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I read a lot of books and blogs, and listen to many podcasts. There are many people who influence me in small ways. But it recently occured to me that there are a few of major thought leaders who have a more significant influence on my work.

?No man is an island.? British poet and priest John Donne said that almost 500 years ago. Yet people still quote him. Part of the idea is that we?re all impacted by someone. None of us exist completely on our own.

Everyone is influenced by other people?even if that person is John Donne.

I read a lot of books and blogs, and listen to many podcasts. There are many people who influence me in small ways. But it recently occured to me that there are a few of major thought leaders who have a more significant influence on my work.

Here?s a list of who those people are and why all of this matters to you.

1. Jon Acuff

I started reading Stuff Christians Like several years back. I realized the thing I like is genuinely funny Christians?like Jon Acuff. Since then, I?ve read most of his books, actively listen to his podcast, and heard him speak at a few conferences.

I even got to meet Acuff in person when we hosted him on my work?s podcast. And he was every bit as funny and nice as he seems like on stage. Proving that you can meet your heroes, just as long as you pick heros worthy of meeting.

2. Malcolm Gladwell

I first heard Malcolm Gladwell speak at Catalyst Conference way back in 2013. He was promoting his newest book, David and Goliath. Everyone at the conference got a free copy of the book and I read it in a weekend. I got hooked pretty quickly.

Since then, I?ve read all of Gladwell?s books. His podcast, Revisionist History, is my favorite podcast (and I listen to a ton of podcasts). He?s got such a unique and infectious style of examining the world. I don?t always agree with the conclusions he draws, but I?m always compelled by them.

3. Jeff Goins

I think the first time I heard about Jeff Goins was seeing a sale on his book, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). It?s a pretty convicting title, which is good because it?s also a pretty convicting book. It?s one of the things that?s helped me become more intentional about my writing.

I enjoyed that book so much that I then read two more of Goins? books: The Art of Work and Real Artists Don?t Starve. They?re both practical and encouraging books for aspiring writers like myself. Not to mention the great content Jeff puts out on his blog and podcast, The Portfolio Life.

4. Donald Miller

Once, I went to a nonprofit networking event and heard the CEO of New Story Charity talk about how they use their marketing to make their donors the hero of the story. It was the same thing we were trying to do at the nonprofit I was working for at the time. I asked him about their secret and he told me?Storybrand.

If you don?t know, Storybrand is Donald Miller?s marketing agency that helps businesses make their message more clear and compelling. Since I?m a pretty big fan of storytelling myself, this is right up my alley.

Donald is a successful author and thinker in his own right, with a few successful books (Blue Like Jazz and A Thousand Miles in a Million Years among them) before Storybrand even started.

5. Adam Grant

In 2015, I got to attend the Make-A-Wish annual conference in Anaheim, California. They had a bunch of cool speakers, but at the end of the conference everyone was ready to go home. The last presenter was this guy named Adam Grant. And he was actually able to get a bunch of tired, distracted nonprofit people to actually pay attention to what he had to say.

About three months later, I attended another conference in Atlanta. They had a bunch of books to give away as swag. I grabbed one at random and it happened to be Grant?s Give and Take.

These days, I see Grant?s name popping up all over the place?mentioned in Cal Newport?s Deep Work and a featured guest on Gladwell?s podcast. He?s even got his own podcast now called WorkLife, in partnership with TED. He?s one smart and accomplished guy.

6. Seth Godin

Google ?Seth.? The first thing that comes up is Seth Godin?s website. Maybe it?s because everyone else named Seth is bad at SEO. Or maybe it?s because Seth is a marketing genius. Maybe both. And while I have no way to prove the former, I?m convinced of the latter.

I?ve only read one of Godin?s 17 books (yes, he?s quite prolific)?All Marketers are Liars?but it?s made me want to read more. In the meantime, I stick with reading his blog, listening to his entertainingly-monotone podcast, Akimbo, and watching his TED Talks.

7. Gary Vaynerchuk

Then, there?s Gary Vee. Someone recommended I read Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook back in 2014. Even though that book is now five years old, it?s still the most relevant resource on social media available.

That?s probably because Gary Vee probably has a better understanding of how social networks and business marketing than anyone else I can think of.

I?d probably want my life to be more like the other five people on this list. But not Gary Vee. Because no one else can do what he does. The man is a machine. I have so much respect for him, but wouldn?t fool myself into thinking that I could imitate him. Also, I don?t curse that much.

What This Tells Me About Myself

Reflecting on this list, a few common traits become pretty clear about all of these people.

  • They?re all men
  • They?re all American
  • They?re all white
  • They?re all middle-aged
  • They?re all writers
  • They?re all good at marketing
  • They all have a blog and a podcast


Almost all of those things describe me (except for the middle-aged and podcast parts). This didn?t happen intentionally, but it?s also not a coincidence.

I can?t help but think that it?s because these are the people who I want my career and accomplishments to most resemble. They?re successful people, who are also smart and seemingly kind.

Keep in mind, I?m not saying these are the only people that influence my life. These are just the people I consider well-known thought leaders who I follow closely?close enough for them to have an impression on me.

Why You Need Influencers

Who are the people who most seriously influence you? You may not realize who they are yet. But being able to identify them will help you understand more about yourself. If you?re having trouble thinking who those people might be, this might help:

  • Write a list of the blogs you read and podcasts you listen to
  • Think of some of the nonfiction books that had an impact on you
  • Are there thinkers that you find yourself quoting often?
  • Who would you want your career to be more like?
  • Look for common patterns on these lists

You?re being influenced by someone. You might as well know who and why.

Who are the thought leaders who influence you?



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