What about followership?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Dwain F. Kuehl
  • 5th Flying Training Squadron commander
Twenty-five years ago this summer, I started basic training at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was quickly taught how to adjust to military life. I learned about marching, wearing a uniform and military customs and courtesies.

Each and every lesson learned seemed to come back to the importance of followership. I have to admit that over the years I haven't given much thought to the principles of followership. Like many, nearly all military training and professional military education since my freshman summer has focused exclusively on leadership. But what about followership? Is it important?

The more I reflect on my own experiences the more I come to believe that the success of an organization is more the result of good followership than great leadership. The importance of followership cannot be understated. I would like to share five principles of followership I believe essential to the health and success of an organization.

First and foremost, support rather than undermine leaders and peers in your organization.

It is all too easy to seek popularity by criticizing others rather than helping to improve your organization. For those who find it difficult to support a policy or individual, I urge them to talk through concerns privately with their supervisor rather than spread public dissent throughout the unit. Leaders want to recognize people with the best ideas to solve difficult problems. Make it easy on supervisors by letting them know your solutions.

Accept responsibility, make decisions, keep your boss in the loop and then use your initiative.

When I was a brand new flight commander, I worked for a commander that initially exhibited an extremely hands-on leadership style. I started my new job by asking the boss various questions which quickly led to more difficult questions in return.

I soon learned that the more problems I solved and the more answers I gave, the more trust and responsibility I was given. It didn't take long for him to teach me to accept responsibility yet keep him informed of which problems I was working on and how I was solving them.

Seek to solve problems at least one level above that of your immediate supervisor.

Some of the best followers I worked with have exhibited a superb ability for solving problems well outside their own area of interest. These unit members not only completed their own tasks on time, they sought ways to improve their organization by making things better for others.

Are you the kind of person who complains about finishing tasks or the kind who completes them and then volunteers to help others?

Don't allow problems to go unsolved assuming the next person will fix them.

I recently read a quote from our former Air Education and Training Command commander, retired Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz, which I believe goes to the very heart of followership. He espoused the concept of "Leave the campground better than you found it."

How many times have you walked past something broken or dirty in your work area and thought, "It's not my problem, let someone else fix it." We all serve the greater good of our nation, so every time problems are solved, our unit and our teammates are better off.

Know when to tell your supervisor you have reached your limits.

As a traditional reservist I have had the privilege of working both in the civilian sector and the military. I can honestly say that I am always impressed by how hardworking and dedicated our members are here at Vance and in the military in general.

However, I believe it is both important and essential for good followers to know when to say they have had enough. People are truly our most valuable resource. If they burn out or are generally unhappy due to excessive stress, then the mission will eventually suffer. Good followers need to feel empowered to call knock it off.

When I was growing up, my father would continually remind me that everybody works for somebody. Even the greatest military leaders start out as subordinates. I have come to realize that it was his way of saying, learn to be a good follower.

I challenge each member of team Vance to seek ways to improve your organization by improving your followership.