The foundations of leadership and followership


Trust each other, provide feedback, show that you care. According to six Airmen, these are the most important aspects of teamwork.

Throughout an Airman’s career they’re expected to grow both personally and professionally. The Air Force does a good job at pushing us toward that goal through professional military education, but some of the most valuable leadership lessons can, as I’ve learned from these six Airmen, only come from personal experience. 

I took it upon myself to seek out advice from fellow Airmen in different careers and at different leadership levels to ask for their take on the principles of leadership and followership, hoping that I could decipher how they create an effective team. 

During our interviews, they gave me insight into their own experiences as both leaders and followers and to my surprise many of them touched on the same subjects. While I may not have directly quoted all of them, each one was paramount in increasing my understanding and finding commonalities between their beliefs.


One theme which came up time and time again was that trust is a significant part of both leadership and followership. It’s essential for leaders to trust their subordinates to handle the task which they’ve been assigned and for followers to trust that their leader supports them in every way possible while they work diligently toward the goal. 

“As a leader you have to have trust,” said Chief Master Sergeant April Smurda, the 354th Operations Group superintendent. “You have to trust that when you delegate a task to someone that they can and will fulfill it in the manner that you need. But it’s also important for those who are following because they have to trust that you’re there to support them and that you’re using their skill sets effectively.”

In addition to trust, it’s important that the channels of communication be open so feedback can be given by all members of the team if necessary. 

Senior Airman Justin Schindlbeck, the 354th Fighter Wing Airman’s Council for Excellence president, mentioned how his role as the ACE president allows him to channel some of that feedback up to the enlisted leaders on Eielson. He also mentioned that it’s still important for Airmen to be comfortable providing feedback to one another within their own shops.

Trust and communication are the best ways team members can discuss their problems and solutions. These discussions provide guidance for both parties on how to complete their tasks and better serve their team’s mission.


As a leader and follower it’s important to remember that we’re all Airmen and we have to take care of each other and our communities. The saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” rings true throughout the military. Taking care of each other, our families and our communities is essential to keeping the team at its peak performance..

“It’s good for leadership to get to know their people and to have conversations with them,” said Schindlbeck. “There’s a huge difference when you actually take the time to remember someone’s name.” 

This is a sentiment I can closely relate with. When I first arrived at Eielson, I ran into Chief Smurda in the hallway of our building. She smiled and greeted me by my first name. I was shocked, how could she know my name already? 

I got my answer listening to Smurda speak about success versus significance. She said rather than trying to be successful, her goal was to be a person who is more significant and to leave lasting influences on the Airmen around her. 

Looking back now, I understand. That encounter in my early days fresh out of technical school has and will continue to leave an indelible impression and serves as a reminder that I’m a valued member of the team. 


While it’s easy to think of leaders and followers as being different, even mutually exclusive, that couldn’t be further from the truth in the military, because at some point in every service member’s career they will often do both simultaneously.

For people in these roles it’s beneficial to know what good traits are for both a leader and follower. Trusting your teammates, providing feedback, and showing that you care are an integral part of a cohesive team. But when I asked Col. Todd Robbins, the former 354th Fighter Wing vice commander, his thoughts, he added four simple rules for being an effective team member, “Always tell the truth, always do your best, never give up and treat people the way you want to be treated.”

According to Robbins, these are principles that both a leader and a follower should adhere to. Doing so allows the team to lay the foundations to be effective at their own mission, while also contributing to the success of the greater Air Force mission.


Prior to these interviews, I’d never put much thought into the subject, but I’ve learned many of the principles and ideas that make a good leader or follower and how good teams have trust, strong communication skills and the desire to help each other out.