Follow the Leader

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jerome Dudley
  • 4th Comptroller Squadron
Long gone are the days of the leadership mantra, "Shut up and color," a quote I heard often early in my career. That directive style of leadership seems prehistoric in the kaleidoscopic times of today.

As operational concepts, organizational structures and technologies continue to change and improve, Air Force leaders must transform their leadership skills to accomplish the mission.

The most important and most challenging leadership skill is to develop good effective followers. In fact, good followership enables good leadership. When followers actively contribute, are aware of their function and take personal pride in the art of followership, higher levels of mission accomplishment are achieved.

Valuing followers and their development is the first step toward cultivating effective transformational leaders. The leader-follower relationship produces the dynamic necessary for those who follow to effectively transition to formal leadership positions over time.

It is fair to say that no one leads all the time. At times, leaders also function as followers. Everyone spends a portion of their day following and another portion leading. We fulfill both roles from the day we enter military service and throughout our careers. However, I would like to focus on how we can develop followers.

How do we develop effective followers? Leaders need to encourage critical thinking and participation from their Airmen. Education and empowerment are essential keys to this development process.

Educating Airmen to help them become productive followers is an important leadership responsibility. It is extremely important for the follower to understand the significance of their position, and it is the responsibility of the leader to instill this value in the follower. Empower Airmen by providing them with a broader scope of responsibility to help identify and resolve work center problems.

Today's leadership needs to be innovative and interactive in order to provide our Airmen with the knowledge required to help our Air Force achieve its goals. In order to achieve our goals, we must remember people are our most valuable resource. It is the quality of the relationship between leaders and followers, from the colonel all the way down to the airman basic, which makes or breaks an organization.

Airmen in today's Air Force are smarter and more mature than their predecessors. Those lower down in the organization have more direct knowledge, skills and abilities to be able to influence the leaders' thinking on which way the organization should go.

Recently, I was involved in an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century event tasked by Air Combat Command to reengineer Southwest Asia Area of Responsibility Finance Operations. I was the lowest ranking participant, but my rank was not a factor. I was treated as a valued member of the team and my comments, suggestions and concerns were considered throughout the process. At the conclusion, I had an overwhelming sense of accomplishment with the process improvement we initiated to improve the financial management community.

Yes, people are our most valuable resource! Therefore, leaders need to harness this resource by developing their subordinates' abilities and their innate desire and willingness to improve organizational effectiveness. Value your Airman and the contributions they bring as we build the Air Force of tomorrow - an information age Total Air Force organized, trained and equipped for 21st Century threats and missions.