15 Life-Changing Books on Influence

Zoe Chance
Apr 25 · 5 min read
Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

Here are some of the readings I share with participants in my interpersonal influence workshops at Yale School of Management and around the world. It’s an eclectic list of books that changed not just my thinking and teaching but my behavior —each one has changed my life. And influenced the people I teach. Like students, CEOs, social activists, salespeople, and central bankers.

They’re annotated to help you choose. And linked to Amazon (not affiliate links), author sites, and Twitter handles to help you learn more. Enjoy!

On Leadership

Google’s former head of HR (now founder of Humu) combines science and practice to give you evidence-based, concrete recommendations for good management. If you read only one chapter, make it Chapter 14, “What you can do starting tomorrow.” You’ll definitely want to gift this book to your boss.

Thought leader practitioners from executive on-boarding firm PrimeGenesis will help you wield influence in a new role by creating a strategic action plan for whom you reach out to, about what, and when. In class, we discuss “the fuzzy front end” before the job begins, and “the only 3 interview questions.”

Susan Cain provides an evidence-based perspective on introversion that will explain your life experience if you’re introverted. And it will help all leaders work better with introverts, and with everyone else who thinks before they speak up. Why should you care? Because the ideas they share are better.

(follow)The key message of this book by the world’s #1 executive coach is in the title. As leaders, we think we’re doing things right because we’ve been given power. But some of those very things will hold us back from going further. I ask executives to solicit feedback on his list of 20 habits (Chapter 4). Magic.

The darkest side of leadership. Jason Stanley gives you the red pill revealing what’s happening in politics around the world today. He explains, step-by-step, how fascist regimes and autocrats have come to power. And points out warning signs we should be much more worried about now. Please read this.

On Asking & Dealmaking

Negotiations professor Stuart Diamond gives you practical tools for navigating your professional career and your personal agreements. His approach helps reach better outcomes, more collaboratively. I assign the chapters “Hard Bargainers & Standards” and “Perception & Communication.”

Adam Grant’s research on reciprocity styles (Givers, Takers, and Matchers) illuminates mysteries of who gets ahead and how. The first chapter summarizes the takeaways. In class, we discuss why so many of the least and the most successful people are givers . And how to give better & do better.

(follow)A memoir rather than a research collection or a practical guide, and one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. I’ve assigned “The Interviews” and “Go Buy Your Books” chapters for my MBA course, and had students play Bigger and Better (wow). Jesus features prominently here, but not in a preachy way.

If you’re pitching ideas or raising capital or wooing donors, this book will interest you. Oren Klaff has raised billions of dollars, and writes about the psychology and power games of the pitch. More stories than tools, but his general advice and the frames (moral frame, prize frame, etc.) are strong.

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator, and this is an ultra-practical guide including many specific words and phrases for building rapport and achieving good outcomes even when the other party is being unreasonable. I assign Chapters 3 (on labeling), 6 (on fairness), and 9 (on bargaining).

On Success

Don’t be fooled by the title; even Tim Ferris works a lot of hours. But this book inspired me, like many others, to streamline, focus on what I’m good at and love, and outsource what I don’t. (I wrote about that here.) This book also inspired the Reach Out to a Hero challenge in my MBA course. We love it.

(follow)This is most definitely not a self-help book. It’s a take-down of people like me who work in business or thought leadership and feel good about ourselves because some of our time and money goes to helping. I was shook. And have already shifted the focus of my MBA course and volunteering as a result.

(follow)A must-read for all of us who produce creative work of any kind (books, music, etc.), by black-hat growth-hacker mastermind cum eloquent philosopher Ryan Holiday. His advice made me scrap my book proposal and start over — painful but necessary. The Ask the Dust story will stun you.

Still the most esoteric book I’ve ever read, and there’s much I don’t understand. But if a book can be your spirit animal, this one is mine. Catherine MacCoun describes why and how changing the world is a process of self-transformation. She gives you the secret to the philosopher’s stone.

(follow)Wicked smart self-help, written for women. Tara Mohr is an Ivy-educated MBA who now applies her gifts to coaching. She gets smart people. She gets the research. And you will play bigger afterward. My favorite topics: yirah (fear of growing), dropping “good student habits,” and “your inner mentor.”

Those are a few of my life-changing books. I’d love to hear about your life-changing books too. Comments are welcome. And please send your favorite authors some love! Review? Tweet? Write a post like this? They’d love to read how they’ve made a difference. It’s why they still work.

And if you think I missed an important book (maybe yours), you’re certainly right. I have 100 favorites, and each one not included made my heart hurt.


Zoe Chance

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Assistant Professor of Marketing, Yale School of Management https://www.zoechance.com/