The Biggest Lesson from France McDormand's Oscar Speech: Recruit Your First Follower

Happy International Women's Day!


There is one speech everyone in the world of women has been talking about this week: Frances McDormand's acceptance remarks at the 90th Academy Awards. They were rousing and she did not come to play. Literally putting her golden Oscar on the floor, she encouraged anyone who says that they support women in filmmaking to put their money where their mouth is. "We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed," she said.

Most of her speech buzz over the past few days has centered around two words she ended with, inclusion rider, which is a stipulation in an actor's contract that the film cast and/or crew must be diverse. But an overlooked lesson from her speech was her deployment of a strategy that more leaders should adopt if they want to be effective: recruiting your first follower.

At the beginning of her remarks, McDormand asked for all of the female nominees in the room to stand. It was an inspiring move that demonstrated the power of women's solidarity. But McDormand didn't leave the moment up to chance. Knowing that there might be initial hesitation in the crowd, she gave an explicit directive to the most Oscar-awarded actress in the room: "Meryl, if you do it everybody else will."

In Derek Sivers popular TED Talk, How To Start A Movement, he explores our propensity to celebrate the originator of an idea or the person on the stage without fully appreciating that their innovation was often made possible because the first person to follow them gave them legitimacy. Meryl Streep standing gave every other woman permission to do so with far less risk. In this case, they likely would have done so anyway. But so often as leaders we're trying to drive change that can feel like moving mountains. McDormand's Meryl-call-out is a reminder that whether we're trying to launch a political campaign, a business venture, or a project at the office, the most important question we should be asking is, "Who, if I get them to buy in first, will help me engage everyone else?" It's certainly an easier way to achieve award winning results.