Practicing followership

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Most of us know the word "Followership."

But some either don't know what it really means or misinterpret its value.

We've all heard the phrase, "Don't be a follower, be a leader!" It's phrases like this that create a negative stigma for the art of followership. Good followership is a beneficial skill that must be practiced and applied, and it's something that doesn't come as natural as people may think.

A follower is someone who follows another in regard to his or her ideas or belief; a disciple or adherent. We all have someone to follow, but how we do it is most important.

You must support the system you work for to be a good follower. You must be faithful to this system whether you agree or disagree with its decisions.

An example of an unfaithful follower is when your favorite football team wins, you say "we" won or "my" team took home the trophy. But when the same team loses, you can't believe "they" threw that game away.

This can be applied to our membership in the Air Force. When we are happy about what's going on, we say "we" take care of our people. But when it's decisions we don't agree with, we say "the military" or "they" need to figure out how to fix this. Followership is taking a stand and becoming part of "them" and consistently including yourself in the "we" system.

A misconception is that if you're not leading, you're following. In actuality, we all lead and we all follow. Leading may come in the form of being tasked or simply stepping up when there is a need. Choosing to follow, however, takes a conscious effort.

This is no easy task.

Followership might mean we sacrifice our ideas and support our leaders in theirs. Being a leader may test your ability, but being a follower tests your ability and your patience.

Followers are an essential part of every team and serve many purposes. Good followers will expose a leader's greatness and faults. Followers support the leader's plans and how work centers are managed. In this support role, not only do followers expose strengths and weaknesses of the leader's ability, but they also grow as followers.

In practicing followership, a good follower keeps their eyes open and observes both good and bad aspects from leaders. Also, it's important to support your leader even if you don't agree with the method -- unless the actions are illegal.

The inevitable failure or success of a program lies with the leader. As the follower, if you have done as you were told, then the responsibility for the mission's outcome rests with the leader. If good followership is practiced, then a leader can learn how to adapt. Give leaders good followers and supervision will hold them accountable.

Followership may seem a lost art. Take the time to learn from your leaders, and more importantly, learn how to follow. Some day it will be your turn to lead.

Followership is a skill that not only keeps the military performing at its peak, but it also allows supervision to discern the effectiveness of its leaders. The art of followership is not easy, but it's a skill that must be honed for yourself, your supervisors and the Air Force ... so practice, practice, practice.