Leadership at all levels

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael P. Klepczyk
  • 82nd Dental Squadron commander
Lead, follow or get out of the way! I think we have all heard this phrase at one time or another in our career.

This phrase can be broken down into three distinct actions: one that is deliberate-leading, passive-following, or inaction - on the part of those asked to step aside. I hope to show you by the end of this article that followership is far from a passive action.
Whatever your interpretation may be, there are two key elements; leadership and followership.

Courses and seminars usually fail to place a large emphasis on following well. Followership is a crucial aspect of leadership. No matter what our position in life, we all have a "boss" or someone we answer to.

An essential part of being a good leader is being an equally good follower. As we strive to hone our leadership skills it should be kept in our minds that at times we will be asked to follow and development of those skills are just as important.

Retired Lt. Gen. Robert E. Kelly completed a comprehensive study on followership and identified key traits that embody good and poor followers. Good followers demonstrate independent, critical thinking and active engagement even as a follower. Good followers think for themselves, are innovative and creative, take the initiative, assume ownership, and are self-motivators.

Conversely, poor followers must be told what to do, don't think for themselves, are passive, need prodding, need constant supervision and shirk responsibility. It now becomes very evident that good followers demonstrate the same qualities we expect to see in a good leader.

How can we become good followers when called upon to do so? Col. Phillip Mellinger formulated 10 rules of good followership while he was dean of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Miss.

Here's the list in a nut shell:

· Support the boss.
· Don't be a "yes man."
· Use your intiative.
· Accept responsibility.
· Tell the truth and don't quibble.
· Do your homework.
· Be prepared to implement your recommendation.
· Keep your boss informed.
· If you see a problem, fix it.
· Work hard, but don't forget your family.

Again we see that his rules support the link between leadership and followership. Passive following may be easy, but good followership is not. General Kelley states it well; good followers don't "let the leader do all the thinking and follow blindly."

I probably would not have liked the label of "outstanding follower" if I had not done some reading on the subject. At times we are called to lead, but those times we follow are equally important. Getting the mission done as a follower requires the same amount of enthusiasm and skill as when we lead.

So lead or follow well and hopefully no one will ever ask you to get out of the way.