Wednesday, April 20, 2011

“Leadership” and “Followership”

“You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too.” – Sam Rayburn

One of the most basic human instincts, a quality that every person is born with, is the act of imitating another person. Children often imitate behaviors as seen from their parents, friends, or the media. These influences determine the character that this particular child develops. As time progresses, imitation gives way to reasoning, opening the door for this person to start influencing others. The contrast between followership and leadership is analogous to this; once an individual is established as a follower, he or she can become a leader.

Followership is defined as “the act or instance of accepting the guidance and command of someone who leads or guides” ( In the Civil Air Patrol, a younger, inexperienced cadet is a prime example of a follower. Having little knowledge about the program, the cadet is unable to make important decisions affecting a group of people nor teach others by example. The cadet is only able to accept the lessons and duties imposed upon him by his ordinates. The follower will imitate the leader’s behavior and actions, gaining self-discipline, motivation, ideas, and responsibility from those experiences, if the leader exhibited those qualities as well. These acquired qualities are quintessential for the cadet’s development as a follower, and eventually, a leader.

Leadership is essentially the converse of followership. Leadership is defined as “the art of influencing and directing people in such a way that will win their obedience, confidence, respect, and loyal cooperation in achieving a common objective” (Leadership 2000 & Beyond, Vol. 1). A cadet leader may have responsibilities such as a command position, a teaching position, or a representative position (cadet advisory council, for example). These leaders have the necessary experience, skill, and motivation to bear responsibilities that a follower might not be capable of handling. The qualities that have been developed through a cadet’s career must be maintained, as well. As mentioned previously, a follower imitates the behavior imposed upon him or her by his or her leader. The leader must act properly as a role model for the follower, evincing self-discipline, motivation, and responsibility to teach the correct procedure or behavior to the follower.

The leader must also act as a follower towards his or her superiors. There is always a level ordinate to a leader. Even the President is a follower; he is a follower of the will of the people of the United States. This is, in fact, the basis for the chain of command. Leaders receive feedback from their subordinates, or followers, and relay this information to the next-higher authority. Theoretically, this chain may continue indefinitely. Cooperation between the leader and his or her subordinate is crucial, or the chain will not function effectively. Therefore, a leader is concurrently a follower.

The differences between leadership and followership, then, are a process of learning and the time needed to gain experience in assigned responsibilities. Once a follower has demonstrated mastery of self-discipline, motivation, responsibility, and other important traits, he or she has the competence to become a successful leader and pass this wisdom on to future generations.

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