How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
When a leader starts out, where do the early followers come from? Are they like any other followers or do they stand out in some way?
A leader looking for followers may look like a crank or a fool crying in the dark. What they have to offer may not be obviously worth following and their vision of a brave new world may seem at best enthusiastic hope. Importantly, when there are no followers there is no social reason to follow. Many follow because others are following, persuaded by the social evidence.
This means that the first person to join them has to have good reason or be someone special. And early followers are indeed special. It requires courage to stand up and join in as, if the leader fails to attract further followers, the follower, perhaps even more than the leader, will look rather foolish.
First followers hence need to strongly invest in the idea and act as recruiters themselves, seeking to bring in further followers. This is one reason why social leaders tend to be early adopters, as they know they can call on their followers to join in.
One of the benefits of joining a team, project or leader early on is that this confers a special position in the group. In effect, you become one of the 'elders' or senior people who will continue to have a position of greater influence on later followers.
An effect of joining early is that you get more time with the leader and other early joiners, learning the deeper nature of the mission and helping to set the culture, rules and processes of the group. Early followers tend to be trusted more by the leader who rewards their faith with a continuing friendship. In this way a high-trust close-knit 'band of brothers/sisters' forms who form the long-term core of the group.
Al benefit that is not lost on many is that if the business grows, you could end up with a lot of money, although to make it succeed the money motive should be the primary driver.
A risk of being in the core team is that the early harmony may lead to later conflict. When things get tough, differences may appear and key people may be ejected or leave, resulting in trauma and difficulties, often just when they are not needed. There is also a risk of groupthink, where the harmony of the group is put about achieving the group's real goals.
A further risk is a core team that looks inwards or is strongly cohesive may alienate later followers. This and other reasons makes it very important that the early days of the group are critical for forming a healthy core team.
Later followers are likely to be more conservative and more socially concerned than early followers. Such people will not join early for fear of looking foolish. When people are driven by fear, they later want to join for fear of being left behind, leading to a sudden rush once the group has achieved a certain size.
Alternatively, later followers could have been early followers but they just did not hear about the group until later on. Such enthusiasts may gain leading roles more quickly and could challenge existing earlier followers for leading positions.