FOLLOWERSHIP: Learn to obey before taking charge

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Richard Fischer
  • 607th Air Control Squadron
How many times have you heard the cliché "lead, follow, or get out of the way?" 

Those who choose to get out of the way must be quickly corrected or let go. Everyone is a follower; in fact, before you can lead, you have to learn to follow. The first step in becoming a great leader is mastering the concepts of followership. Following is a natural part of organizational cultures. In my 23 years in the Air Force, I have had the privilege to follow great leaders in various wartime and in-garrison tours. Able leaders emerge from the ranks of adept followers. 

So what makes a follower become a great leader? Leaders nurture and develop followers thereby increasing an organization's mission capability. Followers must have certain attributes that will help them develop into great leaders. Here is a simple mnemonic using some of the many attributes of "FOLLOWERSHIP." 

Flexibility -- We are in a changing world. The Air Force is in the midst of cutting 40,000 active-duty manpower positions in the next five years. Followers must have the flexibility to adapt to a constantly changing environment. 

Organizational understanding -- Leaders must always share their unit's mission and vision. Followers will then be able to know how their work contributes to the mission. 

Listen -- This communication skill is often considered the weakest. Followers must listen carefully, ask again if they don't understand, and respond to ideas and needs of others. 

Learn -- Learning should never stop, no matter what stage of life a person is in. Great followers pursue the proper training and use it to improve their organization. 

Obligation -- Fulfill duties and responsibilities with the highest level of commitment. Followers have an obligation to fulfill their duties with quality work to ensure the mission gets done. 

Watch -- Be aware of what's going on around you. Experience and clear understanding of directives, policies and procedures go a long way. Watch to learn. If you don't understand a process in your organization, ask questions or ask to see it in action. Additionally, watch to correct. It's everyone's duty to correct others when they see AFI violations. Be constantly vigilant and don't become complacent. 

Enthusiasm -- Be the first to volunteer for a task or project and then perform it with gusto. It may be a great enlisted performance report or officer performance report bullet when completed. More importantly helps develop or improve skills and knowledge and forge professional relationships. Followers must tackle all tasks with enthusiasm. 

Respect -- If an organization is going to e the best it can be, treat everyone with respect. Follower's contributions to goals are extremely valuable. If they are not respected as individuals, their self-esteem may falter, discouraging them from contributing in the future. 

Steadfast -- All organizations need workers who are dependable and reliable. Followers must be steadfast and loyal. 

Honesty -- Followers must be sincere and willing to tell the truth. Without honest feedback and information from the follower, his or her development into an effective leader may be in serious jeopardy. 

Integrity -- As an AF core value, integrity is vital to followership. Followers need to have the willingness to act according to what is right, even when no one is looking. Identify your values and be true to them. 

Pride -- We all serve to defend our nation. Be proud to serve. Pride is reflected in every aspect of your behavior. Your uniform is the symbol by which many measure your pride in the Air Force. Followers need to take pride in their unit, beliefs, and country. 

Although these attributes are essential to good followership, they are not an exhaustive list. Many experts talk about other follower qualities, needs and attributes. 

Leaders are evaluated on the basis of organizational success and how well they develop their followers. Your measure as a leader is demonstrated in the actions and successes of your followers.