Leadership doesn’t happen without followers. There must be followers for there to be leaders. Do you remember the quote from the movie Drumline, “You must learn to follow before you can lead.” It’s a great quote and it does provide a starting point to becoming a leader. It takes a variety of approaches to be an effective follower, but from my experience in the military, and as a new airman, here is what helped me become effective at following. Maybe it will help you!
“You must learn to follow before you can lead.” Drumline (2002)
Play your skills accordingly! – In every team, each member will bring their own set of skills, knowledge and experience. You must know your strengths and your weaknesses to be able to know where you can help and when you will need to learn and assist. When an opportunity arrives to perform your strengths, play them. When you have an opportunity to improve your weaknesses, take that moment to watch and learn from others. Also, use your strengths to teach others that may have your strengths as their weakness. It’s a team effort after all!
Communicate! – I talk about communication quite a bit from the leader’s perspective, but it’s equally important as a follower. You must communicate with your team members and your leader. Communication is a two way street. To be an effective follower one must listen intently to the directions or guidance the leader is instructing. And if you don’t understand the instructions, you will need to be wise enough to ask for additional details or clarification. Communicate your questions! Communication should be a continuous motion to and from. Speak in well understood terms so that perspectives are not misinterpreted. Use words precisely, but don’t forget to listen to others as well. Listening is one thing and hearing is another, something I’ve mentioned in previous blogs. Listening is auditory; hearing is processing the information into structured data. If you’re not communicating effectively, the team isn’t functioning properly.
Take initiative! – If you see something that needs to be done and no one is doing it, this is your opportunity to be a leader. Taking initiative paves to way to leadership. Showing initiative shows your leader that you’re ready to play ball, motivated and willing to get things done. Leaders love a team member that takes initiative. It often acts as a catalyst for others to join in. If your leader asks for a volunteer, raise your hand, no matter how simple or hard the task is. You will always have help when needed. If you see someone else needing help, go help them! You don’t have to be the first to take action; just don’t be the person who never takes action.
Team effort! – The old saying, “There is no I in team.” It’s not about how awesome you are. It’s not about knowing more than your teammates. It’s simply not about you. YOU are a part of a TEAM! A leader knows that it’s not about them, but knows it’s about the big picture. A follower must understand that same picture. A team works better together, not individually. When you do things, do things with the team in mind and with the overall purpose in mind. A successful team crosses the finish line together. Followers must work to support the team and their leader.