“It is the [people] behind who make the [person] ahead.”
— Merle Crowell
As military members, we are commonly told our most marketable skill after retirement is leadership. Yet, as you progress through the ranks and attend various military colleges, we always seem to be looking to civilian authors and courses for lessons on leadership. What is the magic dust that makes military leaders great? The answer is simple…followership.
Search your favorite online bookstore for ‘leadership’ and you will find in excess of 22,000 books. In contrast, a search for ‘followership’ will yield a mere 20 literary works. Why the dramatic difference? The answer reveals the great secret to why the military is able to produce profound leaders in quantity: the military deliberately develops dynamic followers from day 1 of basic training through retirement.
Continually Seek Challenge
If, as a follower, you are becoming overly comfortable/confident in your duties, seek further challenges. The Air Force moves most Airmen to new areas/responsibilities annually. Although you may have more responsibilities and leadership tasks, all military members are still followers of the higher-level rank structure and challenged at new levels.
Do Not Avoid Crucial Conversations
An effective Leader does not want ‘Yes’ people, they want alternating viewpoints and respectful disagreement. In the military, we instill a firm adherence to ‘support in public, dissent in private.’ Dynamic followers are not afraid to disagree with their leader, but they do so respectfully in private, with fact-based logic, then support their leader’s decision in public once final.
Be Aggressive in Positive Ways
Have you ever worked with some one who was “All thrust, No Vector?” That is code in the Fighter Pilot world for the follower who is always running at a dead sprint and has no idea where they are going or why they are working on a particular task. Dynamic followers are aggressive in nature but channel it into positive aspects of their surroundings. They aggressively build teamwork, collaborate with coworkers and advance the mission at hand.
Enable Positive Change
For a change to be positive, it must decrease the time required, increase efficiency, improve structure or increase simplicity. Dynamic followers know that “Yesterday is Interesting but Irrelevant.” They question everything, from why the organization does a particular task to the process that is utilised to accomplish it. They continually search for ways to make a positive change.
Excuses are not beneficial to a relationship nor the success of an organisation. When you fail to meet your goal or expectations, own up to the shortcoming/mistake then learn from the situation to ensure the behavior is not repeated.
Always ask your Boss and peers for a debrief of your performance. In the military, this occurs officially through performance reports and informally through mentorship and peer reviews. Without an outside, unbiased review of our actions, mannerisms and techniques, we can not refine our processes and improve our ability to follow.
To be an effective follower,take charge of both your personal and professional development, ensure complete competency at your primary duty, actively manage relationships and exercise independent thought with both professional restraint and respect. Dynamic followers, and leaders alike, always remember yesterday may have brought you to today, but it most likely will not carry you to tomorrow. To continue success, we must make positive changes to improve both individually and collectively. This is the simple secret to military leadership: Deliberately develop dynamic followers then allow leadership to develop as a result. Truth be told, there are no great leaders without great teams.