Followership


By Kevin Slater

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The following is an excerpt from the book Old School is Good School by Chief Master Sergeant Kevin Slater (U.S. Air Force).  Reprinted by GovLeaders.org with the author's kind permission. 



I bet we’d agree even the best leaders accomplish nothing without effective followers. If we agree followers are essential, why do so many people take being called a good follower as a criticism rather than as a compliment?

 

I’m looking at the word leadership in the dictionary right now. It has many definitions and each one paints a picture of strength. Yet I can’t find ‘followership’ in the dictionary at all. It appears to be ‘Rodney Dangerfield’1 in the leader-follower relationship—“it gets no respect”.

Why should followership get more respect? If we don’t learn and practice effective followership skills, we’re destined to fail our leaders and ultimately negatively impact our mission.

Why do I believe the best follower is at least as valuable as the best leader? The best follower displays initiative, provides constructive criticism, asks thought-provoking questions to gain clarification, and accepts responsibility and accountability for results. The best follower also brings solutions, or at least proposed courses of action, whenever he brings challenges to the leader. Finally, agree or disagree, once the leader considers the follower’s feedback and makes a decision, the best follower takes ownership of the decision and champions the decision throughout the organization as if it were his own. This is called loyalty and it must live inside every follower.

I bet many of you think fulfilling my responsibilities as a Numbered Air Force Command Chief takes well-honed leadership skills. Would you be surprised if I told you it takes even better-honed followership skills?

I gauge my strength as a follower by the answers I give to these six questions. Feel free to use these questions to gauge your followership skills. Would you and your leader be happy with your answers?

  1. Do I know and understand what my leader expects of me?

  2. Have I earned my leader’s trust by displaying my loyalty?

  3. Do I present solutions or courses of action when I present challenges?

  4. Do I provide relevant and timely information to my leader before he makes decisions?

  5. Do I champion my leader’s decisions throughout my organization as if they were my own?

  6. If I disagree with a decision do I champion in public and critique respectfully in private?

I’m proud to be a senior enlisted leader in the United States Air Force, but more importantly I’m proud to be a follower of the many great leaders in our organization! I am proud of my role as a follower. It does not make me weak. It makes me and my organization strong!


  • 1 Rodney Dangerfield (born Jacob Cohen, 22 Nov 1921 – 5 Oct 2004) was an American comedian known for the catchphrases "I don't get no respect!," "No respect, no respect at all... that's the story of my life" or "I get no respect, I tell ya" and his monologues on that theme.



  • Chief Master Sergeant Kevin Slater has served as an American Airman for almost three decades.  He has served as a Command Master Sergeant three times at the Wing and once at a Numbered Air Force.  Chief Slater has served overseas during the Cold War and in the United States Central Command Area of Responsibility engaged in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom following the events of 9/11.

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Copyright © 2011 by Kevin G. Slater