Tod Bolsinger: My Top 5 Books on Leadership

Tod Bolsinger

The best leaders are usually consummate learners and voracious readers.

Tod Bolsinger is executive director of the Church Leadership Institute at Fuller Seminary, an associate professor of leadership formation and, along with his wife Beth, a co-owner and principal of AE Sloan Leadership, Inc, an executive coaching and consulting company in change leadership for churches and faith-based nonprofits. He is the author of Canoeing the Mountains and Tempered Resilience (IVP). 

Whenever I speak to leaders, I often quote futurist Eric Hoffer: “In times of great change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” For those of us who are called to lead in faith communities, this quote is both a challenge and a reminder of our true identity.  

It is a challenge because many leaders believe that to be a leader means that we must be an expert. We believe only the best preacher becomes the senior pastor. But we all know great individual contributors who are unable to lead well. Being an expert can only take you so far when leading a people or a mission into uncharted territory. Being an expert means you will—even unwittingly—lead people backward into a world that no longer exists.  

It’s a reminder of our true identity, because as Christians even before we are leaders, we are disciples. And the word disciple means “committed learner.”

So, the best leaders are usually consummate learners and voracious readers.  Indeed, my doctoral students in leading change read over 15,000 pages before they start their projects. I encourage my coaching clients to become students of leadership, spiritual formation and organizational change. Leaders are learners, and these are a few of my own favorite “teachers.”  

1. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant (Viking) is a courageous and joyful exploration—and instruction—in discovering how much we have to learn.

2. Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible (Maggid) by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a commentary on the Torah written when Sacks discovered the work of adaptive leadership expert Ronald Heifetz. Every passage takes a leader through a biblical challenge of leadership and offers wisdom we may have overlooked along the way. 

3. The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation (Second Edition) by Jim Herrington, Trisha Taylor and R. Robert Creech (Baker Academic) uses psychological family systems, pastoral theology and lots of years of church ministry to remind leaders that their personal, ongoing transformation is the most critical gift they can bring to their churches and organizations. 

4. Thriving Through Ministry Conflict: A Parable on How Resistance Can Be Your Ally by James P. Osterhaus, Joseph M. Jurkowski and Todd A. Hahn (Zondervan) helps leaders lean into and learn from conflict as an opportunity for growth and for their congregation’s deep transformation. 

5. Another Way: Living and Leading Change on Purpose by Stephen Lewis, Matthew Wesley Williams and Dori Grinenko Baker (Chalice Press) brings the wisdom and change process that has been developed and tested by the leaders of the Forum for Theological Exploration.

Also Recommended

The 7-Minute Productivity Solution: How to Manage Your Schedule, Overcome Distraction and Achieve the Results You Want by John Brandon (Revell) explains how to go from mindlessly reacting to whatever comes along to mindfully structuring time for maximum impact.

10 Leadership Virtues for Disruptive Times: Coaching Your Team Through Immense Change and Challenge by Tom Ziglar (Thomas Nelson) shows how to bring out the best in everyone by focusing on 10 core virtues. 

The Aspiring Leader’s Guide to the Future: 9 Surprising Ways Leadership is Changing by Clay Scroggins (Zondervan) presents nine counterintuitive axioms of leadership that will help leaders adapt to today’s rate of change. 

The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership by Tom Nelson (IVP) offers a timely vision for leadership that incorporates in-depth biblical teaching and whole-life discipleship. 

Opportunity Leadership: Stop Planning and Start Getting Results by Roger Parrott (Moody) teaches how to develop a faith, philosophy and team that are sensitive to God’s leading in the moment.

Rise Above the Lies: Exposing the Lies That Leaders Believe & Embracing the Truths That Will Make You Succeed by Brandon Bowers (Fedd Books) exposes seven lies leaders believe that often limit their success and sanity. 

Road to Flourishing: Eight Keys to Boost Employee Engagement and Well-Being by Al Lopus with Cory Hartman (IVP) explores concrete ways that organizations can flourish by building fantastic teams, cultivating life-giving work and attracting and retaining outstanding talent.

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