September 7, 2018

An overlooked aspect of leadership

1st Lt. David Melton
Buckley AFB, Colo.

One of the things I value from a leadership perspective is the ability of a leader to follow.

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “too many Chiefs; not enough Indians?” This phrase refers to a group of people with a common goal who all appear to be leaders, yet progress is difficult to achieve.

While it can be important for any group to have a leader, followers are essential for a leader to exist. After all, what is the value of a leader if they are all alone?

In an age where leadership is a commonly taught practice, it is important to remember many of the elements that go into leadership: a great combination of morals and ethics, the ability to teach others, and the patience to listen just to name a few. As a leader you are never done learning and one of the best ways to add to your toolbox is by taking the “follower” role seriously. One should never be too proud to take a step back and learn from another’s leadership methods and tactics, their way of thinking and their use of the resources available to them.

While learning through trial and error is a good method, observing and analyzing the mistakes of others is a great way to learn when fulfilling the followership role. Not everyone will agree with every decision a leader makes, but these situations are not just an opportunity to complain; they are an opportunity to learn. Take the time to think about your situation and learn from both good and bad experiences. While you are in the followership role, you should be focused on listening and thinking more than talking or just waiting to respond. It is difficult to learn and expand on your leadership abilities if you do not take the time to gather the experience of a follower. Let us not forget that in many cases, leaders will simultaneously be followers.

I am not suggesting an installation commander should switch places with the Airman who has little experience in the Air Force and even less time on station. However, it is important that those who want to better themselves remember where they came from, and recognize the followership role among those who they consider leaders, regardless of duty position or rank. There is value added from both sides of the spectrum. Additionally, take the time to read stories, watch videos, and listen to the leaders and followers around you, as well as to the leaders that came before you. As a follower, the more experiences and understanding you gather, the better off you are serving as a leader.

Finally, to become the most effective leader you can be, it is vital you take what you have learned and apply it to your leadership style. The more you take the time to learn from others, the more it becomes your responsibility to pass along your experience and knowledge to those around you, in all aspects of your life. Becoming a great follower is not easy, but it will put you on the track to becoming a great leader. As a member of the US Armed Forces, consider it a charge to inspire others to be effective leaders and followers until your mission is complete.

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