Effective followership: The key to being a great leader

  • Published
  • By Col. Sharon M. Hunter
  • 97th Medical Group commander
Like all successful organizations, the Air Force invests a great deal of time and resources in developing leaders. Leadership is taught at all levels of professional military education and there are countless books and advanced courses on this important topic.

Before you can really become a great leader, you must be a highly-effective follower as both roles share many of the same qualities and characteristics. This information isn't aimed at only junior Airmen - we all have bosses, no matter where we work within an organization. It's imperative that we continue cultivating effective followership skills throughout our careers so we will be better prepared when called upon. In my mind, possessing the qualities listed below will make you an exceptional follower.

1. Know the mission of your organization and how you support it. Everyone wants to feel like they make a difference, so it's vital for you to know how you and your teammates directly contribute to the daily mission and success of the Air Force.

2. Pay attention to detail. Take pride in what you do and own your product. Make sure whatever you produce, whether it's an aircraft engine repair, a medical encounter, or a simple letter, that it's the best possible product you can create. Your product is your reputation and the quality of your product shows how much you care. If you get the small things right, you'll get the big things right.

3. Take care of your people. Put as much effort into their performance reports, decorations, and award packages as you would want your boss to put into yours. Don't send shoddy work to your boss with inaccurate information or misspelled words expecting him or her to correct your error, it's not that person's job.

4. Take responsibility and be accountable. Don't shy away from challenges. Don't be afraid to make tough calls when necessary. If an individual doesn't warrant a decoration, don't send it to your boss expecting him or her to make the tough call.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Push information to your boss - don't make him or her pull it from you. He or she will tell you if you're giving too much. Keep your boss informed. If you don't, he or she can't help solve problems or make things better. Tell your boss the good, the bad, and the ugly, and remember, bad news isn't like wine - it doesn't get better with age. Make sure your boss hears what's going on from you before hearing it from someone else. Also, make sure you push information to your teammates to keep them informed.

6. Be decisive. Nothing frustrates an organization more than indecisiveness. Don't bring problems to your boss without offering possible solutions, and don't force your boss to solve problems for you.

7. Be loyal. Loyalty means supporting your boss's decisions. It can be tempting to announce an unpopular decision to your subordinates by saying "the boss said we had to." If you disagree with your boss' decision, share your concerns privately and respectfully. Most leaders don't want "yes men" around them; they want honest input and honest feedback to make the best decision for the unit. However, when the decision is made, remain loyal and supportive, even if you disagree.

8. Do your homework and don't guess. Know the facts when presenting information to your boss, and anticipate questions. It doesn't take long to learn what your boss expects. Decisions will be made based on the information you provide so don't make incomplete staff work the cause for your boss to have to change a previous decision.

9. Don't ignore problems. Don't walk past something that needs to be corrected, expecting someone else will do it or that it's not your responsibility. It could be as simple as straightening a crooked picture, picking up trash on the floor or fixing an incorrect sign. It could also be as monumental as preventing the administration of an outdated medication or pulling equipment off line that could lead to catastrophic failure.

10. Meet your suspense. Imagine the impact on a person when a performance report or decoration isn't in an individual's record in time for a promotion board. Likewise, imagine other missed opportunities when training or operational deadlines aren't met. Deadlines are set for a reason, so meet them.

It's important to remember that we are all followers, even as a Chief, GS-15, or a Colonel, and that we need to continue honing our followership skills throughout our careers. Take a moment and compare these qualities with yours. You might find that you'll need to improve in certain areas. By starting now, you'll be better prepared to take on greater responsibilities when the time comes.