Leadership and Self-Deception (very brief book review)

The book, “Leadership and Self-Deception,” by the Arbinger Institute, is one of my favorite books on leadership because it marries my interest in organizational failure with a personal perspective on how leaders can fail. I have included links for reviews of the book and I provide a short summary of the book’s key points that I got from Jason Lloyd several years ago. This post relates to the "Effective Executive" series since Drucker notes that managing yourself requires taking responsibility for relationships, the first part of which is “to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as you yourself are. We must see and treat people exactly as they are: people. Doing anything less undermines our ability to lead. We can duplicate the processes of a world class organization and we still won't be a world class organization unless we see and treat people as people. The book shows how to consistently tap into and act on your innate sense of what is right, dramatically improving all of your relationships.

Self-deception comes from being "in the box;" or so wrapped up in your own paradigm that you fail to come "out of the box" to get a more objective view.  When you are self-deceived, you have the inability to understand that you have a problem. When we are "Out of the Box", we see other people as people with emotions, feelings, hopes, goals, families, just like us.  When we are "In the Box," we see people as objects or obstacles to what we want to achieve.

There is something much deeper than behavior that determines our influence upon others - it's whether we're in or out of the box.  When we are in the box, our view of reality is distorted - we see neither ourselves nor others clearly.  We are self-deceived.  And that creates all kinds of troubles for the people around us.

How Do You Get "In the Box"?  Self Betrayal

  1. Self-betrayal is an act contrary to what you feel that you should do for another person
  2. When you betray yourself, you start to see the world in a way that justifies your self-betrayal.
  3. When you see a self-justifying world, your view of reality becomes distorted.
  4. So…. When you betray yourself, you enter the box - you become self-deceived
  5. Over time, certain boxes become characteristic of you, and you carry them with yourself.  You start to see yourself in "self justifying ways" (i.e., a good parent, someone who knows everything about shipyard maintenance, etc.).  You carry these self-justifying images with yourself into new situations, and to the extent that you do, you enter the new situation already "in the box."  If people act in ways that challenge the claim made by a self-justifying image, we see them as threats.  If they reinforce the claim made by a self-justifying image, we see them as allies.
  6. By being in the box, you provoke others to be in the box
  7. In the box, we invite mutual mistreatment and obtain mutual justification.  We collude in giving each other reason to stay in the box.

What Happens to You “In the Box”

When you are “in the box,” you can't focus on results because you are focused on yourself.  You run all over people trying to get your own results, with devastating effects.  Self-Betrayal is the germ that causes the disease of Self-Deception.  Self-Deception has many different symptoms, from lack of motivation to communication problems.  Organizations die, or become severely crippled by these symptoms.  This happens because those who carry the germ (self-betrayal) don't know they're carrying it.

What doesn't work in the box?

1.         Trying to change others. 

2.         Doing your best to "cope" with others

3.         Leaving

4.         Communicating

5.         Implementing new skills or techniques (You are seen as deceptive)

6.         Changing your behavior (You are seen as deceptive) - This is key…. No techniques or behavioral adjustments will get you out of the box.   Not even being nice and listening

How Do You Get Out of the Box….. And Stay Out!

In order to get out of the box towards anyone, we need to honor them as people.  The moment that you see another as a person, with needs, hopes and worries as real and legitimate as your own – you are "out of the box."

It helps to stay out of the box if we focus on:

- Not trying to “change” others. This is a recipe for frustration. You don’ get “in the box” because of the problems of others.

- Not resigning yourself to "cope" with others. This is disguised blaming.

- Not simply walking away from the situation. This might be a good short-term solution if you find yourself getting angry, but it just moves your box.

Here is a checklist of things to think about as you carry out your leadership roles:

- Are you really focused on results, or on your own needs?

- Are you open or closed to the idea that you might be wrong?

- Do you always try to learn from and teach others when you can?

- Are your first questions after a setback (for yourself or others), “How did I contribute to this problem?” and “What could I have done differently?” Do you hold yourself fully accountable in work, or shift responsibility when things go wrong?

- Do you focus on what others are doing wrong or what you can do to help?

- Can you accept the challenge to earn people’s trust or do you expect them to do what you say because of your position?

As soon as you are "out of the box", you have a choice to make.  Are you going to do what you feel is right for the other person, or self-betray again.  If you honor your conscience, you stay out of the box.  If you self-betray, you are back in the box.

Finally, always remember that it is progress, not perfection, you should be looking for. Don’t try to be perfect, just better.

The new edition has been revised throughout to make the story (the book is written in story format like, "The Goal") more readable and compelling. Drawing on the extensive correspondence the authors have received over the years, they have added a section that outlines the many ways that readers have been using Leadership and Self-Deception, focusing on five specific areas: hiring, teambuilding, conflict resolution, accountability, and personal growth and development.

Jason Lloyd recommends “Anatomy of Peace,” by the Arbinger Institute for follow-on reading. The book delves into how to apply the principles introduced in “Leadership and Self Deception.”

How (formerly) Successful Leaders Fail

What we really learned from Thresher