The SUCCESS 25: 2015’s Personal Development Leaders

UPDATED: May 24, 2023
PUBLISHED: December 11, 2015

To come up with the 25 most influential people in personal development of the past year, we researched book sales, social media reach, other online activity including blogs and podcasts, live appearances, TV and radio presence, online videos including TED Talks and YouTube, print articles and columns, and the awards or honors these individuals received. We also considered work from previous years that is still widely read or viewed.


Dubbed “a next-generation thought leader” by Oprah Winfrey and “a new role model” by The New York Times, Gabrielle Bernstein is bringing personal development to a new demographic: young women. In 2015, the author, life coach and speaker released the paperback version of Miracles Now: 108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow, and Finding Your True Purpose . A former party girl, Bernstein shared her transformation in 2012’s best-selling Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles . “These days I’m addicted to finding my love and happiness inside myself,” she writes, spreading her message of self-acceptance through appearances on The Dr. Oz Show and TODAY; as a YouTube Next Vlogger; on Hay House radio; via dozens of podcasts; and through events like Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, TEDxWomen and her Spirit Junkie Masterclass.


The best-selling author and Amazon Hall of Famer—with more than 60 books and 20 million copies sold—continued his publishing streak in 2015 with Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life and The New One Minute Manager . “This new version of the classic story deals with a new world,” Ken Blanchard writes in the latter. The management expert spoke at several events in 2015, including the Servant Leadership Conference, LEAD by and the Association for Talent Development International Conference.


In 2015’s StandOut 2.0: Assess Your Strengths, Find Your Edge, Win at Work , researcher and consultant Marcus Buckingham expanded upon his “strengths revolution,” encouraging individuals to embrace their strongest skills. In his book, then Amazon’s No. 1 new release in human resources and personnel management, the New York Times best-selling author declared a goal of fostering “a world in which each of us knows how to identify, contribute and develop the very best of ourselves.” Buckingham, founder and chairman of the training and development firm TMBC, also released Take Control of Your Career and Your Life with Marcus Buckingham, a podcast class on honored as one of’s “50 Best Podcasts You Can Learn From.” He has worked with the likes of Toyota, Coca-Cola and Microsoft, and he is a member of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Leadership and Management.


Social scientist and research professor Brené Brown has spent 13 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. Last summer, she released Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution , a No. 1 New York Times best-seller. “The truth is that falling hurts,” she writes. “The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way back up.” In 2015 she released the paperback version of her 2012 book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead , which spent eight weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, as well as the paperback version of 2010’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are . The paperback version spent more than a year on the New York Times best-seller list for advice and how-to. Brown’s 2010 TEDx talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world, with more than 20 million views. She recently spoke at the Disney IDEATION Summit and the Emerging Women Live Conference.


After nearly dying in a car accident at age 19, Brendon Burchard reinvented himself as a personal-development trainer, motivational speaker and New York Times best-selling author to help people “find their charge.” Burchard’s digital presence is expansive, reaching over 20 million people weekly via blogs, videos, newsletters and his website. His YouTube channel contains some of the platform’s most-watched self-help videos, and his The Charged Life podcast debuted at No. 1 in all categories worldwide. Burchard is a Top 100 Most Followed Public Figure on Facebook—sharing daily affirmations such as “Walking the grounds of gratitude, I came upon the palace of happiness”—and the highest-paid marketing trainer in the world.


Relationship counselor and author Gary Chapman recently released two new editions of his 1995 book The 5 Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate , in which he posits that individuals in relationships express love in different ways. “Once you identify and learn to speak your spouse’s primary love language… you will have discovered the key to a long-lasting, loving marriage,” he writes in the 2015 reissue, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts . The original book, which sold more than 10 million copies and spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list, serves as the basis for ebooks, blogs, DVDs and study guides as well as versions for teens, men, singles and children. A Baptist pastor and director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants Inc., Chapman held The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted Conference in three states last fall, drawing thousands of couples.


Peter Diamandis—engineer, physician, entrepreneur, best-selling author and speaker—focuses on the fields of innovation, incentive competitions and commercial space. In 2015 he released Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World , which became a best-seller, including Amazon’s No. 1 best-seller in environmental engineering. Named one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune in 2014, Diamandis is chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, known for its $10 million Ansari XPRIZE for private spaceflight, and co-founder and executive chairman of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley institution studying growing technologies. Every year, Diamandis delivers 40 to 50 keynotes. His personal motto: “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”


In his exploration of accelerated learning, lifestyle design and peak performance, Tim Ferriss is his own guinea pig, as seen in such New York Times best-sellers as The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich and The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman . “The New Rich are those who… create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility,” he writes in the former. The entrepreneur, angel investor and speaker—called “this generation’s self-help guru” by The New Yorker—hosts the No. 1 self-improvement site,, and The Tim Ferriss Show, the No. 1 business podcast on iTunes most days—sometimes No. 1 of all podcasts. Last spring, he debuted a new show on YouTube, The Tim Ferriss Experiment.


Most of us first met Elizabeth Gilbert in 2006 through the soul-searching memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia ; the paperback version was a New York Times nonfiction best-seller for more than 200 weeks. This fall, she released Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear . “Defending yourself as a creative person begins by defining yourself,” she writes. “It begins when you declare your intent.” In October a two-part interview with her from Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday aired on OWN, and Gilbert was a featured presenter at the Emerging Women Live Conference. The popular TED speaker is fascinated by “genius, creativity and how we get in our own way when it comes to both,” according to


After rewriting the rules of modern marketing and going on to focus on leadership, Seth Godin has become known for his iconoclastic approach—so his latest title should come as no surprise. In We Are All Weird: The Rise of Tribes and the End of Normal , the New York Times best-selling author warns: “Mass is dead. Here comes weird.” In 2015 the entrepreneur and speaker was featured on many podcasts, most notably Brian Koppelman’s The Moment, and Godin launched two online courses, the highly popular Seth Godin’s Freelancer Course and the altMBA. Godin is consistently ranked in the top 1 percent of presenters at events where he speaks.


Marshall Goldsmith has worked with more than 150 major executives, and the leadership coach was recognized as one of the world’s 15 most influential business thinkers in a 2013 study sponsored by The (London) Times and Forbes. Last May, he released Triggers: Creating Behavior Change That Lasts—Becoming the Person You Want to Be (with Mark Reiter), which spent six weeks on the New York Times and PW/Nielsen best-seller lists. In it, he writes, “Fate is the hand of cards we’ve been dealt. Choice is how we play the hand.” Goldsmith—who helps “leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior,” according to his site—heads The Marshall Goldsmith Group, providing leadership education and executive coaching.


Based on decades of weekly “curiosity conversations” with accomplished strangers that have inspired the likes of 24 and A Beautiful Mind, film and television producer Brian Grazer (with Charles Fishman) wrote A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life . “Curiosity is what gives energy and insight to everything else I do,” Grazer writes. “I loved being curious long before I loved the movie business.” The book was published last spring and ranked on both the New York Times and PW/Nielsen best-sellers lists. Since then, the co-founder (with Ron Howard) of Imagine Entertainment has shared insights from the book at South by Southwest, the Milken Institute Global Conference and Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday.


In 2015 media mogul Arianna Huffington published the best-selling paperback of her blockbuster, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder , which spent 19 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. “Thrive is structured to fix our broken definition of success,” she writes, and Huffington continues to spread its message through speeches and interviews. The Huffington Post, of which she is president and editor in chief, was ranked the No. 1 blog by eBiz with 110 million monthly visitors, and her 2010 TED Talk, “How to Succeed? Get More Sleep,” has more than 3.2 million views.


Since founding Life is Good in 1994 with $78 to their name, brothers Bert and John Jacobs have grown their positive apparel brand to $100 million in global sales—with nary an advertisement. In September the Jacobses released Life is Good: The Book , which shares their personal journey, champions the power of optimism and outlines 10 “superpowers” in all people. “Optimism is a powerful and pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a fulfilling life,” they write. Last year, they spoke at the Iconic Conference and held a nationwide book tour. Life is Good products are sold by more than 4,500 retailers nationwide and in 30 countries.


Pastor and best-selling author T.D. Jakes, known for his prolific works on spirituality and personal development, released Destiny: Step into Your Purpose last year, which hit No. 1 on the Apple iBooks U.S. best-seller list for spirituality and religion. “When you live with the belief that God has a plan for your life, you make decisions differently,” he writes. Also in 2015, the new T.D. Jakes Show had a trial run in four U.S. television markets. Recently called “America’s Best Preacher” by Time, Jakes heads The Potter’s House, a global humanitarian organization and 30,000-plus-member church with a multimedia ministry (including live streaming) that reaches millions of viewers.


In September Tory Johnson—author, SUCCESS columnist, and founder and CEO of Women for Hire—released Shift for Good: Simple Changes for Lasting Joy Inside and Out , a follow-up to her 2009 No. 1 New York Times best-seller, The Shift: How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life . “I wanted to Shift the way I viewed and lived other parts of my life with the same determination I had used to lose weight,” she writes in the former. Johnson is also founder of Spark & Hustle, a series of conferences for established and aspiring small-business owners nationwide, and a weekly contributor on Good Morning America, reaching millions with her “Deals & Steals.”


Named the most popular leadership expert in the world by Inc. in 2014, coach, pastor, SUCCESS Ambassador and best-selling author John C. Maxwell is still going strong. In 2015 he published JumpStart Your Growth: A 90-Day Improvement Plan , which became Amazon’s No. 1 new release in business leadership, followed by Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters. “What I love about Intentional Living is that it causes you to start. It doesn’t allow good intentions to stay as merely intentions,” he recently told SUCCESS. Maxwell also debuted the How Successful People Think digital course and 20 A Minute with Maxwell podcasts in addition to speaking at the Pureflow Leadership Summit, the Nordic Business Forum (in Helsinki), Live2Lead and more.


In 2015, Joel Osteen, senior pastor of America’s largest nondenominational church, continued his steady publishing history with the release of The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today . “Here’s the principle: Whatever follows the ‘I am’ [out of your mouth] will eventually find you,” writes the author of seven New York Times best-sellers. Seven million viewers tune in for his services weekly (Nielsen Media Research says he’s the most-watched inspirational figure in America), not just for his biblical teachings but also for his message of positivity and hope. His podcasts receive 48 million plays a week, regularly placing them in the top five globally.


Having opened up about his own financial struggles, Dave Ramsey has struck a chord with Americans seeking practical fiscal advice. Readers found just that in his five New York Times best-sellers, as well as on his syndicated The Dave Ramsey Show, heard by more than 8.5 million listeners weekly on more than 550 radio stations. Last year his 2003 best-seller, The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness , topped 5 million copies sold and remained on the PW/Nielsen best-seller list. “Winning at money is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge,” he writes. Ramsey recently reached audiences in person via his EntreLeadership and Smart Money events across the country.


Tom Rath is a researcher, adviser and author focusing on the role of human behavior in business, health and well-being. He recently debuted Are You Fully Charged? The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life , which ranked as high as No. 3 on the Wall Street Journal best-seller list for business hardcover. In it, he writes, “I am far more effective in my work on days when I am fully charged.… Until recently, it was unclear to me what specific actions create this daily charge.” Rath—the author of six best-sellers, with more than 6 million copies sold—bases his work on the latest, most practical research.


A Yale Law grad who ditched her legal career, Gretchen Rubin is an author and speaker on happiness and good habits. Her books have sold more than 2 million copies in 30 languages, and last year she released the New York Times best-seller Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives . She writes, “It’s simple to change habits, but it’s not easy.… Harness the power of habits to make change in your own life.” Best-known for 2009’s The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun , she also has a podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, that ranks in the top 1 percent of podcasts, and Rubin was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness” by Greatist.


The entrepreneur, philanthropist, and life and business strategist—known for harnessing the power of peak performance psychology—held programs in eight countries last year. Robbins also hit a record for the highest attendance at his Unleash the Power Within event with 7,000 guests, and his 2014 book, Money: Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom , was in the top 10 on the New York Times best-seller list for nine months. As of press time, he had reached 80 percent progress in his 100 Million Meals Challenge with Feeding America, seeking to feed the country’s 49 million hungry people: “I know that those are more than startling statistics—those numbers are human beings suffering—and I came from one of those families,” Robbins says.


The best-selling author, speaker and personal-development trainer released two books last year, Find Your Balance Point: Clarify Your Priorities, Simplify Your Life, and Achieve More and Bull’s Eye: The Power of Focus . “Each one of us has a different way of achieving true balance,” he writes in the former. “Each person experiences true balance when she is operating at her own unique balance point.” That clear, simple language—addressing everything from success strategy to goal-setting to leadership—resonated with about 250,000 people at events worldwide in 2015. Tracy also reaches audiences through hundreds of products such as mobile apps, online training programs and audio downloads.


Media powerhouse Oprah Winfrey, a longtime champion of personal growth, in 2015 continued to produce inspiring programs such as Super Soul Sunday, Oprah’s Lifeclass and Oprah’s Masterclass on her OWN network. She also released Audible and audio CD versions of 2014’s What I Know For Sure . “What I know for sure is that every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and step out and dance,” she writes. Winfrey—one of three black female billionaires on the 2015 Forbes billionaires list—reaches millions of fans via, with more than 70 million page views a week; Twitter, with 30 million followers; and O: The Oprah Magazine, with paid circulation of more than 2.4 million. Last year her The Life You Want Tour visited eight cities.

See the SUCCESS 25 on Instagram.


This article appears in the January 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Chelsea Greenwood has been contributing to print and online publications as an editor and writer for more than 10 years. A University of Florida graduate, she is the editor of a lifestyle magazine in South Florida.