10 Leadership Books That Will Change Your Life

Kyle Smith


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One of the core principles that guide my life is the value of learning from different disciplines. All the great creative minds in history drew from various areas of study that informed and enhanced their thinking.

If you want to develop a great mind as well, one of the best places to start is by expanding your reading to areas outside of creativity and the arts. In this post, I want to highlight ten books that have helped me become not only a better leader, but a better artist as well. These are in no particular order.

1. Color Outside the Lines: A Revolutionary Approach to Creative Leadership by Howard Hendricks. You wouldn’t think a book like this would come from a seminary professor, but Howard Hendricks was one of a kind. I like how this book blends the themes of leadership and creativity, two topics that you don’t often find together. That’s a shame because all artists are influencers, and all leaders should be creative.

2. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. This is one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years. The authors talk about breaking the normal rules for success. It’s not a typical dry business book. I’m glad I read it on Kindle because I highlighted lots of passages and could easily export it.

3. by Bob Burg and John David Mann. This book has impacted countless people because it’s engaging (it’s written in a parable format), simple, and gets back to the truth that so many of us feel in our guts: it’s better to give than receive. The Go-Giver will inspire you to live life differently and start thinking more about how to serve others. (Side note: I know the authors personally and can verify that they truly live the message of the book. They are two of the most kind and generous people that I know.)

4. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi. I loved the stories in this book. They’re a great reminder of the importance of relationships in all areas of your life, and how business is really is all about people.

5. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen. Aside from the Bible, this book has impacted me more than any other. Nouwen presents a radical view of leadership and ministry that is rooted in the fact that we are broken and powerless. But it’s out of that weakness that we can truly minister in Jesus’ name. The book isn’t about creativity or art, but it presents a view of leadership that is desperately needed today. Every artist and creative person will be impacted by it.

6. Tribes by Seth Godin. This is my favorite of Godin’s books. I don’t think I’ve ever underlined so many passages and written so many notes in the margins of a book. So many great ideas here on connecting with people and building a following.

7. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. It’s easy to feel discouraged when you see where you are, and where you want to be. It can seem like a huge chasm that you’ll never get across. Hardy helped me understand that success comes from doing a little bit each day. Pretty soon, those small changes add up to huge results.

8. The One Thing by Gary Keller. Keller challenges us to focus on the one thing we should be doing, and to do it well. My favorite chapter deals with the importance of sleep. Your success isn’t about working all the time; it’s the result of focus.

9. Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s easy to believe that we all have to be high-powered, outgoing personalities to make a difference. Cain shatters this myth and helps us understand how introverts can make a difference. I’m a pretty major introvert and really appreciate this book.

10. Mastery by Robert Greene. Greene typically takes several years to write his books. He digs deeply into each topic he writes about and organizes the content in ways that make sense. The result is an intriguing blend of scholarship and practical wisdom. In Mastery, he examines scores of artists, scientists and leaders throughout history who mastered their area of focus. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I love books like this that challenge my assumptions and call me to a higher level.

Let me boil it down a bit more. If you want a short book that will give you a quick hit of leadership, I would choose either The Go-Giver, In the Name of Jesus, or Tribes. Each of those can be read in less than two hours, and each will radically impact your thinking.

What are some other leadership books you recommend?

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I write about writing, productivity, and creativity.

St. Louis, MO

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