New book sheds light on elites – but do you want to join them?
A new book by headhunter, executive coach and former non-governmental organisation chair Douglas Board promises to shine a light on the ‘magic trick’ used by the world’s elites.
Elites: can you rise to the top without losing your soul? explains how entitled leaders occupy elite positions in our society, leading our businesses and governments. But this book, published by Eye Books, is much more than a potshot fired at those at the top.
Instead, it’s a surprising guide to avoiding the traps which many would-be leaders and senior managers fall into which undermine their self-esteem and block their ascent.
It may inspire you to advance to the top – or it may persuade you to reconsider.
In gentle steps it unpacks a giant magic trick: how and why all of us, wherever we are on the ladder of power, end up giving those at the top more respect than they need or deserve. And we do it at our own expense. Having had for many years backstage access as a headhunter and now a coach to many of Britain’s elites, Douglas is on a mission to show us that A-listers are a lot more ordinary than we (or they) think.
Unusually for a management writer, Douglas is also a novelist. His first novel was a farce, MBA (why is so much of the world managed by a***holes?’). The Bookseller called it ‘a must read for anyone who enjoyed Franzen’s Freedom or Eggers’ The Circle’. His second novel, Time Of Lies, was described by Chris Mullin as ‘a milestone in dystopian fiction’.
His switch to non-fiction has been almost 15 years in the planning however, after he was inspired by a business trip to India to “get off the hamster wheel” of headhunting and change his life.
And after completing a doctorate in management to get a better understanding of what goes on at the top of the tree, he then set out to find a way to write about it in a language everyone could understand.
“‘You have no right to a reader’s attention. If you can make it enjoyable, you should. Why should that be different for non-fiction?’
Described by Board as “a detective story about glass ceilings and a big push for a happier, more connected world”, Elites has been garnering praise for its profound insights.
The Financial Times review reads: “This is as much a work of social philosophy as it is a business book — an examination of meritocracy, meaning and the “magic tricks” by which a small group sustains itself at the pinnacle of society.”
Elites uses the Harry Potter distinctions of wizards at the top, compared to the muggles going to extreme lengths to make it – with a “muggle crust” (including Board) of those closest to the summit but prevented from reaching it by a form of glass ceiling.
But although Board’s tips are helpful for those trying to become wizards, the review adds: “His serious and subversive point, however, is that the quest simply may not be worth it. Instead, everyone has the opportunity to form fruitful ties with like-minded people and contribute to a much more diverse society.”
“Elites isn’t an us-and-them book, about conspiracies and villains; it’s a we-book, about how our whole society gets something wrong,” explains Douglas.
“What we’ve stopped seeing is the deep connection between the ordinariness of our extraordinary achievers and the extraordinariness of ‘ordinary’ life.’
He goes on: “Also, Elites isn’t the kind of book which says everyone can and should get to the top. It contains three different sets of practical advice: for climbing to the top; for giving yourself greater respect for what you have already achieved, and opening up new choices; and for changing the kind of organisations we build.
“What I would say is if you are one of those individuals who have found yourself half-way up a professional or corporate ladder and you are convinced getting to the top is not for you, then maybe you should think again. It’s about getting people to question that assumption that they’re not good enough, and understand that maybe you are and seeing how that can change their outlook and their fortunes.”
‘Elites: can you rise to the top without losing your soul?’ (Eye Books, £12.99) is available from bookshops and as an e-book or audiobook; you can order it from the publisher with free UK p&p here. Find Douglas on Twitter @BoardWryter.