Followership

Lt. Col. Jason Fick is the 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron commander. Fick oversees technologically advanced systems and the Airmen who enable the 1st SOCS to be the communications frontline for the 1st Special Operations Wing as they lead the way, dedicated to their motto, "Comm for Special Ops." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jeff Parkinson)

Lt. Col. Jason Fick is the 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron commander. Fick oversees technologically advanced systems and the Airmen who enable the 1st SOCS to be the communications frontline for the 1st Special Operations Wing as they lead the way, dedicated to their motto, "Comm for Special Ops." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jeff Parkinson)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- As I think about leadership and what it means to be a good servant leader, I am convinced that to be a good leader you must also be a good follower. Being a good follower, or followership, is a very effective way to set high standards and lead your formation by example.

One of my first Air Force supervisors would continually remind me that, “to be a good leader you must also be a good follower.” For a long time I understood that being a good follower actually meant if your boss gives you an order you need to complete it as quickly and efficiently as possible. I have since come to realize there is much more to followership than rigidly completing the boss’ tasks.

I am very lucky that I get to spend my duty days working with the professionals in the 1st Special Operations Wing. These Airmen are highly trained and most have spent careers studying and practicing leadership. Additionally, I get to spend some of my off-duty time serving as an assistant scout master with the Boy Scouts of America Troop 52; these young men are just starting their journey to learn about leadership. It’s from serving beside these youngsters that I came to realize effective followership has many aspects that apply to both scouts and Air Commandos. Let me explain.

A Boy Scout Troop is organized much like an Air Force unit. It is broken down into patrols and has a patrol leader. The unit also has a secretary, quartermaster and even a librarian. As it turns out, almost every Scout in a troop has an assigned leadership role. Each Scout is expected to not only fulfill their positional leadership responsibilities, but also pitch in to help complete all of the tasks required for the unit to be successful. Does this sound like a special operations unit? For example, even though the senior patrol leader, the most senior Scout, is responsible for the entire troop’s success, he is also required to help cook meals, wash dishes and even take out the trash.

The SPL could easily delegate these tasks to lower ranking Scouts, but he doesn’t because as a good leader, he knows all of these tasks need to be done and completing them with subordinates provides a great opportunity to train his younger Scouts. It also allows him to set higher standards, so he uses the opportunity to lead by example.
This leadership style of followership is codified in the Scout Law, which reminds Scouts they are not only expected to be obedient, but also helpful, friendly, kind and courteous. Scouts take the approach that many hands lighten the load and they dig in to complete their chores in a quick and cheerful manner. Senior Scouts also realize that the sooner camp chores are complete, the sooner the troop can have fun and go on adventures.

Being a good follower applies similarly to the servant leadership style that we practice in the Air Force. Much like how a SPL takes on humble tasks to both train his younger scouts and lead by example, Air Force leaders can apply the same logic to their daily activities.

Here, our building managers are responsible for trimming trees, weeding flowerbeds and power washing the sidewalks around their building – what a great opportunity for a leader to spend some time with his subordinates. This work has to be done and many hands lighten the load. It’s also an opportunity for the leader to complete some Airman’s Time with his subordinates, set higher standards and lead by example. This is just one example, but there are many opportunities in an Air Force leader’s life to be a good follower, regardless of position, rank or task.

Take a few minutes and reflect on your servant leadership style. Encourage your team to be good followers and lead by example.