Starting a Movement

by Jo Anne Nelson on April 13, 2010

High performance leadership requires a powerful vision and the courage to see it through. For this to be successful, you have to be passionate about your vision and what you are doing. I recently watched two videos that reminded me how critical these are to effective leadership.

One is about starting a movement. Taken from the TED conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design), Derek Sivers presented a brief look at the dynamics of starting a movement. The first leader has a vision and takes action. They have to have the guts to stand out and be considered weird, out of the norm, etc, because what they are doing may be new and uncomfortable for those who don’t yet understand the vision. But the next person who joins her, the second leader, also requires courage because they will also stand out and perhaps be considered weird. According to Sivers, this is an underrated form of leadership and critical because “they transform the lone nut into a leader”. Once there are two, it is easier to get others to join and follow.

The second video was about Jamie Oliver, the UK chef who has started the Food Revolution in the United States. Oliver was awarded the TED Prize in 2010, which has a cash prize but more importantly, allows the recipient one wish to leverage the TED community. His wish is for our help “in creating a strong, sustainable to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again, and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”


Jamie has launched an initiative in West Virginia, once the unhealthiest state in America. He is fighting to create a movement in the US because he believes if we change, others will follow.

I am struck by the enormity of this vision. Someone from outside our country has the audacity to come and teach us how to reconnect with food. In general, that doesn’t go over well with Americans. Will we listen?

Food as Fuel

We have heard since we were little that we are what we eat, but I think we forget this. The food we eat is broken down into the building blocks of protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc. that our body uses to build new cells and fuel our brain. Like any construction project, if you use shoddy materials, you get shoddy or low-quality results.

More importantly, we fuel our brains with the food we eat. If we are not providing our brains with good fuel, what do you think that does to our ability to think, process information, make connections, innovate?

So, the challenge that Jamie is trying to tackle first is the quality of food that is served in our schools and to our children (regardless of whether or not you have children, if you run a business you will someday be looking at candidates from this pool of talent). The current quality of food that is served is well below optimal. In fact, it is making many children obese.

Many working families don’t have time to spend cooking, much less teaching their children about food and cooking. Fast food has risen in popularity for many reasons, but certainly it is easy when you come home at the end of a long day or week. What we need to remember is whether or not we are fueling ourselves, and our children, with the materials we need to be able to think and perform at a high level.


Leadership requires courage in the face of cynicism, doubt, fear, etc. Jamie’s program in West Virginia was not necessarily well received by those he was there to help. Some took take at his beliefs and efforts, and actively worked against him. Yet, he is sticking with it because he is so passionate about what he is doing, and the need for it. From what I have seen and read, it looks like he is making headway.

Are you willing to join in?

First Lady Michelle Obama is on a similar mission with a focus on fresh, locally grown and unprocessed food. She started a vegetable garden at the White House last year and has expanded it this year with the help of local students. The goal is similar to Jamie Oliver’s movement: start a conversation, educate about healthier options, and help us make informed decisions about our food.

Now is the time for us to examine whether or not we are willing to join this movement. Do we believe in the basic premise? That obesity, something that is preventable, is at a point where we have to do something about it? That unless we change the food in our schools and the fuel we are giving our future workforce, we will be giving them (and us) less of a chance of succeeding? That we will have a shortened life span?

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