesn’t sound like something anyone should aspire to be, but it’s indicative of being an individual and following your own path. And being a first follower also doesn’t stray far from that definition. The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader. Having the guts to follow someone when no one else does—to be the person to get behind an unpopular idea or unusual movement is what creates progress. It’s what pushes things forward. It takes courage to stand behind someone’s plan when you’re the first and sometimes only.
So you are a first nut or a follower? I’ve been both. They’re both leadership roles.
And whatever the next crazy idea—whether it’s my own or someone else’s—I’ll be confident to be the lone nut or the first follower. Without self-doubt, I’ll know that either way I’m a leader and I’m being true to myself.