Leadership comes from good following, not taking orders

Chris Moos - Instructor of International Business

Chris Moos – Instructor of International Business

Chris Moos

Last Friday, Sept. 30, Missouri Southern’s Business and Economic Lecture Series hosted Brigadier General Donald Campbell. His imperatives on “Leadership in a Dynamic Environment” were obviously derived from the General’s own experiences and study of leadership.

In thinking on that aspect, it came to my mind he was discussing the art of following just as much as he was of leading.

The General wasn’t born a general and placed in a leadership position; he earned it through years of work, study and experience as a follower. Everyone is both a leader and a follower. As a brigadier general he is a leader to his subordinates, yet he is also a follower to the generals above him. In the same way, each of us moves between leader and follower roles in our work, school and home lives.

A central theme to the General’s presentation was that integrity is an inseparable part of good leadership. In the same way, it is also an integral part of good followership — the integrity to give truthful answers, provide accurate advice, to faithfully support your leader’s goals and objectives and put forth your true and best efforts. Good followership does not require abandoning ethical or legal behavior. Effective leaders reward dissent as well as encourage it. Does it not follow then, that good followership should be to tell the truth, to provide the best advice and knowledge that we, the followers, possess. This requires principled, thoughtful and respectful discourse and may pose a risk to the follower who works for a poor leader. Abu Ghraib is an example. Whether the soldiers who committed the prisoner abuses were following orders or not is immaterial. They, the individual soldiers, owed good followership to their superior officers, to their families and to their fellow citizens. By not speaking out or refusing what they knew to be unethical, immoral and illegal behavior, they failed as followers and must now accept responsibility for their actions.

Another of the leadership imperatives shared with us by Campbell was that of developing your people. A good leader acts as a mentor, teacher and motivator providing guidance, direction, inspiration and a vision of the future. As a follower we have a responsibility to ethically pursue those goals and to put for the effort to know ourselves, seek improvement and be proficient at our tasks. There has been significant criticism of the Federal governments.’ And specifically President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina damage in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. FEMA Director Michael Brown was called back to Washington and lost his job over the Katrina response. In testimony to Congress, he failed to accept any responsibility for the response (or lack thereof) placing the blame on the local and state governments. While it is too early to determine where fault may actually lay, it may be that the real culprit was a lack of leadership and of followership. If you examine Brown’s statements, he cites lack of asking for assistance directly at the feet of the local and state officials. This does not absolve him of failing to fulfill his responsibilities but it does speak to the issue of followership. Did the local and state officials exercise good following skills by keeping the federal level advised of the situation and seeking help and guidance, and was Brown a good follower by keeping his supervisor and ultimately the President informed?

I would propose that there are some imperatives, if the General will allow me to use his approach, to followership. Be a team player and support your leader. This includes not only working toward his/her vision and goals, but also providing sound advice and information even if it conflicts with the leader’s vision. Seek to understand your own skills and abilities and to develop them, especially those dealing with following and leading. Develop a sense of responsibility, initiative and sound ethics; take responsibility for your actions and seek out further responsibility setting an example for others. Resist the first impulse to criticize your leaders until you have first examined your own role in the terms of followership.