Dynamic followership: the prerequisite for effective leadership
Editorial Abstract: Rather than encouraging leaders to mentor followers to "follow me" as an imitation learning imperative, leaders may mentor to specific and objective abilities/traits to create dynamic subordinates. These dynamic follower competencies form a foundation from which follower initiative can grow to leader initiative more naturally. The identified follower competencies help leaders focus their mentoring efforts. This approach encourages followers to develop fully, based on their personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and situational factors.
ARE YOU A leader? A follower? The reality is that we fulfill both roles simultaneously from the day we enter military service, throughout our career, and well into our "golden years." We are followers--following is a natural part of life and an essential role we play in fulfilling our war-fighting roles and missions. Since most institutions conform to bureaucratic or hierarchical organizational models, the majority of any military institution's members are, by definition, followers more often than leaders. Few professional-development programs--including those of the US military--spend time developing effective follower cultures and skills. Instead, commissioning sources, college business programs, executive seminars, and professional military education curricula focus on developing leaders. Some people would argue that the various military technical schools fill the gap in follower development for career-minded Airmen, both commissioned and noncommissioned. This approach only diminishes the value that followers contribute to war fighting. If technical training and continuing education/leadership development at the right time in a person's career is an accepted "booster shot" for developing effective followers, why not implement a similar strategy to shape effective leaders? The answer is that most of us intuitively know that such measures fall far short of the requirement to attract and retain people of the caliber the Air Force needs in the future. In other words, our service expends most of its resources educating a fraction of its members, communicating their value to the institution, and establishing career paths founded on assessing selected leadership characteristics--while seemingly ignoring the vast majority who "merely" follow. This strategy is inadequate for honing warrior skills within the rapidly transforming strategic environment that will prevail for the foreseeable future.
The present formula promotes the illusion of effectiveness, but it does not optimize institutional performance. How do we know this? A cursory review of retention rates among Air Force members indicates that among "followers," instilling institutional commitment continues to be a persistent problem. For example, according to Air Force Personnel Center statistics, the service seeks to retain 55 percent of first-term Airmen, 75 percent of second-term Airmen, and 95 percent of the career enlisted force. With the exception of fiscal year 2002 when stop-loss measures prevented separation actions, the Air Force has not met these modest goals for all three noncommissioned categories since fiscal year 1996. (1) For crucial officer specialties, the story is not much better.
The Air Force's rated career fields (pilots, navigators, and air-battle managers) consistently retain approximately 50-70 percent of their officers. Active duty service commitments and career incentive pays, however, tend to skew retention data in the aggregate....