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Chief's Corner - week of June 19

Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. -- It takes a good follower to be a good leader

Through leadership courses and seminars, the military expends great resources to develop and groom its future leaders. While developing leadership skills is essential, the ability to work well as a team member - and not exclusively as its leader - is invaluable. An effective organization functions as a team with a leader who coordinates multiple roles and responsibilities, all of which are critical to mission completion. With only one leader, it is essential that the team's members develop strong followership skills in addition to leadership skills. As a follower, you can maximize your team's effectiveness if you understand your position and execute your duties accordingly. All leaders have been followers at some point in their careers; in fact, followership skills often go hand-in-hand with great leaders. Most leaders also serve simultaneously as followers; even Col. Bill Liquori, 50th Space Wing commander, is a follower in the broader space mission, leading the wing while simultaneously demonstrating followership skills to Air Force Space Command.

In my career, I have seen the importance of followership firsthand. In the late 1990s, I was a young, newly promoted technical sergeant working on a team that traveled worldwide to repair electro-mechanical solar radio telescopes. As the youngest member of the team, I was at the very bottom of the pecking order. I was a follower who understood my role and executed my duties well. Then, in the summer of 1999, our team lost several of its key leaders due to retirements and Permanent Changes of Station. Without much notice, I went from a team member to the team site lead, which made me the most ranking senior individual. I went from cleaning toilets, to supervising 10 individuals. I was responsible for ensuring the mission's budget remained on track, monitoring logistics and overseeing the team's overall solar radio repair mission. As a leader, I felt the mission's weight on my shoulders. However, I was able to use my followership skills as a resource. As a follower, I had become an expert at my job; I knew the lay of the land and understood what had to be done to complete the mission. I relied on my time as a follower to gauge my expectations as a site lead. Most importantly, I understood and respected the role followership plays in an organization.

My followership skills helped develop my approach as a leader. I believe that Air Force members, military and civilian, should strive to become good followers. They should understand the difference between a follower and a leader, and become experts in their specific roles. As guidance, I will borrow from the Air Force Professional Development Guide, which states that effective followers must:

· Understand how their work contributes to the greater mission, which gives them a sense of empowerment and satisfaction knowing that they play an essential role on their team.
· Have strong communication skills to ensure that their ideas are successfully conveyed to other team members.
· Be flexible, motivated problem solvers who successfully contribute to an organization while simultaneously striving to achieve personal goals.
· Be courageous, reliable self-starter who are unafraid of making firm decisions based on group consensus.

However, strong followership skills cannot be developed without a leader's involvement. Followership skills evolve into strong, dynamic leadership skills, and the Air Force must emphasize the importance of followership to ensure a future generation of qualified leaders. Leaders must respect followers and listen to their ideas and needs. Leaders should also trust their followers enough to delegate responsibilities, particularly those within a follower's field of expertise. Trust must be mutual, and leaders must encourage their subordinates to develop their own initiatives and use their own judgment. Most of all, leaders must rely on their followership experience to promote and reinforce the Air Force's core values - Integrity, Service and Excellence.
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