Dynamic Followership 2
The Prerequisite for Effective Leadership
Lt Col Sharon M. Latour, USAF and Lt Col Vicki J. Rast, USAF
The following article was
originally published in the Winter 2004 issue of
& Space Power Journal. Reprinted here with the kind permission of
Air & Space Power Journal.
Part 2 of 2
The Case for Effective Follower Development
There may well be legitimate disagreements about which follower competencies
should have priority over others or which competencies belong more to leader
development versus follower development. Nevertheless, it is useful to talk
about the prime mechanism by which followers learn behaviors or competencies
important to their success: mentoring.
Edgar H. Schein discusses the ways that leaders create cultures, including
expected behaviors, through six "embedding mechanisms," one of which is
"deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching." He relates a story that
illustrates how to teach desired behaviors by example:
The Jones family brought back a former manager as the CEO [chief executive
officer] after several other CEOs had failed. One of the first things he (the
former manager) did as the new president (CEO) was to display at a large meeting
his own particular method of analyzing the performance of the company and
planning its future. He said explicitly to the group: "Now that’s an example of
the kind of good planning and management I want in this organization." He then
ordered his key executives to prepare a long-range planning process in the
format in which he had just lectured and gave them a target time to be ready to
present their own plans in the new format.
By training his immediate subordinates this way, he taught them his level of
expectation or a level of competence for which they could strive. This overt,
public mentoring technique—or as Schein would characterize it, "deliberate role
modeling, teaching, and coaching"—is key to developing effective followers.10
Effective leaders acknowledge that their perspective influences their
subordinates. Leader priorities become follower priorities. The leader transmits
those items of concern by many means—some directly but others indirectly or
according to context. As long as followers clearly understand the leader’s
expectations and necessary levels of competence, the actual amount of
face-to-face time is generally not critical. Of paramount importance is leaders’
awareness of how their priorities and actions will set standards for their
followers’ behaviors and values.
A mentoring culture is necessary to pass on the obvious and subtle values,
priorities, behaviors, and traditions in an organization. In another interview
in American Generalship, Puryear speaks with Gen Bill Creech, credited with
revolutionizing the way Tactical Air Command (TAC, forerunner of Air Combat
Command) went about its mission when he served as commander from 1978 to 1984.
General Creech describes several of the 25 bosses he had during his 35-year
Only four of those bosses went out of their way to provide any special mentoring
. . . to those of us who worked for them. And far and away the best of those
four was General Dave Jones, whom I first worked for when he was the CINC
[commander in chief, known today as the regional combatant commander] of the
United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). . . . He painstakingly taught
leadership skills, . . . drawing on his own experiences over the years, and he
would take several days in doing so. . . . He provided lots of one-on-one
mentoring that helped me greatly both then and over the years. It was those
examples that I used as a baseline in setting up the mentoring system in TAC.11
Essentially, General Jones established a mentoring culture within USAFE when his
followers emulated what he modeled. Reflecting upon our own experiences, we can
conclude that not every member of our Air Force is mentored actively by his or
her leaders. We have some evidence of efforts to establish the importance of
mentoring, but as of this writing, a visible endorsement of mentoring by
uppermost leadership remains in its infancy. Fundamentally, the most important
contribution leaders make to their units and the Air Force is
to ensure that the
mission can continue without them. Our culture has a tendency to reward
individuals who publicly stand in the limelight and to overlook those who do the
"heavy lifting" behind the scenes. For that reason, embracing this contribution
as the baseline for mentoring and translating it to everyday practice will
In this vein, one of the coauthors of this article tells an interesting story.
As a second lieutenant, she encountered great difficulty with her supervisor, a
first lieutenant, in aircraft maintenance. Their squadron commander—an "old
school TAC" major—called them both into her office one day and conveyed this
message: "Ollie, your job is to teach Vicki everything you know. If she fails
when you leave the bomb dump, then you’ve failed. [Rast], your job is to learn.
Dismissed!" That 45-second interaction, literally, was the end of that
particular "mentoring" session (there would be many others!), but it had
profound effects on both young officers in terms of the way they viewed their
roles as leaders, followers, teachers, and mentors. Dr. Schein would suggest
that this transformation in conceptualizing the leader’s role as one of
developing followers—in essence, working one’s way out of a job—is a
prerequisite for mentoring to take root.
Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-3401,
Air Force Mentoring, provides guidance to
all Air Force members. It specifically charges all supervisors to serve as
formal mentors to their subordinates. There is room for robust informal
mentoring once the culture formally takes root. According to the instruction,
"Air Force mentoring covers a wide range of areas, such as career guidance,
technical and professional development, leadership, Air Force history and
heritage, air and space power doctrine, strategic vision, and contribution to
joint warfighting. It also includes knowledge of the ethics of our military and
civil service professions and understanding of the Air Force’s core values of
integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do."12
In concert with General Creech’s observations, AFI 36-3401 states that mentoring
is the responsibility of leaders, requiring them—through direct involvement in
subordinate development—to provide their followers with realistic evaluations of
their performance and potential and to create goals to realize that potential.
Importantly, the instruction encourages informal mentors: "The immediate
supervisor . . . is designated as the primary mentor. . . . This designation in
no way restricts the subordinate’s desire to seek additional counseling and
professional development advice from other sources or mentors."13
Therefore, mentoring relationships are vital to followers who seek to understand
the substance behind their leaders’ actions. What were the leaders’ options? Why
do bosses elect to do what they do and when they choose to do it? Asked how one
could become a decision maker, Dwight D. Eisenhower responded, "Be around people
making decisions. Those officers who achieved the top positions of leadership
were around decision-makers, who served as their mentors."14
Hands-on Follower Development
Let’s get more specific. Discussions of leadership development tend to
focus on acquiring key, separate competencies rather than imitating a leader’s
style. We suggest that followers can develop themselves in much the same way.15
Traditional leader styles (e.g., autocratic, bureaucratic, democratic,
laissez-faire, etc.) are inadequate in dynamic, changing environments. Can any
organization really afford to have a bona fide laissez-faire manager at the helm
when the head office or major command mandates an overnight overhaul? Developing
leadership competencies gives up-and-coming leaders a tool kit from which to
draw, no matter the situation they might encounter.
Dr. Daniel Goleman, the leading advocate of emotional intelligence, identifies
five categories of personal and social competence: (personal) self-awareness,
self-regulation, motivation, (social) empathy, and social skills. Looking more
closely into, say, empathy, one finds specific competencies: understanding
others, developing others, acquiring service orientation, leveraging diversity,
and cultivating political awareness.16 He makes the point that each of us has
areas in which we are more or less naturally competent. Some of us are more
empathetic than others (because of early socialization, emotional disposition,
etc.) and therefore more proficient in empathy’s specific competencies. But the
less empathetic individual is not a lost cause because mentoring by senior
leaders can enhance areas that need improvement.
If we use our hypothetical but plausible set of follower competencies as a
template (leaders can adjust the competencies included here to meet their own
cultural norms and values), we can extrapolate a follower-competencies
development approach based on Goleman’s discovery work in leader-competencies
development. He says that the follower requires behavior modification, monitored
by the mentoring leader. Organizations must "help people break old behavioral
habits and establish new ones. That not only takes much more time than
conventional training programs, it also requires an individualized approach."17
So which follower competencies need deliberate development?
Plausible Follower Competencies and Components
After examining a variety of research, this article has distilled several
• Displays loyalty (shows deep commitment to the organization, adheres to the
boss’s vision and priorities, disagrees agreeably, aligns personal and
• Functions well in change-oriented environments (serves as a change agent,
demonstrates agility, moves fluidly between leading and following)
• Functions well on teams (collaborates, shares credit, acts responsibly toward
• Thinks independently and critically (dissents courageously, takes the
initiative, practices self-management)
• Considers integrity of paramount importance (remains trustworthy, tells the
truth, maintains the highest performance standards, admits mistakes)
Our research leads us to believe that followers learn most effectively by
observing the actions (modeled behavior) of an organization’s leaders. As
Goleman points out, however, impelling adults to adjust their behavior often
requires an individualized approach. Whether it’s called coaching
(skill-specific training) or mentoring (a longer-term relationship), in order
for leaders to correct follower-competency deficits, they must pay deliberate
attention to development opportunities for each individual.
Tracking progress can occur through both formal and informal feedback. A mentor
can ask the follower and his or her peer group how team-dependent things are
going. How often is the suggestion box used? Are the suggestions well thought
out? (Are they relevant to things on the boss’s mind?) One can use
customer-satisfaction forms to measure some competencies . . . and the list goes
on. Certainly, the most important check is the ongoing evaluation the boss makes
throughout the developmental relationship with each follower.
We have explored followership, the one common denominator we all share as
members of our culture, by briefly examining plausible competencies germane to
effective following. We determined that these competencies should enable
followers to become leaders almost effortlessly. By employing Schein’s
discussion of the establishment of cultures, we made a case for leader
involvement in the development of subordinates. Drawing on the followership
studies by Kelley and others, we culled follower-specific competencies along the
theoretical model of emotional intelligence suggested by Goleman’s competencies
for leaders. Most importantly for further study, we established the need for Air
Force mentoring—the vehicle by which our service can pass on its culture to new
In our look at the specifics for developing better followers, we discovered the
existence of many overlapping requirements between effective leader competencies
and dynamic follower competencies. By considering these thoughts about
follower-unique opportunities to support the mission and by naming
follower-specific traits and abilities, leaders may now focus on deliberate
development plans for their subordinates. In the future, communication,
appreciation, and efficiencies between leaders and followers should vastly
improve as complementary and overlapping role requirements are articulated more
effectively in terms of a competencies-based development approach for all.
1. "Talking Paper on Air Force Military Retention," http://www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/afretention/Retention
Information/Pages/General.asp (accessed 4 March 2003).
2. Ibid. Special thanks to Col Chris Cain for offering this data and commentary.
3. Richard L. Hughes, Robert C. Ginnett, and Gordon J. Curphy, Leadership:
Enhancing the Lessons of Experience, 3rd ed. (Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill, 1999),
4. Robert E. Kelley, "In Praise of Followers," in
Military Leadership: In
Pursuit of Excellence, 3rd ed., ed. Robert L. Taylor and William E. Rosenbach
(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996), 136–37.
5. Ibid., 138–41.
6. Ibid., 137.
7. Earl H. Potter, William E. Rosenbach, and Thane S. Pittman, "Leading the New
Professional," in Military Leadership, ed. Taylor and Rosenbach, 148.
8. Ibid., 149–50.
9. Edgar F. Puryear Jr., American Generalship: Character Is Everything: The Art
of Command (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 2000), 229.
10. Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2nd ed. (San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992), 230, 241–42.
11. Puryear, American Generalship, 218–19.
12. Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-3401,
Air Force Mentoring, 1 June 2000, 2.
14. Quoted in Puryear, American Generalship, 188.
15. See Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam
16. Ibid., 26–27.
17. Daniel Goleman, "What Makes a Leader?" Harvard Business Review, March–April
Lt Col Sharon M. Latour (BA, MA, University of
California–Santa Barbara; MS, Troy State University; PhD, University of Southern
California) serves on the faculty of the Department of Leadership, Command, and
Communications Studies at Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
She previously served as chief of protocol at RAF Mildenhall; assistant
professor in the Behavioral Sciences Department at the US Air Force Academy;
section commander in the 555th Fighter Squadron, Aviano, Italy; faculty member
at Squadron Officer School, Maxwell AFB; and chief of professional military
education policy at the Pentagon. Colonel Latour is a graduate of Squadron
Officer School and Air Command and Staff College.
Lt Col Vicki J. Rast (USAFA; MPA, Troy State University; MMOAS, Air Command and
Staff College; PhD, George Mason University) is an assistant professor of
political science and chief of the Core Courses Division at the United States
Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. She has served as director of
operations, Joint Warfare Studies Department, Air Command and Staff College,
Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and as aircraft maintenance and munitions officer, Shaw
AFB, South Carolina. She led a munitions unit during Operations Desert Shield
and Desert Storm and controlled planning and deployment of the 363d Fighter Wing
during Operation Southern Watch. A distinguished graduate of Squadron Officer
School and Air Command and Staff College, Colonel Rast is the author of
Interagency Fratricide: Policy Failures in the Persian Gulf and
Bosnia (Air University Press, 2004).
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the
author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air
University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government,
Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
Air & Space