What can we learn from Radar O’Reilly to get more followers?

NOTE: The following post originally appeared in Roz Usheroff’s Remarkable Leaders Blog under the title “How do you get people to follow you?.”

“Lieutenant . . . you’ll know you’re a good leader when people follow you if only out of curiosity!”

A Sergeant’s comment about leadership to then Lieutenant Colin Powell

When Colin Powell was asked about the key characteristics of effective leadership, he shared the above comment that one of his sergeants at Fort Benning made nearly 50 years ago.

Long before social networks in which the term “follow” has now taken on a ubiquitous meaning, the core principles behind having people “follow you into the darkest night, into the deepest valley or climbing the highest hill” is timeless.  In short it comes down to a question of leadership.

To Colin Powell the true definition of leadership is based on trust.  And trust to Powell is gained by serving selflessly as opposed to being self-serving.

Of course for most of us, we will not be leading troops into battle.  But if we want to build a following, especially within our own organization we have to ask – and answer, one very important question . . . am I trustworthy?

Let’s look at trust for a moment.

What does it mean to be trustworthy?

There are no shortages of obvious answers re you tell the truth, you put in an honest day’s work etc.  However in his preface to telling the sergeant story, Powell said that leadership based on trust “takes an organization past the level that the science of management says is possible.”  In other words, people will follow you almost anywhere, and in the process accomplish amazing things, if they trust you.

Of course leadership or being a leader is not tied explicitly to a title or position on a management chart.

In its truest form being a leader is being recognized or seen as the thought leader in a particular area.  For example, and staying with the military theme, we all remember the character Radar O’Reilly from the hit television series MASH.  Even though his rank was that of Corporal, in his role of Company Clerk he was indispensable to the unit.  He often times kept the hospital running smoothly and thus became the go to person even when a new “manager” Colonel Potter, replaced his former boss Colonel Blake.

How did he acquire this level of respect and loyal following you might ask?  He could be counted on or “trusted” to selflessly deliver the results when they were needed!  This became his enduring brand, a legacy of trust that made him the one person that people, from the unit’s top commander to the private peeling potatoes, could go to for the answers.

So what can you take away from the example of Radar O’Reilly, and build your own following?

Know your job inside and out.  Know how you doing your job can help others with their jobs and, faithfully deliver on what you promise.

It upon these “trust” attributes that your character is defined and your brand as a leader established!


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