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The leadership/followership dynamic

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- What do great leaders really know about followership? They're leaders, right? They were born with all those good leader traits and characteristics, and from the day they drew their first breath, they've been leaders in every situation they've encountered. They've dedicated their entire lives to honing those leadership skills, and they haven't a clue what it takes to be a follower, right? As it was so pointedly stated in the 2008 movie Tropic Thunder, "...pump the brakes kid." Nothing could be further from the truth.

While there is some validity to the phrase "natural born leader", many of the beliefs, philosophies and strategies great leaders have adopted were learned as followers. In fact, with very few exceptions, every leader in one capacity or another is a follower as well. What followership really means is that we have responsibilities or are accountable to someone else who has been given the overall authority to complete a task. With that in mind, I think it's safe to say we all have countless opportunities to be great leaders as well as great followers, and both are of equal importance to the overall success of our team.

A CEO of a successful corporation, a Super Bowl winning quarterback, a Fire Chief who saved thousands of lives and property from blazing wildfires, a wing commander receiving top ratings from a major inspection. All of these are examples of great accomplishments, but without coordination and cooperation of the entire team (the followers), true success in these scenarios would only be a short-lived dream. Throughout our military careers, we are constantly encouraged and reminded to "step up, be a leader"; amen, makes sense, agreed...however the importance of good followership must be emphasized.

The leadership/followership dynamic really does affect every aspect of our lives. When we engage with others to accomplish even the simplest of tasks, it occurs. In a society of progressive-minded leaders, it is worth shifting our focus a bit to the importance of great followership and the role it plays in the successes we share. As this article comes to a close, I ask that you maintain constant self-vigilance, know which role is required of you in each situation, and above all, perform it to the best of your ability.