I recall the first lesson I received in following. It was shortly after I had reported to the USS FORESTALL (CVA-59) for my first tour with a Fighter Squadron. I was a Seaman Apprentice and I was walking around in awe of the size of the ship. I had a small understanding of physics and why steel floats, but the fact that this ship could float was still totally amazing. I was a country boy from Iowa and I had never imagined something as big as an aircraft carrier – it was bigger than my home town (with a much larger airport).
My supervisor, a crusty First Class Petty Officer, took me on a tour of the ship. As we climbed up and down ladders he shared his expectations and the rules he wanted everyone in the office to follow. We ended up on the flight deck and as we walked to the edge of the ship he yelled…J UM P!!! He jumped into the catwalk (an area around the flight deck where you can walk).
I didn’t jump – gave him a silly look and said, “Why?”
He let me know, “How do you know that I didn’t just see a cable snap and in the 5 seconds it took you to ask ‘why’ you’d could have been cut in two and each half of what used to be you could be flopping around on the deck bleeding all over the place? Who’d clean that up?”
Now there’s an image that’ll get your attention. He went on to explain, “If I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it. If I have time to explain, I will, but, if I don’t, just do it and we’ll talk later.”
Since that day in 1971 I’ve studied a lot about leadership, and as a consequence, followership. People follow for 5 basic reasons:
Fear of retribution – “If I don’t I may get fired!”
Blind hope – “Somethings gotta be done. I hope this works!”
Faith in leader – “He’s a great person. If anyone knows the answer, he does!”
Intellectual agreement – “What a great idea. That makes sense.”
Buying the vision – “What a brilliant idea. I don’t care who thought of it.”
Environment can also play an important role in the interaction between leaders and followers. The blind faith response works when you’re in an environment where your life is literally on the line, where if you’re told to jump you jump, but may not work well in a corporate setting.
Volumes have been written on leadership, by people with a lot more experience than I have. I will end this thought with this, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”