Ten rules of followership

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- We read books and articles regarding the characteristics and traits of a good leader. But we seldom read about what it takes to serve as a good follower - a highly relevant subject to all men and women of our Air Force. It is a responsibility no less important than that of a leader and it enables good leadership. Further, it is a given that we are followers more often than leaders. 

For my past 16 years in the Air Force, I have taken orders and implemented policy from superiors. This commentary summarizes an article entitled "The Ten Rules of Good Followership" written by Col. Phillip Meilinger, who at the time was dean of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala.

1. Don't blame your boss for an unpopular decision; your job is to support, not undermine. Although extremely easy to blame a superior, it only exhibits disloyalty and undermines unit cohesion. The question is irrelevant whether we agree; the boss has decided and we will carry it out.

2. Fight with your boss if necessary; but do it in private. As followers we have an obligation to express our reservations about an issue. Speak frankly and honestly with your boss; fight for your people and your organization; but do so in private.

3. Use initiative. No one likes micromanagers, created when subordinates stand by and wait for specific instructions. Overcome this by simply showing initiative, accomplishing the task, and accurately briefing the results.

4. Accept responsibility when offered. The military cannot succeed and evolve unless it is composed of risk takers willing to accept responsibility. It is difficult to assume responsibility because people fear failure. Even Gen Curtis LeMay commented that he had never been given a job that he felt qualified to handle. Be a risk taker, accept responsibility.

5. Tell the truth; don't quibble; your boss gives advice up the chain of command. Human nature is to cover up mistakes but this can lead to misfortunes. Tell the truth, your nation and the military's reputation depends on it.

6. Do your homework; give your boss all the necessary information; anticipate possible questions. Become an expert on your subject. Think through the implications of the problem. Anticipate questions and prepare answers. Then propose your course of action.

7. When making a recommendation, remember who will probably have to implement it. Know your strengths, limitations and weaknesses. Do not propose impracticable solutions. Know who you are; put yourself in positions that maximize your strengths while masking your limitations. This will make you a more successful subordinate.

8. Keep your boss informed of what's going on in the unit. As leaders advance in rank others are less inclined to speak with them. When information does flow it is heavily filtered. The boss needs subordinates who routinely mention what has transpired in the unit. The boss needs to know the good and bad.

9. If you see a problem, fix it. Don't worry about who gets the credit. Too often we notice a problem and think "it's not my problem." It is our problem. The essence of military life is teamwork. If you see a problem, take care of it. We are all in this together.

10. Put in more than an honest day's work, but don't forget the needs of your family. Work hard, but don't become a "workaholic." Your family needs you. If they are miserable it will probably adversely affect your job performance.

We are all subordinates to someone. Learning how to serve our boss is an important responsibility. Mastering good follower traits will make us better leaders. After all, we must learn to follow before we can lead.