FOLLOWERSHIP: rules one can lead by

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Gary Hinkelman
  • 982nd Maintenance Squadron
Many of us read books, take college classes, and attend professional military education courses in preparation to become leaders. 

In my pursuit to become a leader, I listened and learned with enthusiasm. However, there always seemed as if something was missing, and I believe that to be the training on followership. 

During the American Civil War, Maj. Gen. William Sherman said, "We have good corporals and good sergeants and some good lieutenants and captains, and those are far more important than good generals." Having successful and effective followers was as true during the Civil War as it is today. 

What is it to be a follower? Throughout my 21 years in the military, I have come up with a few rules to live by in being a good follower. 

First, and nearly the most important, is to know when to keep quiet. During a war fighting mission, it is a given that we follow orders. It is when there is not a direct impact on the mission that some may feel these tasks are less important. This is when they begin to question things and or complain. No matter the importance of the job or duty, we must follow and accomplish the mission. We must maintain discipline and be loyal to our leaders. When tasked with a less important job, complete it right away, and do it without complaining. 

Second, a follower is honest and forthcoming. There will come a time when someone requests your opinion toward a specific mission or project. When given this opportunity, be honest and answer the question to the best of your ability. Instead of complaining or simply agreeing with them, offer your ideas and suggestions. It is not a decision they are seeking, only a better means of completing the job. In addition, do not be afraid to answer with "I don't know," as that too is being honest. As leaders, we should support this answer and not condone any ridiculing. 

Finally, you will not agree with every decision your leaders make. Remember, never complain or disagree in public. If you disagree, please let your leaders know what is on your mind. I have found this is healthy to a unit and can be done while remaining professional. Voice your concern in private and only if the situation permits. Always remember rule number one. 

Often we are leaders and followers at the same time. A good friend of mine taught me a valuable lesson. When I disagree or have a suggestion, I ask myself "Will my opinion help or hurt the situation?" Even today, after my many years in the military, I find it curiously challenging being an effective follower. Yet my responsibilities as a leader and follower are challenged every day. 

Moreover, I would assume many of us have made mistakes in both roles. Have I made mistakes ... oh yes. However, I continually learn and remind myself that I must strive to be a better follower, to become a better leader. 

If you would like to learn more on followership, look at and perform a search on followership.