How to Be An Influential Leader

Two blog posts I just read about leadership and influence really sparked my interest and caused me to do a little digging online and in my “rusty” memory. The phrase that came to mind was “They Oughta Wanna.” I knew it was from a book but couldn’t remember the actual title, author, etc. I did remember that it had to do with getting employees to do things management figured they should want to do–except it wasn’t happening.

Why am I mentioning this now? If you’re in a leadership position or hoping to be in the future, this is a subject you “oughta wanna” explore!

Where “Oughta Wanna” Comes From

When I was taking a course from UC Berkeley by correspondence years ago, I read the book mentioned above but then managed to forget the details and didn’t know how to find it again. (That was in pre-Internet days, when you couldn’t easily look up phrases that might help you find something.)

Today I came across a blog post titled “Don’t Like Organizational Politics? Get Over It” by Scott Eblin, an executive coach and author. That post led me to one he had written about a year ago, titled “Three Ways to Increase Your Influence.” More on those in a bit–for now, I’ll just say they started a train of thought for me.

What happened next was that my mind made a leap to the book I had read somewhere around 1986. I thought, hey, maybe I could find it online by Googling “They Oughta Wanna.” It turns out the book is still available and has gone through two more editions since I first read it. The official title is Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna, and its subtitle is How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It; the authors are Mager and Pipe. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it–you can get it economically from

How “Oughta Wanna” Relates to Being an Influential Leader

Eblin’s posts about organizational politics and increasing your influence probably led me to remembering the book because they have a lot to do with how leaders work and whether or not their leadership produces the results they’re aiming for. If you lead an organization where people don’t respect your authority the way they “oughta wanna” and whatever you’ve been trying in an effort to improve that situation hasn’t worked, you can relate to what Eblin says in his posts.

For example:

  • I’ll often hear people say “I don’t do politics,” “I can’t stand the politics,” or something else closely related. If you feel that way but want to be effective in your organization, you need to get over it.
  • One of my favorite lines is that it’s important to understand the difference between what should be and what is. Stop for a few moments and think about how often that line applies in real life. You’ll hear someone say something like, “They should be doing that because…”
  • Most leaders, no matter how great their positional power, have to learn how to influence others to actually get things done.

Management Title vs. Influential Leader

The upshot of this is that if you are or want to be an influential leader, having a management-level title (Vice President, President/CEO, Director and the like) won’t automatically do it for you. Although every organization is different in one way or another, it’s a truism that they’re all made up of people, and people don’t necessarily do what “they oughta wanna”! You have to figure out a way to influence them to buy into the desired behavior, which might include convincing them that engaging in the target behavior will benefit them far more than avoiding it will.

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