It is perhaps one of the most difficult duties of an Airman, yet one which we tend not to talk about after Basic Military Training or technical training.
We are taught throughout our careers how to be effective leaders, but somewhere in the focus to become effective leaders, we lose the focus on being a good follower.
It is strange that being a follower tends to have a negative connotation. Without followers, many of the things that made our country successful wouldn’t have occurred.
There were certainly civil rights leaders who paved the way to the level of equality we enjoy today, but without people who were willing to follow those leaders, they would have been far less effective.
Could you imagine talking in a history class about the One Man March that made such a huge impact? Hopefully the answer is no. As many are aware, it was a Million Man March and it was because of those who chose to follow that it made an impact.
In the same way, having good followers is critical to the Air Force mission. There are examples of this every day at Luke Air Force Base.
The Airman who follows his technical order to ensure the maintenance he performs meets the safety standards necessary is one example. The Airman who doesn’t really want to be doing the job she is in but understands the role it plays in the bigger picture, so she shows up ready to work and do what her supervision asks without complaining, is another.
One of the gray areas of good followership is when and how to speak up when you may have a disagreement with your supervision. The method to navigate such a challenge varies depending on personalities, but there are some basic ideas that can be helpful.
First, you have to choose your battles wisely. To do this, you must understand your part in the mission. This will guide you as you determine whether it is appropriate to make your suggestion or if it is more important to get the mission done for that moment.
Second, it is important to remember that your supervisor has likely been performing the job much longer than you and has learned to be efficient based on trial and error. Fresh ideas are great and should be shared, but do not be so tied to your idea that you are close-minded to why decisions are made. Understanding why decisions are made is one of the greatest ways to first becoming a good follower which lead to becoming a future leader.
Third, be selective. Retired Chief Master Sgt. Roger Buck once told me what he attributed to his success.
“Make a habit of keeping your mouth shut,” he said. “Do this and when you have something to say, people will really listen.”
His point is a good one. If you make a habit of challenging everything your leaders say or do, you will eventually be shrugged off as a nuisance. However, by choosing your battles wisely, understanding why decisions are made and being silent most of the time, leadership will take you seriously when you have something to add.
It has been said, that to be a good leader, you must first be a good follower. Practice being a good follower, so you can one day be the leader the Air Force needs you to be.