Read like a CEO: Paul Eagland, BDO

Philosophy, maths and biology are the only leadership tools required, says Paul Eagland, managing partner of accountancy firm BDO.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 29 May 2019

It comes as a bit of a surprise when an accountant tells you that he didn’t really start reading until he was well into his thirties. But, as Paul Eagland, managing partner of BDO LLP, explains, he "gave up" reading in his teens because he couldn’t find anything better than The Lord of the Rings trilogy – which he consumed in its entirety, twice.

That changed when he became fascinated with a combination of philosophy, biology and maths as tools for leadership: "They’re invaluable to me as a leader because they explain how we act as humans and help me understand what motivates people. There is no one single dominant field that gives you the answer."

Now that he’s enjoying reading again, Eagland shares his recommendations for business leaders.

"Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman provides biological evidence that the human brain operates in two modes. Both are incredibly important but we have a tendency to rely on our fast-thinking mode, because it’s easier, as opposed to our more considered slow mode – which uses more energy. I guarantee any leader who reads this book will change the way they engage with people.

"When it comes to numbers, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow explains how probability is at play in every part of our lives. It constantly makes me stop and think about my decision making. Is it genuinely paying off or am I just being lucky?

"If you want to understand the importance of diversity and inclusivity, What Works by Iris Bohnet digs deeper and shares practical and organisational things leaders can do to effect change. It’s very powerful.

"Another book that is crucial for a people-based business is Drive by Daniel Pink. It’s brilliantly researched and reveals why high-performing individuals are driven by autonomy, purpose and mastery rather than money.

"Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari are absolute must-reads because they provide a fantastic context to human evolution and explain where we might go in the next 1,000 years. They’ve helped to keep me sane.

"Yes! by Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin and Robert Cialdini talks about how small differences, particularly in communication, can persuade people to behave in a positive way. I’m a huge fan of positive communication.

"Factfulness by the late Hans Rosling cites evidenced-based research that humans, including senior business leaders, have little appreciation of the true state of the world. It’s in a much better place than we think, but our ‘instinctive’ analysis of matters is heavily impacted by bias. I see this every day in our business."

Wider reading

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

It’s about a journalist who has investigated a series of murders that took place in 1920s Osage County, Oklahoma.

The Great Crash 1929 by JK Galbraith

A brilliant, accessible analysis of the Great Crash, including the lessons all business leaders should be aware of – many of which were, unfortunately, repeated in the run up to 2008.

Plato

Even though he wrote 2,300 years ago, the Athenian philosopher shows how humans have always been trying to understand the world we live in.


Image credit: BDO LLP

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