Paperback: 208pp

Publisher: Eye Books (March 2021)

ISBN: 9781785632228


Douglas Board


Can you rise to the top without losing your soul?

‘Profound, serious, subversive, often very funny’ – Financial Times

Across the world, key decisions are made by tiny coteries of political and business leaders. With enough talent, elan and hard work, any of us can join them – so we are told. Follow key rules: be transparent; defer to bosses and clients; take responsibility; feedback is everything. Understand these and the world is our oyster.

But is it? Decades of working with leaders have shown headhunter, executive coach and former NGO chair Douglas Board that it may not be. Many would-be leaders and senior managers fall into traps which block their rise and undermine their self-esteem.

Elites outlines those traps and shows how best to avoid them. Armed with this knowledge, you may want to use it and join the top tier. However, it may also make you reconsider. Knowing how elites work, do you still want to join them? Or can you find ways to change them?

In this authoritative, ground-breaking guide, Board suggests that true fulfilment demands an adventure into the unknown inside ourselves: why do we seek what we seek? Prepare to be surprised.





‘This book couldn’t be more timely. It explains how the barely competent but entitled occupy elite positions in our organisations and in society in general. It illuminates the endless round of board appointments after evident failure. It’s also practical, offering tactics and tips to navigate the devious complexities of corporate hierarchies’

Gareth Jones

Elites gives a no-bullshit new lens through which to view the workplace. Surely ‘wizards’ and ‘muggle crust’ must now enter the management lexicon?’

Lynne Embleton, CEO, Aer Lingus

The ultimate travel guide of power in the world of work; packed with places to see, things to do and with lots of shared personal experience. At the end you feel as if you know this new terrain and are eager to explore it further’

Niall Trafford, CEO, Buildings Research Establishment

A witty and irreverent insider’s reflection on the mysteries of climbing to the top’

Professor Hugh Wilmott, Cardiff University

‘I get irritated by people who are nothing like as good as they think they are, but after reading this book I now understand them so much better’

Professor David Sims, Cass Business School, London

‘Douglas appeals to the capacity that each one of us has to use our talents, common sense and hard work to help us climb the hills and mountains of power’

Dr Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town

‘Highly original, thought-provoking, excellent, Elites offers a unique lens on leadership across many contexts. I loved thinking about muggles and wizards in the Church’

Rosemary Lain-Priestley, adviser to the Bishop of London


‘Elites looks as though it is another book about how to rise to the top in business. It turns out to be more interesting, and more profound. This is as much a work of social philosophy as it is a business book. Sharp and often very funny...Board’s serious point is that the quest [to join the elite] may not be worth it’

Financial Times

‘You might expect Elites to be a simple guide to how to make it or a description of the traits and characteristics of those at the top. Instead, it is something much more interesting and controversial’


‘Intriguing…controversial…a quiet revolution in the world of elites. Board is sceptical about whether aiming to join the elite is actually such a good idea. Indeed, he suggests that the system as it operates now needs to change since we are perpetuating an infantile society’

Management Today

‘Every so often a business book comes along that not only offers great insights and actions but which also views leadership through a different lens. Elites is one such book – and is witty to boot’

The People Space

‘Essentially about the ethics of power, Elites is written from the heart. I loved it’

Christina Patterson, Work Interrupted

Elites breaks radical new ground. It shows why, paradoxically, meritocracies create glass ceilings. We end up with a society-wide misallocation of respect in favour of a few at the top, which hurts us all’

Vikas Shah, Thought Economics

‘Quite fascinating...a really refreshing book, written really differently to most books of this kind’

Bobby Kerr, Newstalk

‘Board is especially interesting on why meritocracies create glass ceilings, when your instinct would lead you to suppose that assisting a smooth transition to the top is the point of a meritocracy’

Engineering & Technology Magazine

‘A marvellous read. It’s one of those books that goes down smoothly like a bowl of ice cream and then, as it glides down, you realise you’ve eaten more than you thought. So delicious but so much more filling!’

Dr Madelyn Blair, Unlocked


Douglas Board regrets the lack of empathy among our ruling elites in an article for Fortune magazine.

Douglas discusses the issues raised in Elites on Christina Patterson’s Work Interrupted podcast.

And here he is with former Irish 'Dragon' Bobby Kerr on the Newstalk podcast Down to Business.

Vikas Shah of Thought Economics interviews Douglas about Elites.

‘We have misunderstood glass ceilings. They are closer to being a feature of meritocracies than to being a bug. That’s why they are so persistent...’ Douglas discusses the issues raised in Elites at The People Space.

‘Much has been written about glass ceilings but I think Elites is the first book to suggest they’re produced by meritocracies...’ Douglas in a two-minute video for Saxton Bamfylde.

‘Machiavelli wrote to make the world a better place. So he wrote for the individuals – princes in his day – with the power. My book is written for the prince’s corporate and professional lieutenants for exactly the same reason.’ Douglas writes for the Business Graduates Association.


Douglas Board

Born in Hong Kong, Douglas Board has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard and worked for the UK Treasury and then as a headhunter. He has also had a distinguished career in public life, serving as treasurer of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and chairing the British Refugee Council. He is currently an honorary senior visiting fellow at the business school of City, University of London.

He is the author of two applied research books on leadership, which was the subject of his doctorate. Elites, published by Eye Books in 2021, is the product of his years of experience as a headhunter. In addition he is the author of two novels: the campus satire MBA, which asked why so much of the business world is Managed By Arseholes, and Time of Lies, an exploration of the collapse of democracy. He also wrote the free-to-download novelette, The Rats: A White House Satire.

Follow him on Twitter @BoardWryter.