Leadership advice is plentiful for those who seek it. At your local bookstore, you’ll find shelves full of advice and counsel from athletes, coaches and leadership gurus. You could search 100 bookstores, however, and never find a single book on a topic critical to every leader’s success: followership.
Many leaders forget that they are also followers. But if they mess up their relationship with the person or persons they report to, they will limit their effectiveness and risk losing the trust of both their bosses and their followers.
These relationships are often clear on the sports field and in the workplace, but perhaps nowhere are they more important than in the military.
The fourth edition of the Air Force's Concepts for Air Force Leadership contains a great article by Col. Phillip S. Meilinger, entitled “The Ten Rules of Good Followership.” Here are a few of our favorite rules:
Don’t blame your boss for an unpopular decision or policy; your job is to support, not undermine.
It’s much easier to complain about decisions than to make them. Show your followers how to take the high road by supporting your coaches or bosses, even when you don’t agree with them.
Fight with your boss if necessary, but do it in private; avoid embarrassing situations, and never reveal to others what was discussed.
It’s natural to have disagreements with your boss, sometimes even major ones on important matters. If you have an issue, it’s important to talk only to those involved and to keep your conversations private. Earn—and keep—the confidence of those you’ve gotten involved by refusing to gossip about them.
Keep your boss informed about what’s going on in the unit; your people will be reluctant to tell him or her their problems and successes. You should do it for them, and assume someone else will tell the boss about yours.
In any group, people would rather talk among themselves than directly with their superior. A great follower will take problems directly to the superior along with a proposed solution. Great followers are also their team’s biggest cheerleaders, making sure coaches and bosses know about the good work of team members.
If you see a problem, fix it. Don’t worry about who will get blamed or who will get the credit.
One of the strongest traits of a good follower is taking the initiative. Whether you’ve discovered a major problem or just tweaked a simple process, fix it without drawing attention to yourself.
Become a better teammate, employee or leader by focusing on your relationships with your superiors. By concentrating on those relationships, you’ll earn the respect of both the people you lead and those you follow.