Followership – The Cornerstone of Airmanship

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Rizzardo
  • 21st Communications Squadron
Since my days as a slick-sleeve young Airman, I’ve always viewed chief master sergeants as leaders. I never saw a chief with all of those stripes and thought of the word “follower.” Well, that was a much younger, more foolish version of me. I am much more “seasoned” now and I have known for quite some time that while the Air Force requires its chiefs to lead and develop our enlisted force, mentor junior officers, and advise commanders and directors at all levels, we can never lose sight of our responsibility to exemplify the qualities of followership. The 21st Communications Squadron’s recent change of command ceremony just happens to be my most recent reminder of that fact.

In the weeks leading up to the change of command, I knew that there would be varying levels of uncertainty throughout the unit concerning the impending change in leadership. I was fortunate to already know our inbound commander and we had already engaged in a variety of discussions about the unit’s mission, associated challenges, the people, and his vision for the unit. Armed with that insight, I focused my energies on calming some of the unit’s concerns by providing small hints concerning his leadership style, personality, and background during individual and group discussions. I was pleasantly surprised that the response from a large majority of our military and civilian personnel was one of positivity and optimism, but I knew we had only begun to prepare everyone for the change in command and we still had a lot of work to do as the ceremony approached.

As we all know, the presence of Headquarters Air Force Space Command, North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command transforms an already large base with a huge mission into an altogether different challenge for those tasked to deliver vital services essential to mission success. As Maj. Michael McFeeters took command of our unit last month, many comments were thrown my way about having to lead the squadron through a time of great transition because the mission wasn’t going to slow down to allow the new commander to get his feet under him. While this is all true, my first thoughts were not about flexing my stripes or saying, “Don’t worry, sir … I got this”. I knew I had a role in facilitating the change and allaying the fears, but I was supremely confident that the person who would lead and complete our smooth transition would not be me – it would be our new commander.

As the ceremony came to a close and the receiving line faded, the next step in executing a smooth transition in leadership was upon us. McFeeters asked us to book the entire afternoon with various group discussions so that he could introduce himself and share his leadership philosophy with the masses. In the following weeks, he continued to do all the right things by conducting work center visits, pushing each individual during unit physical training sessions, and showing a genuine concern for an Airman’s well-being with an in-home visit during their convalescent leave. Add in a few weeks of long days and sleepless nights and it’s easy to understand why it didn’t take long before the entire unit embraced him as OUR commander - OUR leader.

Some will say that the Chief displayed exemplary leadership in guiding the unit through a leadership transition, and I doubt many would argue. That said, I would contend that the chief’s role was to do whatever was necessary to allow the new commander to hit the ground running with minimal resistance, stand one step behind and to the left of his new boss, and echo his message. That sounds a whole lot like “followership” to me.