Updated: Mar 7, 2021
If you've been joining each month as we explore new Waypoints, thank you! You are already exercising good followership. (I bet you didn't even realize it, did you?) However, if you're a new guest popping into Waypoint 7 directly, I encourage you to head to Waypoint 1 and begin from there to get caught up with all the principles and insights you'll need to finish strong. Lastly, if you haven't subscribed to my website, be sure to do so!
I remember when I was going through Air Force Basic Military Training and each training Flight developed their own mantra. One in particular always stood out, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” Back then I remember saying that to myself and feeling empowered…even though I hadn’t really experienced much at that point. I was literally doing exactly what I was told to do, when I was told to do it, how I was told to do it…nothing more, nothing less. Well, if you did less you surely heard about it, or met the ground doing pushups or some other physical exercise. And, the only bonus points you got for doing more…was more scrutiny because, congratulations, you highlighted yourself.
So, now, reflecting on my time as a newly minted Airman in the USAF, I can honestly say that I was completely CLUELESS about what it meant to lead, or to follow. I’m not too prideful to admit my naivety, but I don’t doubt that many others may not want to admit they, too, were more clueless than a box of rocks. It’s the way of the force as a brand-new recruit. Just is. LOL
But I want to key in on the importance of learning followership…because it’s CRITICAL to learn, understand, and implement BEFORE you get into leadership in any environment. Keep reading and you’ll find out why.
Waypoint 7 - Followership
Followership is not about doing only what your told like a robot and it is not solely a principle for subordinates. It applies to everyone and is about remaining teachable, knowing when to lead or when to listen, and when to empower others. If you are unwilling to embrace followership, you will likely struggle with leadership.
As a young Airman I honestly believed that the designated 'leader' was responsible for all decision-making and was to tell me what I was supposed to do at any given time. In hindsight, I can say for many years I was simply doing what I was told and anxiously waiting for someone to magically dub me as 'leader' when it was my turn (whatever that meant.) I thought being in the military made me a leader...like automatically. (go ahead...laugh out loud! It's ok!)
Why did I think that way? Great question! Because back then no one (at least not that I recall in my time) really taught what leadership OR followership meant and how anyone can be a leader regardless of rank, title, or position. No one talked about what being a good follower entailed and why it was important. I had been in the Air Force for nearly four years before I even started hearing about leadership development and attended Airman Leadership School because it was my time as I had been promoted to a rank that would recognize me as a "leader" (see why I thought the way I did?) I can remember thinking to myself, "ok, it’s my turn, so, here we go!"
For anyone who is a student of leadership, you'll automatically see the error in my thinking (I see it now, too)...not only was I not ready for leadership when it was “my turn,” I wasn’t equipped with knowledge on what it meant to lead, and definitely didn't even know what 'follow' really meant; I was heading down the path of those before me with what I believed was exceptional transactional thinking and performance. It went something like this…
Supervisor: “Lindy do this!” Lindy: “Sir, yes, Sir!” Supervisor: “Lindy, do it again” Lindy: “Sir, yes, Sir!”
It was all, "read this, do that, brief this, take out trash, clean breakroom, rearrange dumpster, take this class, go here, talk to these people, fix this, learn that." This was the pattern for years. So, when it was ‘my turn,’ what do you think I did?
Lindy: “Do this!” Subordinate: “NO! I want to do this!” Lindy: (…cue freak out…) Lindy: “But, I said do this!” Subordinate: “WHY?! I want to do this!”
Lindy: (…cue freak out…)
It was an exhausting pattern...Y’all, something wasn’t working…actually,NOTHING was working! I vividly remember many of my first 'leadership' experiences as a new supervisor and, well, they SUCKED! I genuinely believed people were supposed to listen to what I said and do what I asked them to do because I was in a position of leadership. It NEVER worked out that way. EVER. (We’ll talk more about leadership in a later blog!)
I can even remember thinking to myself, “why won’t they follow me, I know what I’m doing! If they would just listen to me they’d know.” Again…those who are leadership gurus…y’all know what the issue was with my thinking. Then, I was thinking, “well, I paid my dues, I did what I was told, why won’t they do the same?” I wasn’t even anywhere near the truth about leadership and followership. I could not have been further from the truth. I was leadership blind, and I was followership blind.
What I know now, is that "good followership is a prerequisite for good leadership." That is my message for you today and it’s so simple that my friend John C. Maxwell will deliver it beautifully in his video below.
Q: How will you ever know what your followers or team needs, if you have never walked in their footsteps?
A: Start learning and practicing good followership!
I want to encourage everyone to take a look at their perspective and knowledge of followership and dive into it on your own time to reflect and identify any blind spots you may have in order to being equipping and empowering yourself for success throughout your journey in life.