Analysis of "Lessons in Followership: Good Leaders Aren't Always Out Front"

Analysis of "Lessons in Followership: Good Leaders Aren't Always Out Front"

Soldiers walking away from camera
January 24, 2023

The following essay is the 2022 winner of the Lieutenant General (Ret.) Theodore J. Stroup JROTC Achievement Award, a scholarship program hosted by AUSA’s Education & Programs for the benefit of JROTC cadets. This year’s program will open in February 2023.

Introduction

At any level, great teamwork derives from the collective willpower of great leaders and followers. A strong team is absolutely necessary to achieve a mutual goal; this is especially true in a military setting. In “Lessons in Followership: Good Leaders Aren’t Always Out Front,”1 authors Lieutenant Colonel Amelia Duran-Stanton and Colonel Alicia Masson highlight the significance of respecting individual roles and responsibilities to achieve effective team building. They classify these individual roles into three main categories: followers, managers and leaders.
 

Defining Followers, Managers and Leaders2

Followers are team players who contribute to the team by following a leader’s guidance. Followers must be willing to serve the team by being available when they need to be. They respect missions and goals set by their leaders and are ready to execute these goals. While they must think critically about whether the responsibilities assigned by their leaders are valid, they must wholly trust their leaders and their decisions. Followers are the powerhouse of the team; they accomplish tasks under the command of leaders.

Managers, unlike leaders, have certain titles or positions that allow them to give guidance to the team. Some managers may lead the team simply because it is their responsibility to do so; they are not necessarily self-driven to lead. They use their positional power to influence the team. This positional power oftentimes results in compliance rather than a strong eagerness. Because it is coercive, it may not be as rewarding. 

Leaders, on the other hand, have a self-driven purpose. Leadership is more than just a title or a position; it is a state of mind. Leaders ensure that the team has a shared purpose. With good leadership, a team will be motivated rather than forced to follow leaders’ guidance. Leaders are always dedicated to inspiring the team. They instill vision in their followers and make sure that the team works together to turn goals into reality.
 

Dynamics Among Followers, Managers and Leaders

Where there is a leader, there is a follower. It is equally essential for leaders and managers to respect the viewpoints of their fellow team members. It is possible to maintain a winning team only when leaders demonstrate a deep appreciation of each member’s commitment to the team. Leaders and managers must instill a strong sense of purpose and motivation in each one of their followers. They must also lead by example, or “be able to follow first.” Without a fundamental understanding that each role is valuable to the success of the team, the leaders will struggle to inspire their team. 

Throughout their article, Duran-Stanton and Masson communicate a fundamental principle that being a better follower allows people to become better leaders and managers. As a young JROTC cadet and a future Soldier, I believe this principle with all my heart. When I first joined the JROTC program as a freshman, I was trained to be an effective follower. Our class focused on being good players through group activities. I also learned to pay close attention to instructions given by older cadets. I looked up to the way these cadet leaders commanded, marched and presented themselves. Admiring their bearing, personal appearance and leadership skills, I wanted to be just like them. 
 

Personal Application

Now, as the incoming Battalion Commander for my school’s JROTC unit, I feel that my leadership journey all started on that very first day I walked into the JROTC classroom. Throughout years of training as a cadet, I was able to sharpen my skills as a follower, which subsequently helped me understand that each person is important when it comes to achieving a goal successfully in unison. 

I, however, do not believe that this mere title as the Battalion Commander makes me a leader. Simply being selected for this position does not mean that I am fully qualified for it. I can truly call myself a leader when I start to earn the trust of my fellow cadets by showing that I can really listen to them and value their opinions. And, in the same way, I must be able to give trust by believing in them and inspiring them to discover their full potential. 

In addition to my years in JROTC, I have seen these dynamics of followership and leadership at work during my time in the Guam Governor’s Youth Advisory Council. The Council is a task force of student leaders from every high school and college in the U.S. territory of Guam. It tackles issues facing the island youth, such as substance abuse, mental health, sustainability and equity, and it provides recommendations to the Governor of Guam. As the youngest member of the Council, I have stepped up and served as the chairperson for the past two years. Here, I learned that leadership and followership are mutual concepts. My main responsibilities as the chairperson were to organize meetings, review and suggest initiatives, finalize recommendations to the Governor, and work with Council advisors and the Office of the Governor to actualize the Council’s initiatives. Although I was primarily a leader figure for the council members, these members also motivated me to learn. We were all leaders in our own way—they would come up with incredible ideas in their expert areas. For instance, one young woman, the chair of the Youth Mental Health Committee, had meetings with the Guam Behavioral Health & Wellness Center to conceptualize monthly youth mental health workshops. I realized that each member has the capability to contribute unique skillsets and resources to the team—although a leader plays an important role in assigning tasks in line with members’ skills.
 

Conclusion

To evolve into a competent and effective leader in the future, I must be ready to learn from my team members at all times. Looking back at my experiences in different leadership roles, I was never a perfect leader. Sometimes, I failed to delegate, trying to everything get done on my own. At other times, I failed to manage my time wisely, imposing a burden on my team. But the mindset of being a learner and a follower—not considering myself to be superior to my team members—helped me demonstrate “servant leadership.” I learned that to be a true leader, I must walk in the shoes of my followers. I strive to be a leader who walks the walk instead of just talking the talk. As a West Point hopeful, I aspire to one day be a military officer and a servant leader to serve my country and inspire those around me to do the same.

★  ★  ★  ★

Cheyunne Ahn lives in Piti, Guam, where she is a currently a senior at Southern High School and serves in the 8th Brigade, JROTC.

 

  1. Lieutenant Colonel Amelia Duran-Stanton and Colonel Alicia Masson, “Lessons in followership: Good leaders aren’t always out front,” ARMY Magazine, 21 May 2021.
  2. Shada Wehbe, “5 important reasons why teamwork matters,” The Online Learning Platform, 23 March 2021.
Lead image by Private First Class Kade M. Bowers