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Leading your boss with active followership

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- In this Year of Leadership, we are all grappling with the idea of what it means to be an effective leader. An often overlooked component of it is; what does it take to be an effective follower? For that reason, February has been dedicated to the subject of followership, acknowledging that a vital part of leadership is to know how to follow effectively and how to lead your boss with active followership. The importance of good followership is lost many times, in the efforts of being a good leader. Every one of us has a boss or leader and how we deal with them on a daily basis can mean the difference between success, reward and fulfillment or stress, disillusionment and job dissatisfaction.

Let me share with you one primary rule for effective followership that has served me well. It is not a secret and is firmly based in our core values of integrity, service and excellence. The rule is this: actively lead your boss with honest, critical, constructive feedback, and regardless of his or her decision, support that decision as if it was your own!

As a member of this Air Force, you are valued for your ideas, opinions and knowledge. You are obliged to share that knowledge, those opinions and ideas with your supervisor and here is how to do it. Put simply, analyze the problems in your section, think critically of the processes, brainstorm for ideas, evaluate them and channel the best ones upward. Do not be a "yes-man", satisfied with the status quo. Ask yourself, what can I do to make this better?

Expect questions on your ideas, perhaps second and third level questions, about the implications of your suggestion. Be prepared to answer these questions and be practical when you propose implementation plans, because likely, you will be the one doing the implementation.

Next, be prepared for possible disappointment, as not all of our ideas are as stunning in the light of day as they were when we originally thought of them. Consider that your boss may have another level of insight that makes your idea less than ideal.

Finally, be ready to support your boss's decision once, whether it is to adopt your proposal or not. They are the final approval authority. Don't give up on finding and vetting new solutions and don't quit leading your boss with active followership.