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West Point: How a Good Follower in their 20’s Becomes a Good Leader Later

Followership is the foundation of leadership.

Before West Point expects cadets to become leaders, they train them how to be good followers. America’s leadership university designs the entire freshman (plebe) year around the idea of followership. Before you can effectively lead others, you need to understand how to be a good follower. That is one way West Point has prepared high potential young people to become Leaders of Character prepared to serve their country.

Plebes at West Point are some of America’s most talented, intelligent and highest potential 18 and 19 year olds. They are part of what is called the 4th Class System designed to teach them how to be a good follower. Most cadets respond well to their new role as a follower. Some do not.

When they left high school they were class presidents, team captains, and members of the National Honor Society. They were the leaders of their high schools. Yet they are suddenly at the bottom of the totem pole at West Point. And some have a hard time not having things go their way. They are used to being the lead dog.

West Point’s objective is that these future leaders understand the challenges their followers will face in the future. Plebes are often asked to:

  • Do menial jobs like deliver laundry and clean latrines.

  • Perform insignificant tasks for the good of a larger group.