Leadership and Self Deception (The Arbinger Institute)

Leadership and Self Deception (The Arbinger Institute)

I read Leadership and Self-Deception thanks to a suggestion from Dani, my coach.

It’s a quick read, written in the “business parable” style, where a point is made through a story – in this case, an engaging but somewhat cheesy story. In Leadership and Self-Deception, the main character spends a couple of days at his new job learning about, you guessed it, leadership and self-deception.

The main point this book makes is that people around us respond primarily to how we’re feeling towards them. If we feel closed or resentful towards someone, no amount of “people skills” or “management techniques” is going to prevent that person from picking up on it. This applies everywhere in life. In a work environment, in particular, how we see and relate to others has a big impact on how effective we can be as leaders. If we aren’t willing to see others in their full complex humanity, we won’t be able to accomplish our best work together.

Another interesting point the book makes is that we often get into this closed state (the book calls it being “in the box” towards someone) because of self-betrayal: we fail to do for another person something we thought we should do, and in order to avoid feeling bad about it, we start making stories about how it is actually the other person’s fault, hardening ourselves against them.

I read the book a couple of months back and I keep coming back to my notes from it. I suspect I’ll keep coming back to these ideas again and again.

You can see my Kindle highlights on Goodreads. Here are my rough notes:

  • self-deception: inability to see that one has a problem
  • self-deception: being in the box
  • people respond primarily to how we’re feeling about them on the inside
    • “people skills” are never primary
    • people respond mostly to how we are regarding them, how we’re being
  • two fundamental ways of being regarding other people
    • i’m seeing others straightforwardly as they are – as people like me, with legitimate needs and desires
      • i am a person among people
    • or not…
      • i am the person among objects
      • i am in the box towards them
  • the distinction is not in my behavior, but in the way i’m being
    • the choice isn’t to be “hard” or “soft”; the choice is to be in the box or not
  • it’s not important what others think; what’s important is what I think
  • self-betrayal
    • an act contrary to what i feel i should do for another person
    • when i betray myself, i start to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal
    • when i start to see the world in a way that justfies my self-betrayal, my view of reality becomes distorted
    • the germ that creates the disease of self-deception
  • consequences of self-betrayal
    • we inflate others’ faults when we need to feel justified for our faults
    • we come to see ourselves in self-justifying ways, and carry these self-justifying images into new situations – we enter those new situations already “in the box”
  • subtleties of self-justifying images
    • when i’m thinking of myself as the sort of person that thinks of others, i’m thinking of myself, not of others
  • we all have a lot of work to do!
  • the box makes us ineffective, and also destructive
    • when i’m in the box what i most need is to feel justified
    • when i’m in the box i actually need people to make problems (so that i can feel justified)
    • blaming because their shortcomings justify my failure to improve
  • collusion: two people in the box mutually towards each other
  • out of the box, focus is results; in the box, focus is on justification
  • we can be at the same time in the box towards some people, and out of the box towards others
  • getting out of the box
    • you can’t get out by focusing on yourself; and trying to change your behavior is focusing on yourself
    • in the box, we’re actively resisting the humanity of others and what that humanity calls us to do for them
    • an out-of-the-box environment can be supplied by others, and from that environment we can consider our in-the-box relationships with new clarity
    • the more we can find our way to out-of-the-box vantage points within us, the more we are able to shine light on our in-the-box justifications
  • the leaders that people choose to follow are the leaders who are out of the box
  • knowing the material doesn’t get you out of the box; we need to live the material
    • don’t use this to diagnose others – that’s another way of being in the box
    • use this to learn how we can be more helpful to others
  • knowing the material
    • self-betrayal leads to self-deception and “the box”
    • when in the box, you can’t focus on results
    • your influence and success depend on being out of the box
    • you get out of the box as you cease resisting other people
  • living the material
    • don’t try to be perfect; do try to be better
    • don’t use the vocabulary with people who don’t already know it; do use the principles in your own life
    • don’t look for others’ boxes; do look for your own
    • don’t accuse others of being in the box; do try to stay out of the box yourself
    • don’t give up on yourself when you discovered you’ve been in the box; do keep trying
    • don’t deny that you’ve been in the box when you’ve been; do apologize
    • don’t focus on what others are doing wrong; do focus on what you can do right to help
    • don’t worry whether others are helping you; do worry whether you are helping others