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Be a Great Follower!

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U.S. Air Force photo

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. --

I am a follower and I aspire to be a great follower! That is probably something that you don’t often hear from individuals in leadership roles, but it holds true for me. Nevertheless, I believe that we must maintain being followers because it characterizes how we lead.

From a military posture perspective, the relationship between being a subordinate, manager, and leader is widely understood and recognized across the Air National Guard. A great deal of time is put into our understanding of the Enlisted Force Structure and Air Force standards. For us, as Non-Commissioned Officers developing our leadership skills enhances our management toolbox. Development in this area, both in official and personal settings, also increases the prospect of improved performance as we proceed through the ranks. Learning from the bottom up is what we do, and we preach leadership early and often to our junior enlisted. Coincidently, while we spend a considerable amount of time developing our leadership skills, one essential element of leadership is often neglected, following!

From my perspective, being a great follower is grossly overlooked, but it is vital to becoming a successful leader in today’s Air Force. Followers within our ranks are just as crucial as the leaders. Much of what it takes to be a great leader, a great follower also exhibits. It takes humility, a willingness to serve, unselfishness, and dedication to be a great follower. A great follower not only gets the job done, but they also influence their leaders. Therefore, understanding the qualities of being a great follower matters a lot! With that being said, enhancing followership skills receives only a minor fraction of the promotion that leadership does in many formal settings of development.

After speaking with a number of the Airmen here in Delaware, I was surprised to learn about some of their views as it relates following. We often hear things such as “Airman Snuffy” is a yes- man/woman or a brown-nose but is that really the case? Being able to take direction and execute on your leadership’s vision, mission, and priorities are characteristics of a great follower. However, the moniker ‘A great follower’ is often viewed as a roundabout compliment and sometimes a flat-out diss. It is not the reputation our Non-Commissioned and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers would necessarily like if they are seeking future leadership positions within the Air National Guard. Throughout my 20 years in the military, I’ve rarely heard anyone praised for how well they follow. That is because, in some circles, there has been sort of a stigma attached to being a follower. It is a shame because we cannot reach the higher levels of leadership within our Air Force without first establishing the capacity to follow. The fact is, in our enterprise, each person is both a leader and a follower depending on the circumstances, so there should not be any stigma associated with being a great follower.

So, what does it mean to be a great follower? The concept can be broken into three parts. First, to be a great follower, you need to aid and support your leadership. That means supporting your leadership's vision, goals, and priorities. Second, a great follower shows the ability to take guidance and direction. This means that you think about what’s being conveyed to you, use reason, and find a way to make the appropriate action to be successful. Third, great followers know how to be part of the team and bring what is expected of them as Airmen. How well we follow as NCOs and SNCOs is perhaps just as vital to mission success as how well we lead.

If improving your leadership abilities is vital to your development, improving how you follow is just as valuable. An Airman being a follower doesn't always mean taking the back seat, actually it means you are leading from the bottom up. It takes humility, a willingness to serve, unselfishness, and dedication to be a great follower. Remember, a great follower can become a great leader, and great followers help correct the ship. The way you follow will directly drive your leadership style. So, always aspire to be a great follower!