The Opportunity to follow is afforded to us all

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Stephen Love
  • 460th Space Wing Equal Opportunity
The great fallacy of this generation is to distort being a follower as something undesirable by the constant exhortation, "don't be a follower, be a leader." This broad sweeping statement deepens the stained misconception that being a follower is inherently bad. When in actuality, followership is a natural recurring process of life. 

Furthermore, we must be reminded that there is no leader without followers. Therefore, the more accurate principle that we should communicate about life should be that followership requires responsibility to fully understand who and what you are following. A wise person once said, "A leader without followers is just out for a walk." We tend to place too much emphasis on leadership and not enough on developing followers.

Followership is the condition of the mind and heart to willingly yield one's own power to another or to a cause and readily accept direction without reservation. "Following" is a verb always used in a continuous tense, suggesting a constant habit or practice of imitating attractive attitudes or behaviors. This principle is as true to life as is the need to breathe. And we all know what would happen if we tried the ridiculous feat of avoiding to breathe.

Conversely, being a good follower demands being responsible about the example or leader selected to follow. Therefore, following should not be blind loyalty. It must diligently hold those in charge, or the cause chosen to follow, accountable. Followers must constantly demand competency and compassion from its leaders. It is every bit about the leader and what the leader represents. So, followership is demanding.

There's a tremendous biblical illustration of the ever-present duplicitous nature of followership between leading and accepting and executing orders.

This passage tells of a military leader in command of 100 followers. One day this leader, who is not a religious man, compassionately sends messengers to ask Jesus to pray for a dying subordinate. Jesus, so motivated by this compassionate appeal, deviates from his intended course to visit this kindhearted leader. However, just prior to Jesus' arrival to the installation, the leader sends his followers to stop Jesus from coming to his installation, deeming himself not worthy of hosting such an esteemed visitor. This is where the leader communicates through his followers the most convicting principle of true followership. His principled statement is, "I know authority because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, 'Go,' and they go, or 'Come,' and they come." This very powerful confession prompts Jesus to clearly identify the next principle of responsible followership. The scripture reads, when Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to the crowd following him, "I tell you, I have not seen faith, or confidence, like this in all the land ...!" The leader's statement truly reflects the heart of followership. Followership is firmly rooted in confident obedience. And followership and leadership are transitional meaning to pass back and forth between positions. This compassionate military leader knew that even though he was not a religious man, demonstrating his willingness to follow Jesus' command without question would save his follower's life.

Finally, we need good followership in all aspects of society to maintain civil obedience. Therefore, we need people to follow posted speed limits for the sake of safety. We need people to follow laws for the sake of civil order. We want people to follow prescribed policies and standards for the sake of good order and discipline. Without the great abundance of followers in society of these basic norms, anarchy would surely reign. So it is quite apparent, we have an even greater task to develop good followers in order to produce better leaders.

And one such opportunity to do so is volunteering to serve on special observance programs. Special observance programs like Asian Pacific American Heritage Month committees, Women's History Month committees and Days of Remembrance -- Victims of the Holocaust Observance can be tremendous training grounds to grow future leaders through followership.

Another wise person once said, "The most challenging leadership endeavor is to guide a group of volunteers to achieve a set-forth goal because they only follow for the sake of convenience, for self-interest, and not necessarily commitment to the mission. If their convenience is jeopardized in the slightest, they can easily walk away."

Therefore, followership in the capacity of volunteering requires even greater self-discipline, confident obedience, and connectivity to the vision and mission.

Special observance programs afford our civilian members, family members and military members alike very visible followership and leadership opportunities. Most people ignore these tremendous followership opportunities afforded to those members humble enough and diligent enough to yield to the leadership of someone usually outside their direct chain of command. To fully commit to an educational endeavor which increases cross-cultural and cross-gender awareness, while promoting harmony among all military members, their families and the civilian workforce void of a legal or moral obligation, is the true example of followership.

Please contact the 460th Space Wing Equal Opportunity office at (720) 847-6250 if you or someone you know is interested in exercising their followership muscles on a special observance committee.

Remember, "Unleashing potential is the true purpose of equal opportunity and treatment."