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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.

  • Give up their limited free time for the sake of their classmates.

  • Follow directions even though they have been given limited explanations.

  • Do things that make no sense to them and require them to sacrifice for others.

The entire 4th Class System begins with learning how to follow lawful orders without question. As they learn to accept being followers, they form habits that will set them up to lead in the future.

Sometimes plebes follow the orders of upper class cadets. Sometimes they follow the direction of the peers who are put in charge of organizing the laundry delivery. Plebes are expected to put aside their own personal needs, desires or convenience in order to accomplish the larger goals.

The definition of Selflessness is putting the needs of others before our own needs, desires or convenience. When they learn to do that as a follower, it creates a habit that will prepare them to do the same thing when they are called to lead in the future. The role of a leader is not to get what she wants. The role of a leader is to serve the people she leads so that they reach their potential and accomplish the team’s mission.

When you are just starting out in college or in your first job, your willingness to be a follower will set you up to be a successful leader. Putting aside your own self-interests for others is a habit that you need to establish before you actually get a promotion to become a leader.

Followership is the foundation to leadership. Someone who learns to be a good follower, will be more prepared to be a good leader.


  • When have you been a good follower and when have you not?

  • What lessons do you think you can learn if you get better at following?


“Would you follow you?” That is a critical question we all need to ask ourselves if we want to become Leaders of Character. Research has proven that people want to follow character. But where is your character today?

Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

To take the assessment use the QR code above or go to

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