CPA INSIDER

5 leadership books accountants should read right now

Consider these recommendations to unlock time-tested advice.
By Hannah Pitstick

As the world continues to rapidly change, finance professionals are looking to their bookshelves for advice on how to lead during times of uncertainty.

We asked several CPAs what leadership books they’re reading right now to help them navigate the changing landscape.

Here are their suggestions.

A More Beautiful Question, by Warren Berger.

People are sometimes afraid to ask questions for fear of appearing ignorant, but in 2014’s A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger argues that asking the right questions with a curious mindset can lead to better solutions in both life and business.

“I decided to read this book because, with the fast pace of change our profession has experienced, especially in the past year, it is more important than ever to ask the right questions,” said Jessica E. McClain, CPA, controller at Brand USA, based in Washington, D.C. “Asking questions can spark innovation, uncover unforeseen problems, risks, and challenges, and unlock organizational value.”

McClain said her next read will be Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life by Hal Gregersen.

The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek.

In The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek argues that unlike finite games like chess or baseball, business and life don’t follow a clear set of rules. As a result, leaders who use a finite mindset to play the “infinite games” of life and business might find it more difficult to innovate and navigate a rapidly changing landscape. For example, a leader with a finite mindset might focus on beating the competition, whereas a leader with an infinite mindset would focus on their firm’s reason for being and actively work to create long-term value for clients.

Adopting an infinite mindset has perhaps never been more important than it is today, as the world continues to change from moment to moment. Cheryl R. Olson, CPA, CGMA, solutions strategist at Clark Nuber PS, said the leadership team at her firm read this book in 2020 to help them align their practices during the pandemic.

“It was important for us to make decisions today for tomorrow’s leaders to ensure a strong and viable company going into the future,” Olson said.  

More Time to Think: The Power of Independent Thinking, by Nancy Kline.

Quality decisions arise from quality thinking. In this follow-up to Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind, Nancy Kline outlines 10 ways people can begin thinking with imagination and rigor, while creating a “Thinking Environment” for more effective teams.

“When things are changing, it's even more important that we understand the conditions that foster the very best thinking in ourselves and in our teams,” said Dan Griffiths, CPA, CGMA, president at Lume Deodorant, based in Salt Lake City. “This book breaks down exactly what we can do to help everyone think more clearly, quickly, and deeply.”

The EQ Leader: Instilling Passion, Creating Shared Goals, and Building Meaningful Organizations through Emotional Intelligence, by Steven J. Stein, Ph.D.

In The EQ Leader, Steven Stein argues that today’s greatest leaders are not the authoritarian figures of the past, but rather individuals who inspire their teams with authenticity, coaching, insight, and innovation. Especially after the events of the past year, teams need leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence who can strike the right balance of compassion and motivation. Jaclyn T. Badeau, CPA, CGMA, career coach and founder of Badeau Consulting LLC, based in Lexington, Ky., recommends accountants read a book on emotional intelligence, whether that’s Stein’s or Ego vs. EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps With Emotional Intelligence by Jen Shirkani.

“Research shows people with high usage of emotional intelligence (EQ) skills are happier, more resilient when facing obstacles, better leaders, and stronger performers,” Badeau said. “In fact, EQ is the largest predictor of job success.”

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, by Clayton Christensen.

The past year has proved that organizations and professionals who aren’t innovating are at increased risk of failure. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen takes a look at how various businesses responded to emerging technologies and offers advice on how to capitalize on disruptive innovation.

“Although it is a book about how companies can dominate their industries (or fail) with disruptive innovation, it is an important reminder to CPAs on how important it is to evolve and innovate with our clients to provide a great client experience and deliver value,” said Jim Buttonow, CPA/CITP, senior vice president of post-filing tax services at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc., based in Summerfield, N.C.

— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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