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Followership crucial to leadership

F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- If there is one constant I have learned about leadership, it is change is a certainty, and a good leader must be able to adapt to it. As leaders, it is critical we set aside our pride so we can properly adapt to change and inspire mission accomplishment at the same time. To do this, our leadership philosophy must be based on good followership first.

To explain the point, let's discuss leadership traits. We always talk about the traits of what makes a person a good leader. Traits like integrity, charisma, competence and loyalty are usually among the first to be mentioned. While these are all important, there is one fundamental trait that is often overlooked -- followership. Let me attempt to offer a definition. Followership is the ability of a person to embrace the intent of their boss, do what they are told with excellence and offer respectful and tactful dissent only when timely and necessary.

There are those in today's Air Force who fail at good followership. They think that, once in a leadership position, they are somehow entitled to elitism. They see followership and humility as weakness, and they enjoy making themselves look good at the expense of other people. They think that their rank or position makes them special or somehow more distinguished than those they are in charge of. I would offer that this philosophy is one of anti-leadership, and it does more harm than good.

Being a good follower is so important and fundamental to leadership that it is the first thing you are challenged with in basic training. I remember that moment in my own life -- getting a rude awakening as soon as I got on the bus. However, most of us who managed to survive that brief era in our youth sometimes fail to reflect on it. I remember learning very quickly that I had to adhere to the standards and fall in line or the consequence was physical training and lots of it! More importantly, though, I learned even if you don't like your boss or even if you completely disagree with their decisions, you still are expected to fall in line and embrace their decisions like they are your own -- as long as they are legal and ethical.

So, what's the point? The point is that a good leader is a master of followership first! Many great leaders in history have applied the following wisdom, "There is no limit to the amount of good you can accomplish as long as you don't care who gets the credit." I agree! We must stop being so arrogant and prideful and start being good followers first.