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Grabbing on to Followership

Tags: Fellowship

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Kaitlin Johnson, Fellowship Class of 2015

“Grab the rope!” my now father-in-law bellowed from atop his horse. The chaos of branding swirled around me – the shouts of the ropers dragging in new calves, the roar of the fire warming the branding irons, the moo’s of mother cows searching for their calves – and I, the newest to the ranch and the branding scene, couldn’t understand why no one was following the directions yelled by the family’s patriarch. The calf, frantically trying to free himself from the rope around his feet, charged by me.   Without thinking, I did as I was told – I grabbed the rope.

Now, it would be wonderful if I could say I grabbed the rope, flipped the calf, and protected those around me from the dangerously unpredictable animal. I wish I could say that everyone admired my glorious debut into the ranching world. Instead, I pushed with all my might on the rope, using all my strength and body weight to try to stop the racing animal, and…the calf won. It took the help of two men and a slightly annoyed horse to finally get the calf to the ground. As I sat recuperating in an unfortunately hidden cow patty, I was thinking nothing of followership or how the term would come to impact my professional life. 

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Followership is the major focus of first-year Fellows’ development, and for me, it has always been a concept with which I struggle. I have spent my entire life being told that leadership is the ultimate goal. Leaders are successful, important people in this world, and followers are, well, people who lack vision and, therefore, must simply do as they are told. The Fellowship has changed that for me. No one can be a leader at all times in all situations, and frankly, no one should be.

During my first six months working at El Pomar Foundation, I did not have the knowledge or skills to be a leader. Development into a leader takes time, and during that time, it is important to understand what it means to be a good follower. Followership requires asking questions, developing a knowledge base, managing priorities, and most of all, it requires creating a strong foundation of basic skills that you can rely on as others begin to rely on you. Surprisingly, the systematic development of these skills, while tedious and confusing at times, is the easy part. The hardest part of followership is the one I learned that hot summer day in the corrals – followership is trusting those with experience and jumping in to uncertain situations. You might end up sitting in a pile of cow manure, but you never know what you can and cannot do without taking a risk and grabbing the rope.