3 Surprising Books to Read Before You Become Partner

These must-reads will help CPAs hone their soft skills and better understand their profession.

February 16, 2016

There’s a glut of management, leadership, and self-help books available to read. Browsing on Amazon.com or elsewhere alone can make one’s head spin.

So how do young CPAs sift through pages of options and figure out which books can most help them in their quest for professional success—especially when it comes to making partner? We asked three accounting experts to give us their suggestions. They might not be what you’d expect as they focus more on soft skills and the profession’s history than on popular technical topics. Here are their choices:

Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita (Summary of Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportions and Proportionality), by Luca Pacioli, the Franciscan friar known as the father of accounting. Published in 1494, Summa tackles everything from algebra and geometry to accounting and double-entry bookkeeping. Originally written in Latin, Summa has since been translated (check your local library and online).

“Pacioli provides some deep insights into business and accounting of the day, which was surprisingly complex,” says Roger Debreceny, Ph.D., distinguished professor of accounting at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. “And being a monk, he provides some moral lessons that are still important for accountants 500 years later.”

Debreceny refers to this book in his classes and says that it is important for accounting graduates to know "the historical roots of the profession."

How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Published initially in the 1930s, this book has become a fixture on the shelves for many people in business, and has been relevant for generations, with more than 4,000 reviews—most of them positive—on Amazon.com alone. The book focuses on the art of successfully collaborating with others, avoiding conflict or other human-related problems, and boosting your popularity and salesmanship to win new clients. It gives advice on management, persuasion, and leadership.

“Many young people, particularly accounting majors, are more introverted,” says Donald Williamson, CPA, J.D., a graduate-level accounting professor at American University. “This book offers insights on how someone can view problems and issues from the other person's perspective, and suggests ways you can get others to see the same problems and issues [through] your perspective, thereby leading to resolutions...”

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, by Daniel Goleman. Published in 2013, this book emphasizes that having focus in our world of constant distractions is crucial to performance and success.

Dan Stone, CPA (inactive), Ph.D., an endowed chair and director of graduate studies at the University of Kentucky, says the book addresses a critical problem he sees today among both college-age students and faculty. “The great failing of professional life these days is the inability to pay attention,” he says.

The book, he notes, addresses how you can improve your ability to pay attention to yourself, to others, and to the outside world. After all, he writes, “Though it matters enormously for how we navigate life, attention in all its varieties represents a little noticed and underrated mental asset.”

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California.

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