Commentary

May 17, 2013

Followership key to being a leader

Lt. Col. James Blackman
56th Component Maintenance Squadron Commander

Maybe you played “follow the leader” at school during recess or in some neighbor’s yard down the street. It’s a fun game, requires no expensive equipment and can be played indoors or outdoors – just about anywhere. But the game only works if you actually follow the leader, and everyone else in line, well … stays in line. It’s an early test of your followership skills … are you any good at “follow the leader?”

What comes to mind when you hear the word “followership”? Do you think back to your last course in PME and recall it as something to do with leadership? Maybe an instructor once told you something like “followership is one of the key building blocks to being a good leader.” Or maybe a more philosophical mentor said you must first be a good follower before you can be a good leader.

When I think of followership, I think of words like loyalty and trust. These two words help add depth to what a follower is or is not. A follower must be loyal to the boss and more than that, a follower must be loyal to the organization and the overall mission. However, loyalty isn’t the only thing needed, trust is needed too. You have to trust the leader in order to follow.

True loyalty always requires your critical thinking, a level of mental involvement in the “game” so you don’t just hang on for the ride, we need to have our eyes wide open so we can contribute and add our own piece. Critical thinking will sometimes lead us to think the leader is going the wrong way or making a bad decision. Here is where loyalty and trust work together; your loyalty should drive you to express your concern in the appropriate manner to the leader; present your viewpoint, based on your critical thinking and not raw emotion. Once you present your view and the boss doesn’t change their decision; now your level or trust will be tested. What you do right then is what I think is at the heart of true followership.

So what is followership? It can be summarized in one short statement:
You own your bosses decisions – it’s no longer their decision – it is now yours!

So ask yourself; how good are you at “follow the leader?”




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