Lone Nut or First Follower: Building a Culture That Celebrates Uniqueness #WEIRDPRINCIPALS

The #WeirdPrincipals effort is all about energy and starting movements that inspire others. Similar to #PrincipalsInAction and #KidsDeserveIt, we seek to unleash leadership potential by inspiring others to be themselves, do their very best, and run into school to make magic happen every day! @_AndyJacks and @JessicaCabeen wrote this together to show how two principals from very different parts of our country can both lead through their own unique personalities, and that you don’t have to be perfect or always follow what the ‘textbook’ tells you to do in order to be successful. What better way to describe this than the Ted Talk on How to Start a Movement by Derek Sivers. But remember, it’s not just about being the lone nut, it’s also about being the first follower…

“A leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed.” 
-Derek Sivers

Lessons that we learned in our role as principal is that you are more effective when you are genuine and act in your true nature. At Ashland, #AshlandSOAR, our students chant, “Believe in yourself and be you” so that they have courage to do exactly that. But for them to do so, I have to have that same fearlessness. For me, it was as simple as taking risks and doing the things that I always wanted others to do. Act in musicals, make videos, dance parties, you name it. Stop wishing ‘they’ would do it as you sit there on your butt in your office or stand in the back of the room leaning on the wall. Start modeling what you wish your school would do!


At Woodson, #WoodsonK, I started a morning dance party at bus/parent arrival every…single…day. Parents, staff, students and the neighbors around our school see me dancing like I am back in middle school glory days as every child walks into school.  Why?  Because school should always be more like a celebration than a funeral.


Daily Dance Party at Woodson. 

“The leader embraces them as an equal. It’s not about the leader anymore, it’s about them, plural.” -Derek Sivers

Are we actively looking to find ways that our staff and students are joining into whatever fun and exciting things we are doing? Are we embracing them and bringing them into the fold so that they feel part of it, not just tagging along? The sense of belonging is one of the most powerful needs we all have but are we helping our staff feel that way or are we just trying to be the star?

“The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.” -Derek Sivers

I have appreciated my staff at Ashland more than they know, especially when I see their courage of trying new things along beside me, like our Games with Guests Challenges. It’s very hard to get over the conservative nature that we have and put yourselves out there. It’s not just about the principal being weird. It’s about the whole school being weird. Not really ‘weird,’ but being themselves and appreciating their uniqueness, truly embracing it and acting on it.


In education, we have all stood on one side of the Lone Nut analogy. We have either acted as the lone nut, joined in as a follower, or sat in the grass just watching. Being a school leader is sometimes about joining in, not always being the lone nut. We don’t always have to be the one to start the movement, but we do need to be the one embracing others and doing whatever it takes to do the right thing for our kids.

We have a full day festival at the end of the year at Woodson. Relay races, bounce houses, dance party, temporary tattoos, bounce houses, sidewalk chalk, oh and I have I mentioned bounce houses? As a leader I am not afraid of many things..but what I am afraid of the staff knows. Balloons, cotton balls and the possible injuries that could come from a bounce house are on the top of the list.  This past year, however, it only took one class of students and nearby teachers chanting a challenge for me to get over my fears and do something well out of my comfort zone. Leading is about jumping into something that your school has found value in and supporting it (feet or head first).


Notice the Kids Deserve It shirt?

“Make sure you are nurturing those first few followers as equal, so it’s clearly about the movement, not you.” -Derek Sivers

A recent example of this at Ashland was when we were putting together a Peanuts-style holiday music video. I was automatically given a role, but when I asked around, I realized there were others who wanted in, but the spots were filled. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I immediately stepped out, letting one more teacher in. This is one of my favorite videos we have done actually, and I really wish I was in it, but every time I see it, it makes me so proud that our teachers were so ready to jump into the movement.

At Woodson, we have a very active and passionate team of staff on our PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) team.  As a collective group, they come up with amazing ideas and ways to solve problems that I wouldn’t have dreamed of!  Handing over the reigns empowers other and, in the end, the product can be so much better!

“Leadership is over glorified. Yes, it was the shirtless guy who was first and he’ll get all the credit, but it was really the first follower that transformed the lone nut into a leader.” -Derek Sivers

Our special moments at Ashland have come from our work together, not from doing things on our own. The laughs between us behind the scenes have meant more to me than the outcome or what we were actually working on. One of our teachers, Mr. Raines, came up an idea to make a “Mr. Jacks & the Falcon” motivational series for our students. Having so many teachers involved and laughing through the sometimes ridiculous moments helps build our positive culture and created so many amazing memories.


“If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in.” -Derek Sivers

Here’s the challenge. Be weird (unique, yourself, the best you) for your staff. BUT, look and you will find ways that your teachers are doing their own things. Are you pushing them back into the mold or are you supporting and celebrating their risk-taking? What you will find is that once you support them more, it will positively affect the direction of your school and your own role as a leader will change.

Are we supposed to be the lone nut OR are we really meant to be the first follower?

I am a mom, wife, Principal, musician, life-long learner and lover of all things Starbucks. As I continue to learn in this fascinating journey of life and balance I hope I can share information I learn along the way with others. Dream Big, Live Colorfully and Lead Boldly!

Posted in Guest Posts, Leadership Analogies & Metaphors, Leadership Lessons