Social Science

AU/ACSC/CORROTHERS/AY09

AIR COMMAND AND STAFF COLLEGE

AIR UNIVERSITY

SAY NO TO “YES MEN”:

FOLLOWERSHIP IN THE MODERN MILITARY

by

Eve M. Corrothers, Major, USAF

A Research Report Submitted to the Faculty

In Partial Fulfillment of the Graduation Requirements

Advisor: LtCol Brian W. Landry

Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama

April 2009

cassandra.hailes
Text Box
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14. ABSTRACT he Air Force can greatly benefit by increasing the role of followership in professional military education at all ranks, officer and enlisted, to help create more effective leaders. It is important to understand that leadership and followership are complementary competencies and military leaders must work to master both of them. Regardless of rank, every member of the United States Military is a subordinate to someone, whether it is to the Secretary of Defense or a newly commissioned Lieutenant. In the military community, every officer is both a leader and follower simultaneously in every position they hold. Therefore, it is vital for officers to hone their followership skills in addition to leadership skills to improve their overall effectiveness. Just as followers are expected to learn from leaders, the converse should also hold true. Leaders that learn from followers become more effective leaders. Understanding this, effective followership requires both dissent and flexibility these essential elements must be part of the development of 21st century Air Force senior leaders. This paper draws from the current body of knowledge on followership focusing on the foundational works and the followership styles they identify. It includes in-depth analysis of two traits recommended for effective leaders. This paper uses the problem/solution research methodology. The idea is not to provide a cookie-cutter follower checklist. Rather, the goal of this work is to initiate discussion of both the importance of followership and how the development and improvement of followership skills can improve the effectiveness of Air Force leaders.

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AU/ACSC/CORROTHERS/AY09

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this academic research paper are those of the author(s) and do not

reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense. In

accordance with Air Force Instruction 51-303, it is not copyrighted, but is the property of the

United States government.

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Contents

Disclaimer ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ii

Figures………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. iv

Preface…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… v

Abstract ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… vi

Why Followership?…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 1

Foundations of Followership ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 5

Followership Styles……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 6

The Five Dimensions of a Courageous Follower …………………………………………………………… 10

Followers are to Leaders as Water is to Fish …………………………………………………………………. 14

Dissent: “Yes Men” Need Not Apply………………………………………………………………………………. 16

Flexibility is Not Just for Airpower …………………………………………………………………………………. 21

Leadership Requires Followership ………………………………………………………………………………….. 25

Appendix A – Followership “Top Ten Lists”……………………………………………………………………. 27

Endnotes………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 30

Bibliography ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 34

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Figures

Figure 1: Kelley’s Followership Styles. …………………………………………………………………………….. 7

Figure 2: Chaleff’s Followership Styles …………………………………………………………………………….. 9

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Preface

This paper is an attempt to raise awareness of how truly essential effective followership

skills are, on their own and more importantly, as a complement to leadership skills. It may strike

some as perverse to take a leadership course and choose to focus primarily on followership.

However, during the course of my leadership studies, I couldn’t help but notice a gap in this

particular field of research. It is necessary to understand that in the military, even when in

leadership positions, we are all followers. As such, leaders must not forget about using the

characteristics and skills they learned as good followers. Followership may not be seen as

glamorous – kids want to grow up to be the president, not a member of the presidential staff.

This work hopes to convey how much Air Force officers can benefit as leaders from developing

and improving followership skills throughout the span of their military careers.

First and foremost, huge thanks go to my advisor LtCol “Coach” Landry for introducing

the leadership theories and ideas that really helped me make connections and take directions in

my research I never would have come up with on my own. I would also like to thank LtCol

Dowty for helping me formulate my topic and focus my ideas. Most importantly, I could not

have survived any of this without the encouragement and support of my husband and fellow

student Jason, the time we spent discussing ideas while driving to and from school made all the

difference.

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Abstract

The Air Force can greatly benefit by increasing the role of followership in professional

military education at all ranks, officer and enlisted, to help create more effective leaders. It is

important to understand that leadership and followership are complementary competencies and

military leaders must work to master both of them. Regardless of rank, every member of the

United States Military is a subordinate to someone, whether it is to the Secretary of Defense or a

newly commissioned Lieutenant. In the military community, every officer is both a leader and

follower simultaneously in every position they hold. Therefore, it is vital for officers to hone

their followership skills in addition to leadership skills to improve their overall effectiveness.

Just as followers are expected to learn from leaders, the converse should also hold true. Leaders

that learn from followers become more effective leaders. Understanding this, effective

followership requires both dissent and flexibility – these essential elements must be part of the

development of 21st century Air Force senior leaders. This paper draws from the current body of

knowledge on followership focusing on the foundational works and the followership styles they

identify. It includes in-depth analysis of two traits recommended for effective leaders. This paper

uses the problem/solution research methodology. The idea is not to provide a cookie-cutter

follower checklist. Rather, the goal of this work is to initiate discussion of both the importance of

followership and how the development and improvement of followership skills can improve the

effectiveness of Air Force leaders.

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Why Followership?

The first page of Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1-1, Leadership and Force

Development, defines leadership; the following quote is an excerpt of that definition:

Leadership does not equal command, but all commanders should be leaders. Any Air Force member can be a leader and can positively influence those around him or her to accomplish the mission.

The vast majority of Air Force leaders are not commanders. These individuals, who have stepped forward to lead others in accomplishing the mission, simultaneously serve as both leaders and followers at every level of the Air Force.1

Regardless of rank, every member of the United States Military is a subordinate to

someone whether it is to the Secretary of Defense or a newly commissioned Lieutenant. In the

military community, every officer should be considered a leader and follower simultaneously in

every position they hold but as is evident in the Air Force’s definition, the focus is on leadership.

The Air Force professional military education concentrates on developing every officer as if he

or she will one day become the Chief of Staff. However, a leader cannot lead without followers.

The Air Force and the officer corps could greatly benefit by increasing the role of followership in

professional military education for officers to help them as they work toward becoming effective

leaders. The question is, how can officers best serve, using followership to make them better

leaders?

The quote above from AFDD 1-1 about leadership mentions that Airmen are leaders and

followers at the same time. The document goes on to claim, “Desirable behavioral patterns of

these leaders and followers are identified in this doctrine and should be emulated in ways that

improve the performance of individuals and units.”2 However, as you read further you never

quite find useful guidance or even a definition of followership. When discussing personal

leadership Air Force doctrine states that followership is an important skill to have and the tactical

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level of force development is where one should focus on developing it. At the operational and

strategic level, the topic of Airmen as followers is briefly mentioned. The operational level

states, “based on a thorough understanding of themselves as leaders and followers and how they

influence others, they apply an understanding of organizational and team dynamics.”3 At the

strategic level it is not much different, “based on a thorough understanding of themselves as

leaders and followers, and how to use organizational and team dynamics, they apply an in-depth

understanding of leadership at the institutional and interagency levels.”4 Airmen are left to their

own devices to find out more information on followership.

When one delves further into Air Force publications, the term followership shows up in

only 14 documents out of over 2,500 documents posted on the official source site for Air Force

administrative publications.5 Of those 14, only two offer anything beyond a brief mention of the

word followership. Air Force Pamphlet (AFPAM) 36-2241, Professional Development Guide, is

the source for promotion exams for the enlisted force; officers do not take comparable tests for

promotion. Whereas leadership rates a whole chapter and extensive discussion, followership is

included as a subset of leadership and is boiled down to 10 qualities. The guide explains, “There

are 10 points essential to good followership; however, the list is neither inflexible nor

exhaustive:”6

• Organizational Understanding • Decision-making • Communication Skills • Commitment • Problem Solving • Integrity • Adaptability • Self-employment • Courage • Credibility

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This is a good start but followership is not a subset of leadership. Leadership and

followership are two sides of the same coin, thus followership deserves more thought. A

groundbreaking social scientist in the realm of followership, Robert E. Kelley, explains the

relationship between leadership and followership well. “In reality, followership and leadership

are two separate concepts, two separate roles. They are complementary, not competitive, paths to

organizational contribution…The greatest successes require that people in both roles turn in top-

rate performances.”7 It is encouraging to see that Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2014,

Commissioning Education Program (CEP) lists followership as an institutional sub-competency

under Embodying Air Force Culture.

Followership: Comprehends and values the essential role of followership in mission accomplishment. Seeks command, guidance, and/or leadership while providing unbiased advice. Aligns priorities and actions toward chain of command guidance for mission accomplishment. Exercises flexibility and adapts quickly to alternating role as leader/follower; follower first, leader at times.8

However, followership is not mentioned in professional military education (PME) or

most other instructions where leadership is mentioned. The Air Force Academy in its instructions

takes the time to recognize followership but even then the focus is only at the lowest level, on the

fourth class cadets (freshman).9 In the Air University Catalog for Academic Year 2008-2009,

followership is mentioned five times but only in the Squadron Officer School (SOS) curriculum,

whereas the word leadership appears 242 times.10 The bottom line is, significant searching is

required to find mention of followership in Air Force publications and literature. It would be

beneficial for officers to understand the continued importance of followership outside of the

enlisted ranks and beyond commissioning, but the resources and emphasis do not exist.

There are a number of worthwhile characteristics of effective followership. However, this

study focuses on two primary traits that directly contribute to the growth of effective leaders. The

first one is dissent, examined in the context of its importance to critical thinking. In the article

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“Dynamic Followership,” Lt Col Sharon Latour and Lt Col Vicki Rast, have come up with five

plausible follower competencies, one of them is, “thinks independently and critically (dissents

courageously…).”11 The definition of followership in the CEP instruction above says, “Seeks

command, guidance, and/or leadership while providing unbiased advice.”12 The act of providing

unbiased advice will at times be dissent; all military professionals should be taught how to

dissent properly. This does not mean just teaching the proper channels and the mechanics of

dissent. Rather, it refers to the critical thinking required to formulate a dissenting opinion, the

communication skills required to present it and the situational awareness and understanding of

when to press on or back down. Note that dissent is not on the list above of followership qualities

from the Professional Development Guide; however, almost all of those qualities, especially

integrity and courage, are required for dissent to be possible. It is important to be able to

distinguish between knowing when to salute smartly and move on versus telling the boss what he

or she wants to hear i.e., being a “yes man.” We serve our bosses best by presenting opinions that

do not always match their own. There is a time and a place to disagree with the boss and good

followers get this right. Dissent is an area where one must tread carefully it can turn into

insubordination if not done correctly.

The other trait to be discussed is flexibility. Flexibility was also highlighted in the

definition of followership in the CEP instruction. Flexibility refers to one’s ability to deal with or

adapt to change. Another one of five plausible follower competencies from the article “Dynamic

Followership,” is, “functions well in change-oriented environments (serves as a change agent,

demonstrates agility, moves fluidly between leading and following)”.13 This is especially

relevant due to changes due to the new presidential administration as well as recent changes in

Air Force leadership and organizations to deal with cyberspace and nuclear issues. It also affects

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military units on a more personal level due to the nature of the system; it is not unusual for an

officer to spend only two years in a job, which means the organization must constantly deal with

the changes wrought by personnel and personality changeovers. As a general rule, people are

resistant to change. Much like dissent, it usually requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone and

potentially taking risk. A good follower works with the leader to be an agent of change and help

the organization evolve and grow as required to deal with external environments and pressures.

Before exploring these traits of followership, one must delve into the origins of it to help

understand why followership is so important.

Foundations of Followership

“Follower is not a term of weakness, but the condition that permits leadership to exist and gives it strength.”

– Ira Chaleff14

The study of leadership and leaders dates back to the beginning of time. A Google search

on the word leadership turns up 237 million results whereas a search on the word followership

only has 144 thousand results.15 When one does the math, it comes out to over 1,600 times more

mentions of leadership than followership. The statistics in the Muir S. Fairchild Research

Information Center (Air University Library) are similar; a key word search of leadership reveals

7,061 references and followership only 30.16 “The modern leadership industry, now a quarter of

a century old, is built on the proposition that all leaders matter a great deal and followers hardly

matter at all.”17 A few people have dedicated a significant amount of time and attention to

understanding followers and the dynamics involved in the relationship between followers and

leaders. This section will begin by focusing on two of those intellectuals and their foundational

theories on followership and follower styles. Most modern writings on followership reference at

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least one of the two the models to be discussed. There is even an empirical study substantiating

the existence of followership based on one of the proposed models. Using the followership

models of Robert Kelley and Ira Chaleff as a baseline, some leadership scholars have also turned

their interests towards followership. One of the most useful aspects to come from these studies is

the importance of relationships. This is highlighted by Barbara Kellerman as a key finding in her

recently published book about followership. The significance of relationships is worth looking

into further which takes one to Margaret Wheatley and the study of leadership using chaos

theory and quantum physics.18 There are new and different ways to look at building leadership

potential but to truly understand the importance of leadership one must understand the recipients

of leadership, the followers.

Followership Styles

To discuss followership one needs to first explore the dominant theories. Social scientist

Robert E. Kelley was not necessarily the first to write about followership, but he was one of the

first to write about it as its own subject not as a subset of leadership. His breakthrough text, The

Power of Followership, published in 1991 highlighted a model for follower types that he has

continued to refine in follow up essays and articles and is very much in use today. Kelley

developed his follower styles to complement the existing models for leadership styles. In his

research and consulting with both leaders and followers, two dimensions rose to the surface as

the primary characteristics of followership, independent critical thinking and active

participation.19 Kelley uses these in a two-dimensional model to illustrate five follower types

ranging the two scales of critical thinking and activity level.

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Independent, Critical Thinking

Passive

Alienated Followers Exemplary Followers

Active

Sheep Yes-People

Dependent, Uncritical Thinking

Pragmatist Followers

C rit

ic al

T hi

nk in

g

Activity Level

Figure 1: Kelley’s Followership Styles. (Adapted from Robert E. Kelley, The Power of Followership. New York: Doubleday/Currency, 1992).

The sheep category has the least effective followers, “because of their herd instinct, they

can be trained to perform necessary simple tasks and then wander around awaiting further

direction.”20 Yes-People are also considered ineffective because while they are more enthusiastic

and involved than sheep, they need a leader to tell them exactly what to do. They can be

dangerous “either because they do exactly what they are told and no more or because they tell

leaders what they want to hear, not what they need to know.”21 The alienated followers are often

former exemplary followers, they are critical thinkers but they are passive in their role in the

organization.22 Some versions of Kelley’s model leave out the pragmatic followers in the center

of the table. The pragmatic followers are “capable workers who eschew their independence for

political expediency. Or they are system bureaucrats who carry out directives to the letter, even

though they might have valuable ideas for improving them.”23 All of these types of followers

have some less than advantageous characteristics.

The last type of follower in the model is the exemplary follower. According to Kelley,

exemplary followers “bring enthusiasm, intelligence, and self-reliance into implementing an

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organizational goal.”24 They exercise independent critical thinking, separate from and not

necessarily in line with the leadership, and balance it with being actively engaged for the benefit

of the organization, despite these two requirements seeming mutually exclusive at times.25 The

goal in developing skills for followership would be to help people move into the exemplary

follower sector. Kelley asserts that there are seven steps to becoming an exemplary follower: (1)

be proactive; (2) gather the facts; (3) seek wise counsel; (4) play by the rules; (5) persuade by

speaking the language of the organization; (6) prepare your courage to go over heads when

absolutely necessary; and (7) take collective action or plan well to stand alone.26 These seven

steps seem like common sense but they can take courage to enact. Kelley’s recommendations are

essentially advice for how to offer a dissenting position to a leader.

The seven steps Kelley recommends are similar to those in another foundational work in

the study of followership, The Courageous Follower, by Ira Chaleff. Chaleff’s study was first

published in 1995 and updated in 2003; it is extremely relevant to the officer corps in the U.S.

Military. In fact, his research was inspired by a book he read about the massacre at My Lai in

Vietnam.27 Chaleff contends that in order for leaders to use their power wisely or effectively

they need followers who take a proactive approach to their roles. He explores the ideas of how

followers can make their leaders lives easier while being a “shaper” who contributes to growth

and development of the organization.28 Chaleff also has a four-quadrant model for followership

similar to Kelley’s model. In this version, the axes have been swapped to assist with the

comparison to Kelly’s model. Chaleff’s willingness to challenge the leader can be likened to

Kelley’s critical thinking dimension of followership. Additionally, where Kelley characterizes

followers based on levels of activity ranging from passive to active, Chaleff focuses on a

follower’s degree of support for the leader.

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High Challenge

Low Support

Individualist Partner

High Support

Resource Implementer

Low Challenge

Figure 2: Chaleff’s Followership Styles. (Adapted from Ira Chaleff, The Courageous Follower, 2nd ed., San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2003)

The key difference in Kelley’s and Chaleff’s models is that Chaleff recognizes positive

attributes across all categories. There is something to be said for the mental images provoked by

Kelley’s category labels. Where Kelley has sheep, Chaleff considers them resources who may

put in an honest day’s pay but do not go beyond the minimum.29 Chaleff’s implementers are

comparable to Kelley’s yes-people and both say that this is where most leaders love to have their

followers. Chaleff points out that leaders can count heavily on implementers to do what is

needed to get the job done without much supervision but, as they are yes-people, they will not

tell the leader when he begins down the wrong path.30 The individualist gets a much better spin

from Chaleff than the alienated followers do from Kelley. According to Chaleff, “these are

potentially important people to have in the group as they balance the tendency of the rest of the

group to go along with what seems acceptable while harboring reservations.”31 Lastly are

Chaleff’s partners, these are the exemplary followers in Kelley’s model. “A follower operating

from the first quadrant gives vigorous support to a leader but is also willing to question the

leader’s behavior or policies.”32 Chaleff reminds us that even followers operating in the partner

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capacity have room for growth and should continue to develop their skills along the axes of the

model.

The Five Dimensions of a Courageous Follower

In order to develop followership, Chaleff first looks to explain the dynamics of the

leader-follower relationship. The importance of relationships is a theme that surfaces throughout

both leadership and followership literature. At the core of the relationship is “a common purpose

pursued with decent values.”33 Relationships are important but ultimately we are responsible for

ourselves and that is where any learning or change must begin. Ira Chaleff recommends

beginning with the five dimensions of a Courageous Follower, the courage to assume

responsibility, the courage to serve, the courage to challenge, the courage to participate in

transformation, and the courage to take moral action.34 These five dimensions are worth

exploring further to help lay the foundation for the study of followership.

The first dimension is the courage to assume responsibility for both oneself and the

organization. This is especially important in the military. Service members wear uniforms that

make their profession obvious to the world and their actions reflect on their branch of service and

shape public opinions of both the branch and the military as a whole. There can be risk involved

with assuming responsibility, which is why it takes courage. According to Chaleff, this

dimension is where use of his followership model begins with both self-assessment and eliciting

feedback from others. “Courageous followers discover or create opportunities to fulfill their

potential and maximize their value to the organization.”35 They do this through passion,

initiative, influencing the culture, breaking the rules, breaking the mindset, improving the

process, and testing new ideas. Passion “springs from genuine connection to the common

purpose”36 and passionate followers have a sense of stewardship. The Air Force Chief of Staff,

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Gen Norton A. Schwartz, recently spoke on stewardship and adapted Peter Block’s definition,

stating, “stewardship is a set of principles…concerned with creating a way of governing

ourselves that creates a strong sense of ownership and responsibility at the bottom of the

organization.”37 Chaleff stresses passion is essential, General Schwartz understands that and in

his speech, he appeals to the passion military members should have.

I suggest that the better stewards we are in the profession of arms, the better prepared we will be to secure the victory and the less frequently we will be called upon to prove our preparedness. This is true because the effects of stewardship also serve to deter and dissuade those who would challenge us and serve to assure those who serve alongside us. So the better stewards we are with the military instrument, the more secure our Nation will be. We must not lose sight of this at any level of our service. No outcome is too small, no deed is insignificant, and no one who serves can escape these implications, no matter the task.38

General Schwartz could be answering Chaleff’s first question to ask when trying to figure out

how to reignite passion in an organization, “Does the organization’s sense of purpose need

renewing?” When passion is missing, whether from an individual or the organization, it is a

problem worth investigating. Assuming responsibility also requires being willing to take the

initiative. It is urging people to step outside of their stovepipes and breaking the mindset. Instead

of complaining about archaic ways of doing something, look for ways to improve processes and

test new ideas. The courage to assume responsibility is the first step a follower needs to take to

work towards becoming a better and more effective follower.

The second dimension of followership according to Chaleff is the courage to serve. For

military members by taking the oath of office they are exercising their courage to serve. Chaleff

explains that this dimension involves the hard work required to support a leader. “Courageous

followers stand up for their leader and the tough decisions a leader must make if the organization

is to achieve its purpose.”39 Much of what Chaleff has to say about this dimension can be

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summed up as reducing stress and workload for the leader. The best way to be more effective in

the courage to serve is to build a better relationship with the leader.40

By developing the follower-leader relationship, it allows a follower to deal better with the

third dimension of followership, which is the courage to challenge. Courageous followers “are

willing to stand up, to stand out, to risk rejection, to initiate conflict in order to examine the

actions of the leader and group when appropriate.”41 This is dissent. The courage to challenge is

important because it helps organizations avoid groupthink. “Leaders with strong egos and

passionate vision needed to scale mountains are prone to self-deception.”42 It is a courageous

follower’s responsibility to minimize this self-deception while helping the leader understand that

you are on the same side.43 A vital aspect of the courage to challenge is the duty to obey.

Assuming it is not a matter of integrity or morally repugnant, if a follower challenges the leader

and is overruled it is important to give the decision or policy a chance to make it work.44

Another piece of the courage to challenge is challenging abuse early. Chaleff is not referring to

overt illegal actions so much as small violations of values that if left unchallenged make it

“difficult to avoid the ‘slippery slope’ of accelerating moral decline.”45 For Airmen, it is the little

things like proper wear of the uniform and observing the customs and courtesies that are an

integral part military service. “The road to integrity is paved with speaking up about and acting

on small corruptions of principles as we encounter them; left unchecked, these moral potholes

can become sinkholes that swallow the common purpose.”46 Obviously, the courage to challenge

is much easier said than done.

According to Chaleff, the courage to challenge is not always sufficient which is why the

fourth dimension, the courage to participate in transformation, is necessary. When transformation

is required to continue towards the common purpose, courageous followers “champion the need

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for change and stay with the leader and group while they mutually struggle with the difficulty of

real change.”47 This appears to line up with the trait of flexibility, but Chaleff’s focus is on the

transformation concerning personal behavior rather than organizations. “Transformation efforts

should be attempted when a practice or behavior that violates the organization’s values and

threatens its purpose is so entrenched that it is barely understood to be a legitimate problem, let

alone one of potentially catastrophic dimensions.”48 Finally, when these first four dimensions of

the courageous follower are not enough, followers are faced with a difficult crossroads, which

leads to the last dimension, the courage to take moral action.

The fifth and last dimension is the courage to take moral action; this was referred to as

the courage to leave in the first edition of Chaleff’s book in 1995. While all five dimensions

obviously require moral fiber, this dimension probably requires the most courage of the five.

“Courageous followers know when it is time to take a stand that is different than that of the

leader’s.”49 This is where whistleblowers fit in the military. This is when we fall on our swords.

“Healthy followership is a conscious act of free will. When we no longer believe that what we

are doing is the best thing or the right thing, we must review our options and their respective

consequences.”50 Chaleff’s discussion of the five dimensions of a courageous follower is

excellent advice to followers and should be required reading for USAF officers.

A follow-on study to Chaleff’s courageous follower model was done in 2003 by Gene

Dixon and Jerry Westbrook. They strove to “provide an empirical demonstration of the existence

of followership in organizations.”51 On the surface, it would seem this existence is obvious;

however, they investigated deeper into where and how Chaleff’s five dimensions were evident at

the different levels of organizations. Their conclusions included evidence that the executive level

understands and demonstrates followership attributes the best. The study was not extensive

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enough to be able to claim that executives achieve their leadership position because of their

followership skills. However, it proved that followership competency is part of their skill base.52

Furthermore, it provided scientific evidence to validate Chaleff’s five dimensions of

followership.

Followers are to Leaders as Water is to Fish

A more recent study of followership was written by Barbara Kellerman, a leadership

scholar at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In her 2008 book,

Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders, she looks at

relationships between leaders and followers. Kellerman defines followers using rank, “followers

are subordinates who have less power, authority, and influence than do their superiors and

therefore usually, but not invariably, fall into line.”53 This leads to her definition of followership,

which is “a relationship (rank), between subordinates and superiors, and a response (behavior),

of the former to the latter.”54 The relationship is important but the response is the key to the

definition of followership.

With these definitions as her baseline, Kellerman develops her own typology of

followers, acknowledging that while situations differ for followers, they nonetheless have

striking similarities and can be grouped based on their level of engagement. She contends that

you can look at the continuum ranging to feeling and doing nothing all the way to being

passionately committed and deeply involved. The five types of followers she sees on this level of

engagement continuum are isolate, bystander, participant, activist, and diehard.55

Diehards are as their name implies–prepared to die if necessary for their cause, whether an individual, or an idea, or both. Diehards are deeply devoted to their leaders; or, in contrast, they are ready to remove them from positions of power, authority, and influence by any means necessary. In either case, Diehards are defined by their dedication, including their willingness to risk life and limb. Being a Diehard is all-consuming. It is who you are. It determines what you do.56

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According to Kellerman, this is the category of follower where the military fits because

to be a member of the armed forces, regardless of whether draftee or volunteer, one must be

prepared to defend someone or something to the death.57 In general, Diehards are considered

good followers. However, according to Kellerman there are situations where any type of

follower can get into trouble. Of Kellerman’s five axioms,58 the one where a good follower can

go bad in the military situation is when followers support a leader who is bad, ineffective and/or

unethical.59 A good follower does not follow blindly. In a perfect world, followers would not

support bad leaders but due to the nature of the military, followers may have no choice but to

support their leader unless they are given illegal orders. However, Kellerman comes to realize

that a main theme in her book is that the relationship between leaders and followers shows that

“followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers.”60 Furthermore, she points

out that the relationship between fellow followers is much more important than is generally

given credit and, “leaders are often quite incidental to the action.”61

It is worthwhile to further explore Kellerman’s point that the relationships between both

superiors and subordinates and between subordinates and other subordinates drives the exercise

of both good leadership and good followership.62 This idea ties into the chaos theory of

leadership championed by Margaret Wheatley in her book Leadership and the New Science.

Wheatley defines chaos differently than most people traditionally view it. Chaos tends to bring

terms like disorder or pandemonium to mind but, in the realm of quantum physics, “chaos is

order without predictability.”63 Social scientists like Wheatley have applied this idea to

leadership. In quantum physics, relationships are unseen forces that affect systems, change

causes change and even mere observation causes change. Transitioning this idea to the military, a

common thread throughout followership and leadership studies is the concept that not only are

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relationships critical, but it is also essential that followers and leaders share a common goal. This

meshes beautifully with how the military operates. All military officers take the same oath when

they enter service, “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”64 While

people might have different motivations for joining the military, at the core of it all is a common

desire to serve one’s country. The question is how can officers best serve using followership to

make them better leaders?

Dissent: “Yes Men” Need Not Apply

The mark of a great leader is the development and growth of followers. The mark of a great follower is the growth of leaders.

– Ira Chaleff65

At Air Command and Staff College, many visiting senior leaders lecture the class and

most of them offer pearls of wisdom regarding leadership. They have made it to the top, they of

all people should know something about leadership. However, the ones who offer the best advice

for the field grade audience soon to be staff officers and squadron commanders (most for the first

time) are those who talk about followership. Regrettably, the term followership is not used,

instead it is couched under how to support your boss as a leader. Once again, followership is

presented as a subset of leadership. For example, Gen Stephen Lorenz, the commander of Air

Education and Training Command (AETC) wrote a commentary titled “Lorenz on Leadership”

and frequently presents it as a “top ten list.” One of his principles is “Work the Boss’s Boss’s

Problems.”66 This is a catchy way to say be a good follower. General Lorenz explains,

Most people make a decision through a soda straw, but if they would rise up two levels above themselves, they could open the aperture of that straw and get a strategic view of the decision. Taking a “god’s eye” view—looking through the eyes of their boss’s boss—allows them to make a much better decision. That is, leaders must become deeply committed to the organization and make their boss’s challenges their own.67

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Naturally, working problems for higher leadership will lead to dissenting opinions at

times. It is important to note that this paper does not attempt to address public dissent as with the

“Revolt of the Generals” in 2006 when retired generals spoke out against the war in Iraq. Dr Don

M. Snider, a Professor of Political Science at the United States Military Academy, delves into

this issue beautifully in his essay “Dissent and Strategic Leadership of the Military

Professions.”68 One takeaway of note is public dissent is dangerous but “the revolt may have

contributed to an internal professional environment more open to honest dialogue and critique. If

so, that is a positive development, indeed.”69 The focus on dissent here is internal to the military,

which is an important aspect of followership.

The ability to dissent is a skill every officer in the U.S. Military needs to have. The

purpose of this paper is not to teach officers the proper channels of dissent, military officers

already know to work within the chain of command unless extraordinary circumstances occur.

An effective follower should know how to offer dissent in a way that is not insubordinate and is

ultimately for the good of the organization. “Since we can never completely eliminate

misjudgments, we should create an environment where subordinates are more likely to identify

and invite attention to those misjudgments.”70

Before challenging a leader, it is important to acknowledge the extreme importance of

supporting that leader. While conducting training over the last ten-plus years on courageous

followership, Chaleff was surprised to learn that, the prerequisite for developing good

followership was to “raise the awareness of the need for followers to give leaders the support

they require and to which they are entitled.”71 One cannot be what Chaleff refers to as a partner

in his followership model (figure 2) unless the subordinate is willing to give the leader genuine

support and not just a minimum level of compliance.72 This is a key part of understanding

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dissent. If a subordinate offers a dissenting opinion and it is shot down, assuming there is no

legal or ethical issue, that subordinate must then give genuine support to the leader. “We have

the right to challenge policies in the policy-making process; we do not have the right to sabotage

them in the implementation phase.”73 Otherwise, a subordinate undermines the leader and hurts

the organization and the mission. If a subordinate becomes an opponent without declaring so,

while still acting the follower, it creates havoc in the organization.74 “We create the opposite of a

groupthink situation. We create factions and internal warfare that can threaten to immobilize or

fracture the group and undermine the common purpose.”75 This is a vital concept one must

understand before dissenting. In the U.S. Armed Forces, all members have the same common

purpose of defense of the United States and no one wants to undermine the cause either

intentionally or unintentionally.

The importance of offering genuine support to the leader is summed up well by Michael

Useem in his book, Leading Up, which is about getting results by helping one’s superiors lead.76

Useem’s first lesson is “Informing Your Commander” which draws on a Civil War case study.

Gen Robert E. Lee was successful where many Union generals were not because he adhered to

four guiding principles:

1. Keep your superiors well informed of what you have done, what you are doing, and what you plan to do.

2. Regardless of how you feel about your superiors, display a respect for their positions.

3. Avoid petty quarrels with your superiors in which you may be right but your reputation will suffer.

4. Estimate your competitive advantage as precisely as possible, not only to avoid the twin dangers of overconfidence and overcautiousness, but also to sustain your superiors’ confidence in your capacity for precise analysis.77

These four principles are still very much applicable today and should be helpful to an

officer at all times, not just in a situation requiring dissent.

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Once the foundation of genuine support for the leader is established, dissent requires one

“to make very sure that the boss really is wrong.”78 Remember that the leader has more

experience and may be aware of information that is not common knowledge. Critical thinking

skills come into play here, it is important to do the homework and ensure there is sufficient proof

to back up the dissenting opinion. There is a chance once one digs into the situation the analysis

may support the leader’s position. If not, when formulating a dissenting opinion one should offer

possible alternatives. “If you cannot offer a better idea, there is little to be gained by poking

holes in the plans of your superiors.”79 In Leading Up, Michael Useem uses a case study from

the bible to make his point. Abraham challenged God’s authority regarding the plans to destroy

Sodom and Gomorrah when pleading the case for Lot and his family, who had recently relocated

to Sodom.

He [Abraham] pulled himself together to challenge the very force on whom his life depended.

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham asked his superior. “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

With the words barely out of his mouth, Abraham feared God might strike him down on the spot. Instead, miraculously, God conceded to the argument.80

This story obviously goes on a bit longer and is more involved but Useem’s point is,

“even when you report to the ultimate authority, it is your solemn duty… to give your best

counsel, render your best judgment, and persist in the expression of both, whether such upward

leadership is specifically sought or not.”81 Dissent takes courage but it is important for both

sides of the leader-follower relationship.

Once the need for dissent is determined, the next step is to ensure the environment is

conducive for dissent. Consider the relationships between the leader and subordinates. Does the

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leader encourage open debate within the organization or would public dissent cause conflict in

the organization? Keep in mind, “it is difficult for anyone to admit a mistake, especially in front

of an audience.”82 One also needs to think about the organizational culture and demographics.

For example, when working at the staff level with a mix of field grade officers, civilians, and

contractors everyone is on fairly even footing regarding knowledge and experience. In this

situation critical thinking and debate is part of providing the leadership with the best options and

recommendations. Conversely, in a squadron where enlisted troops outnumber officers it is a

completely different dynamic. In this situation, maintaining discipline and showing a united front

and support for higher leadership is crucial and dissent is best done in private. It is important to

assess the climate and to choose the right time and place for dissent. When in doubt opt for

privacy. Proper timing is essential, as Chaleff pointed out in his discussion of the importance of

genuine support for the leadership. The time for dissent is when the leader still has time to act to

change the course of events. As is often said, hindsight is twenty-twenty; offering opinions after

the fact is not helpful.

The last significant theme regarding dissent has already been mentioned in the discussion

of genuine support to the leader but it is important enough to revisit. “If your best efforts are

unsuccessful, you face an even more difficult decision. In most cases, you should say ‘aye, aye’

and cheerfully execute the order to the best of your ability.”83 Dissent is a key aspect of critical

thinking and being an effective follower, but if a subordinate’s challenge is rejected, effective

followership dictates that that subordinate obey orders and offer total commitment to the way

ahead.84 The way ahead may be a big change for the subordinate and or the organization, which

is why flexibility is also an essential characteristic of followership.

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