Followership ... just as important as leadership

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Bruce McKenzie
  • 435th Medical Operations Squadron
Have you ever felt bothered about your boss demanding something from you? As a former Airman Leadership School Instructor, I often heard the phrase, "I can't wait to get promoted so I can be the boss and ..."

We all know leaders, especially in the Air Force, require "followers" to be focused on mission accomplishment all of the time. Leadership is not simply a position we promote into. However, we can take the realm of leadership into our own hands without being the "boss" by integrating a concept known as "followership" into our daily work ethic.

Followership is a term that isn't quite as popular as leadership, but is a very critical aspect to the Air Force mission. Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Phillip S. Meilinger, who is now the deputy director of the Aerospace Center at Science Applications International Corporation in McLean, Va., authored a great article while he was assigned to Air University entitled, "The Ten Rules of Good Followership." Each rule is particularly important, but three of them truly apply to each of us here in the KMC.

1) "Accept responsibility whenever it is offered." Often, we hear the desire among our peers and coworkers to get promoted. The irony sometimes is, we don't want the responsibility of promotions. The Air Force offers many opportunities for advancement in rank. These promotions are for "increased responsibility". Drinking and driving, which unfortunately has happened several times here in the KMC over the past year, is not a part of the promotion responsibility and doesn't reflect the increased responsibility you inherited by virtue of the promotion.

2) "If you see a problem, fix it. Don't worry about who would have gotten the blame or who now gets the praise." We are all one team here in the KMC and we work hard to meet the mission requirements. Identifying a problem in order to obtain recognition hinders the Air Force mission. Places on base such as housing, dorms and even the workplace are "our" responsibility. Don't wait on the next person to identify a problem you have noticed. Good followers shouldn't be "directed" by the commander to keep their quarters clean and safe.

3) "Put in more than an honest day's work, but don't ever forget the needs of your family. If they are unhappy, you will be too, and your job performance will suffer accordingly." Everyone here in the KMC is important to our Air Force mission. Working long hours is sometimes inherent to our job, but that doesn't relieve our responsibility to our families. They are our backbone and truly valued team members. Moving up the ladder should not trump the love and support your family provides every day. The Air Force provides you an opportunity to serve and retire; your family provides an opportunity for a life-long commitment to your well-being. In addition, losing rank because of poor judgment and ineffective followership is not an example of taking care of your family.

So, the next time your boss comes around and demands something from you, make a pledge to anticipate what the boss wants and do it before being asked. Alcohol misuse and poor judgment is under your control ... loosing rank is not being responsible. Your living quarters and your workplace cleanliness and safety should not be directed by commanders and first sergeants ... it's your responsibility. Family well-being and happiness is not your commander or first sergeant's job ... It's your job. Be a follower today so that you can lead tomorrow.