To Lead is to Follow
Master Sgt. Dexter Taylor-Dorsett, Jr., 65th Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant
To Lead is to Follow

Commentary by Master Sgt. Dexter Taylor-Dorsett, Jr.
65th Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant

11/25/2013 - LAJES FIELD, Azores -- Since childhood, the term leadership has been synonymous with success and/or prestige. In the children's game "Follow the Leader" I recall every child wanted their respective turn as the leader. Why? Because followers obeyed and submitted to the power and control of the leader.

Growing up, leadership was ingrained in me and found all throughout my formative years in the form of athletic team leaders, band leaders, church leaders and student body leaders. People were noticed, popular, respected and elevated within the community because of their leadership position. In history class I learned about George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the traits, actions and triumphs that made them great leaders. In fact, the term leadership echoed from my parents, teachers, coaches and peers.

The promotion of leadership continued after joining the United States Air Force. In Basic Military Training and Officer Training School, some trainees are singled-out as official and unofficial peer-leaders while being entrenched in the history of great Air Force leaders. In the operational Air Force, we attend the College of Enlisted Professional Military Education and Squadron Officer School where leadership is thoroughly promoted and leaders are appointed and rewarded. The civilian sector is no different. Leaders get the glory, while followers are marginalized or go unmentioned - aside from the cliché acknowledgement offered from the recognized leader resembling: "I couldn't have accomplished my success without you." I was led to believe if an individual was not a leader, then they were either less important or an obscure member of society - just a follower.

Under that presumption, I set out to be a leader. I began to seek out and mimic the traits of famous leaders and/or people whom I quantified as acceptable leaders. However, I soon found out the mere mirroring of appropriate leadership behavior was rendered fruitless because there were no experiences or wisdom to draw from. I had no idea what leadership approach to employ in certain given situations. Yet I still viewed followership or followers as sheep who needed to be told what to do, and I continued to be perplexed by this dilemma until I was re-introduced to the followership concept as an Airman Leadership School instructor.

I then began to formulate the conclusion that before I could ever become a good leader, I must allow myself to become an exceptional follower. So I began to study the leadership traits and responses to situational occurrences of my appointed Air Force leaders. By doing this, I realized an immutable fact - not all of my leaders were good leaders. In turn, I learned to separate leadership "best-practices" from leadership failures that yielded negative results within the respective community of followers.

Another lesson I learned was to resist the urge to categorize leadership responses and decisions that were contrary to what I believed as the "wrong" approach. Most leadership situations and challenges can be satisfied with varying responses, so "different" didn't necessarily equal "wrong."

Throughout my Air Force career I realized we must learn to follow leaders, regardless of differences in opinion. In fact, a litmus test of character comes when we disagree with our legitimate authorities yet refuse to demand our own way and instead submit to the legal orders given by our established leaders. This behavior will allow us as followers to glean from the lessons that are presented by our leaders daily and, in turn, allow us to reach back and apply these lessons when we're called upon to lead.