Followership: Hone your game

by Col. Michael Haefner Fotakis
387th Air Expeditionary Group commander

Much of our military careers are focused on leadership and for good reason. But, let’s take a moment to discuss good followership because without followers there would be no leaders.

Have you ever sat back and watched the NCO, senior NCO or officer who was just run of the mill; the people who sit back and let life come to them? How about the person who never offers up information until called upon, and even then it’s offered late and in poor format or lacks key data points? You may be that person.

Even if you’re a standout, perhaps you still have some learning to do. Here are a few follower tidbits to guide your professional careers.

Watch and listen to your supervisor − but, mostly watch. Keep an eye out for how your supervisor and the supervisor’s supervisor conduct themselves. Then, commit those actions to your memory, and yes, change your habits accordingly.

That is, if you have successful supervisors. For example, if your supervisors are sticklers for keeping things neat and orderly, then don’t test them. You will lose, trust me. Simply pick up your area and your rubbish. If your supervisor requires better explanations on staff summary sheets, then include that justification. It will save you time, and yes, your supervisor will remember. Also, try to emulate your supervisor’s writing style. Get examples and learn from those examples.

Always beat the boss to the punch. Everyone knows when annual reports are due or when someone is getting ready for a permanent change of station move and a decoration may be in order. For officer and enlisted performance reports, get good data to your supervisor at least 30 days prior. Don’t wait for the record on individual personnel to show up. It’s OK to try and write the report yourself.

A supervisor cannot direct you to write your report. But, if you do, you can provide the supervisor with input on what you’ve accomplished. It can also be an effective feedback tool for your writing style. Then, provide the laundry list of items you’ve accomplished because a supervisor will look at things differently and reorder or add/subtract items. And make sure the data is good. Too many times when something comes in late, the quality is very poor.

Never miss an opportunity to shine. By this I mean get items like professional military and civilian education complete without being told. There’s never any time better than the present to get things done. The day you are selected for an appropriate rank or meet the eligibility criteria for professional military education, sign up. Your military career will never get easier nor are you likely to have more free time than you do today.

When a supervisor asks you about your status, you can clearly indicate that you have initiative and drive. And if you’re interested in a particular job or opportunity, regardless of your statistical chance to be selected, go ahead and get your name in front of the boss. Good, positive visibility is like gold.

Finally, tactfully make the boss provide you quality feedback. While the supervisor owes feedback, too many times subordinates only receive lip service instead of dedicated feedback sessions. You should know exactly where you stand in a unit and also understand what it takes to jump to a higher performance plateau.
Try these out, refine your ability to adapt to different leadership styles and success will be yours.