What About Followership?

The topic of Leadership is everywhere. I’ve taken countless classes, professional development courses, and taught lessons on it myself. Do a Google search and you will turn up a staggering 5 Billion results! There are books, websites, and companies; my blog almost became another one to add to the mix. I only decided against it because I didn’t want to narrow my topics to just that when my true intent for my blog was an avenue for me to express myself in an open and honest way.

The discussions that are less had are on followership, Google gives you only 1 million results to the 5 billion for leadership. This is interesting to me because I wonder if we are skipping a very important part of any organization or society. In the Air Force specifically, a new Airman gets to the unit fresh out of technical training and they’re generally told to lead. This is so they stand out above their peers. We forget that they’re new and they still need to learn to follow and just be an Airman. This might not be the case for all career fields, although it is for many.

Lately, I wonder if we’ve created a culture where leading is more important than following, then we sometimes wonder why people aren’t interested in doing anything that requires followership. Sometimes you see this within their job as well; if they’re not leading, they’re not standing out which can be the difference between promotion or stagnation according to our current promotion system. However, there is something to be gained from acts of service without the mindset of only leading others through those acts.

Going into anything from the service mindset helps people to feel fulfilled for doing good and it also builds on followership. We need well-rounded individuals who understand the importance of both leadership and followership. Now, you can say that joining the military is performing this act and in some ways, you would be right. Sometimes people join the military just to serve their country. The truth for many of us is that we join for much more selfish reasons.

We join to get out of an unhealthy home environment, to pay for college, to get away from where we’ve always been, to have money, to skip college; the list is endless. For those that stay past their first commitment, sometimes their reasoning is from that service mindset, sometimes not. They’re still told to lead to promote. Some still don’t understand followership.

Followership is required for an organization to be successful. People need to work toward a common goal and know what that goal is. We need good leaders as well as followers to make this happen although the focus is only on leadership. Why aren’t there more books, classes, professional development hours on followership? Maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift.

While I’ve only discussed this in the realm of the Air Force, you can see it in our society as well. Many people don’t want to work for an organization anymore, or their mindset is on themselves rather than the goals of their team or company. People are moving into being entrepreneurs and taking part-time jobs and this avoids the need or drive for commitment to any one company. Fewer people are getting married or having kids leaving less need for commitment to anyone outside of themselves. They’re leaving their options open for the next best thing.

I can give you many reasons why this is happening, and you can probably list many yourself. I am more curious about how this affects future generations. Will they lose out on the benefits of a community? Will they get to experience being on a team working toward a common goal? There will continue to be companies and communities in need of these activities. I just wonder how they will recruit or get people involved with the move toward individualism.

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