“It is the men behind who make the man ahead.”
Leadership is a continual journey through actions and growth, not merely a journey’s end for a resume.
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.
To best understand the impetus for this success, one must examine how the military first introduces the idea of leadership to the blank-slate brains that arrive in boot camp. This military focus is clearly established in the oath of enlistment administered to every airman, introducing them to how followership is the true secret to leadership:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
10 U.S. Code § 50
Words mean things. Think about “…I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me.” In this commitment, it is clearly revealed that every military member is a follower. It is a necessity of military service.
“Followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers”
Dynamic Followers Are Continually Challenged: 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.
“If I had to reduce the responsibilities of a good follower to a single rule, it would be to speak truth to power”
Dynamic Followers 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.
“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort”
Dynamic Followers Are 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.
“The most successful businessman is the man who holds onto the old just as long as it is good, grabs the new just as soon as it is better”
Robert P. Vanderpoel
Dynamic Followers 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 utilized to accomplish it. They continually search for ways to make a positive change.
“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him”
Dynamic Followers Avoid Excuses: 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.
“One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change… Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment”
Robert E. Quinn
Dynamic Followers Seek Feedback: 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.
“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms —to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”
Dynamic Followers, simply, are followers who take charge of both their personal and professional development, ensure complete competency at their primary duty, actively manage their 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 development dynamic followers then allow leadership to develop as a result. Truth be told, there are not great leaders without great teams.