“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton, Vesalius In Zante (1564)
Every great leader started as a follower. We all start as followers when we come out of the womb, starting by following our caregivers, parents, other children. Followership is a skill as important as leadership, if not moreso. The toughest challenges are often knowing who to follow and how to follow. Students must learn to be courageous followers, which involves assuming responsibility, serving, challenging, participating in transformation and even leaving in order to take positive action. In turn, leadership must treat followers as “partners, participants, co-leaders and co-followers in the pursuit of meaning and productivity in the organization.”*
Understanding the importance of being a good leader by first becoming a great follower is a lesson for all mankind to learn and respect. As engineering or other students ultimately transition to the workplace, they must not only exhibit great leadership skills, but followership and teamsmanship skills as well. The best resources for a new graduate in the workplace are those that either follow others or follow alongside others, as they are closer to the action that needs to be learned and understood to do the job. On-the-job training from those closest to the job…those doing the work day in and day out….is the best training available.
Training Day: “For many officers in Iraq — following orders, going by the book, really hasn’t been an option (same often goes for those close to the action as project managers that must “put out fires”). A book simply does not exist for the kind of challenges they face. There is no manual on how to spot insurgents during civil repair work, or how to navigate messy ethnic and tribal politics. So instead of waiting for the higher ups to catch up with realities on the ground, a group of West Point commanders devised a way to help troop leaders learn from each other. They started a website which became a virtual front porch where platoon commanders and junior officers could swap advice and anecdotes. Now a third of all army captains are part of the site and it is even getting praise from the brass as a learning tool. But what about army discipline?” Listen to this NPR production (47 minutes) Published: 25 Jan 2005.
Guests of NPR production:
Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Wong, research professor of military strategy at the Army War College
Major Peter Kilner, start-up team member of the website Companycommand.com
Dan Baum, New Yorker writer and author of the article “Battle Lessons: What the Generals Don’t Know.”
*Dixon, G.; Westbrook, J.; Followers Revealed. Engineering Management Journal, March 2003, v 15, n1, p. 19-25.