The Five Best Books I Read in 2018

As a student of leadership, I’m always on the lookout for ways to grow and better myself for the benefit of the people I lead. I’ve always heard it said (and I believe it’s true) that good leaders are readers.

The problem is, I’ve never been a good reader. Like many people, I have a bad habit of starting a book, making it a few chapters in, and then losing interest and moving on. I’ve started into dozens, maybe hundreds of books in my lifetime with good intentions, but rarely do I make it to the end.

I want to increasingly use my time wisely and productively, so this past year I decided it was past time to change that pattern. I set a goal of reading 24 books cover-to-cover in 2018. In the end, I actually wound up reading 39 books this past year (more on that in a future post).

Of those, 19 were Leadership/Business/Productivity-related. Eight were biographies or autobiographies. Eight were inspirational/motivational. Three were historical, and one was fiction (I prefer my fiction on a movie screen).

So many of those were great books that I would recommend, and some of them I would even read again (a couple of them are actually already on my 2019 reading list). In this post I’m sharing five of my favorites with those of you who are looking for ideas for your reading list this year. I’m not a polished book reviewer, but here they are along with quick recommendations.

Disclaimer: These are my thoughts and comments. I have not been compensated in any way for these reviews. I just really love these books.

1. Building a StoryBrand (Donald Miller)

StoryBrand is so good, I read it three times. Miller is the author of one of the most influential books in my life, Blue Like Jazz. When I started hearing good things about StoryBrand and then saw his name attached, it was an easy decision to pick up a copy. I couldn’t be more glad I did.

In StoryBrand, Miller explains how to position a business or organization to simply and effectively communicate who they are, what they do, and why it matters to potential clients or customers using something he calls the SB7 framework. His approach follows a process you’ve already seen hundreds of times in pop culture and is extremely intuitive, so much so that you’ll wonder why you never thought of it before.

We’ve already started to change how we communicate in our organization because of this book, and we started seeing results almost instantly. This is a worthwhile read for anyone who owns, leads, or communicates in any way on behalf of any type of brand. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Pick up a copy at Amazon (at time of writing, under $10 on Kindle) and find more related info and tools online at

2. Everybody, Always (Bob Goff)

Anybody who’s ever read anything Bob Goff writes or heard him speak knows he’s got a way of communicating that is unlike almost anyone else. He uses short stories to connect his ideas, which works really well for my brain. His first book, Love Does, was a mega-hit, and Everybody, Always does not disappoint as a sequel.

Everybody, Always was a great reminder to always see people through a lens of compassion, love, and empathy, to look for the best in others, to seek out opportunities to help and give, and to live with reckless abandon in the pursuit of showing grace and kindness to those around us, whether we think they might deserve it or not.

I needed this book. You need this book. We all need this book. It’s a quick, easy read that will start your year off on the right foot.

Available on Amazon here.

3. Creativity, Inc. (Ed Catmull)

If you’re a leader, or even just a fan of Pixar, you’ll love this book. Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar, tells the story of how the company developed technology, merged with Apple, became a partner of Disney, and grew from a startup to one of the leading animated movie studios in the world. Throughout the book, he weaves leadership lessons and principles into stories of the highs and lows of Pixar’s journey.

This one is a fun read, both for the behind-the-scenes look at how some of the best movies of the past 30 years have been made and for the wisdom and insight he shares from decades of experience.

Available on Amazon here.

4. Letters to the Church (Francis Chan)

I don’t know what to say about this book except that it messed with me. Not so much because I’m a pastor, but mostly just because I’ve spent a lot of years around churches and church people. This book stirred some things up that had been stagnant for a while. It made me ask uncomfortable questions that I wouldn’t have asked otherwise about why we do what we do, why we do things the way we do, and whether or not the things we do actually really matter in the grand scheme. It made me look at “church” differently.

If you’re a Christian (especially a pastor or church leader) I’ll just warn you, if you pick this book up, it will sting, it will be a hard reality check, but you’ll be so glad you did.

Take the plunge and buy it on Amazon here. As I write this, it’s only $6.99 for Kindle.

5. The Situational Leader (Dr. Paul Hershey)

I’ve been a fan of Patrick Lencioni for a long time. If you’ve ever read any of his books, you know that his style is to tell a fictional story that illustrates various leadership principles and methods, and then chapter-by-chapter to explain how to implement those things into organizational culture. Now I know where he got the idea.

In this short book, Dr. Hershey tells a story and explains a leadership philosophy (or more accurately, a few of them) that has radically changed everything about how I lead since I first picked it up at the end of last year. If I can summarize the book for you in a sentence or two: Hershey suggests that it’s not good enough for a leader/manager to have a “leadership style” or “leadership philosophy”. You’ve got to have several, and you’ve got to know how to lead every person on your team differently, according to who they are and what task they are doing. You may lead the same person three or four different ways depending on the task and how equipped they are for it.

I could go all day on this one, so I’ll just leave it at this: If you lead people in any way, on any level, you’ve got to read this. It’s timeless.

The Situational Leader is out-of-print, but you can find used hardcopy versions on Amazon here.


15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management (Kevin Kruse)

I know I said “five best” but I couldn’t leave this one out. I’m a huge nerd for productivity methods, tips and hacks. I read a summary of this book a couple years ago, and finally decided to read it through. It was 100% worth it. I’ve shared a number of ideas from this book with our staff in meetings and training environments.

If you’re looking to be more productive, better focused, and simply get more done in your day, read this book now.

Find it on Amazon here. As of today, it’s only $4.99 on Kindle.

So there you have it…the best books I read last year. Help me put together my reading list for 2019. What do you recommend? Leave a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook!

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