The Influential Leader

Being influential is not about what we learn to do to others but what we learn to be for others—consistently becoming the kind of person others want to follow.

Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” is one of the bestselling business books ever written, and it deserves to be so. As such, I want to focus on what Collins and his team of researchers discovered about the leaders of the world’s most successful companies while also sharing some thoughts on leadership from my own new book, “Mark of an Eagle—How Your Life Changes the World.”

Collins states: “One of the most damaging trends in recent history is the tendency (especially by boards of directors) to select dazzling, celebrity leaders.” In more than two-thirds of the companies Collins and his team studied, they discovered that “the presence of a gargantuan personal ego contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.” In the companies that demonstrated sustained success over a long period of time, the leaders were described as “a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.”


In a world where there appears to be some confusion about what makes an effective leader, this is worthy of reflection. My intention is not to denounce the value of charisma—it is a wonderful asset to have—unless it is partnered with a lack of character—the moral compass that provides clear direction for what is right and what is wrong.

Great leadership is ultimately about competence and influence. What determines influence—the ability to gain others’ commitment to the shared mission and goals of the organization?

People follow leaders they believe in— who demonstrate values with which they align. The leader is experienced as a person who has the individual’s and team’s best interests at heart—it is evidenced in the fundamental integrity of the leader’s actions. Influential leaders know they cannot change others, only themselves. Being influential, therefore, is not about what we learn to do to others but what we learn to be for others—consistently becoming the kind of person others want to follow.


The “Bhagavad Gita” is a book that has been influential in my life. It is the foundation of the Hindu spiritual tradition.

At the risk of oversimplifying this ancient masterpiece, there is one teaching worth calling out. It is referred to as right action. Right action is the commitment to our actions always being attuned to what we know and believe to be right.

Right action considers the effect our actions have on others and prescribes that we never act in a way that would intentionally harm others. In a pressure-packed, performance-oriented world, choosing right action every day is not easy. The outcomes of right action may not appear, at first glance, to be in our best interests. Right action is often a courageous decision because it might mean taking a stand for what is honest and just.

In “Good to Great,” Jim Collins uses the term, “Level 5 Leadership,” to define the pinnacle of influential leadership. Within that definition, he states: “[Great leaders] act with quiet, calm determination and rely principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.” And in the Stephen Mitchell translation of the “Bhagavad Gita,” we read: “Whatever a great man does, ordinary people will do; whatever standard he sets, everyone will follow.”

David McNally is the founder of TransForm Corporation, a business speaker, and a member of the Speakers Hall of Fame. He is the author of several best-selling books, “Even Eagles Need a Push,” “The Eagle’s Secret,” and “Be Your Own Brand.” His latest book is “Mark of an Eagle—How Your Life Changes the World.” Companies such as Amtrak, Apple Autos, Delta Air Lines, and the Walt Disney Imagineers are among those that have embraced TransForm’s work. For more information, visit: and