This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Leadership and Self-Deception" by The Arbinger Institute. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is Aringer Institute’s Leadership and Self-Deception about? What is “out of the box” management?
Leadership and Self-Deception is the Arbinger Institute’s leadership fable about a man named Tom who needs to learn some lessons if he wants to keep working at Zagrum Company. The story follows Tom’s transformation while providing advice to the reader on how to change the way you think about others.
Keep reading for a quick overview of the story.
How to Get Out of the Box
People sometimes try unsuccessfully to address the discomfort of being stuck in the box by taking one or more of the following steps:
- Changing other people: If you try to change others, you’re likely to provoke the opposite of what you want. The person you need to change is yourself.
- Trying to cope with or put up with others: When you do this, you’re continuing to blame others—you’re still in your box and causing them to stay in theirs.
- Leaving: Often, when you just walk away from a situation where you’re frustrated or ineffective, you take your box or distorted thinking with you rather than solving your problems.
- Changing your behavior: This won’t work if you’re doing it to get someone else to do what you want. Your insincerity and focus on yourself will be apparent to others and they’ll discount you.
Getting Out of the Box
In the Arbinger Institute’s Leadership and Self-Deception, the way to get out of the box, or escape your distorted thinking about others, is to see them as people rather than obstacles or threats. You need to see others as people with needs on a par with your own needs and stop resisting your sense of obligation to others.
As soon as you stop resisting and choose to respond to others’ needs, you’re being true to yourself. You no longer need your self-justifying thoughts and feelings—and you’re out of the box.
This is difficult when self-justifying behavior has become a habit, but it’s doable one step at a time. The fact is that while you’re in the box with some people, you’re probably and out of the box with others at the same time. This is a positive sign because being out of the box with someone means you have the capacity to change your perspective more generally and be out of the box with others in your life as well.
When you’re out of the box with someone, your awareness of their needs can help you break down your boxes with others. When you start seeing one relationship more clearly, you begin seeing others more clearly as well.
Staying Out of the Box
The more you stop resisting and instead respond to others’ needs, the more you’ll stay out of the box. This doesn’t mean doing everything for everyone—it means doing what you can. Appreciating others and treating them considerately is liberating and frees up the energy required for self-justification. For instance, in the example of Bud ignoring the crying baby, he probably expended more effort mentally justifying his inaction than he would have by immediately getting up and caring for the baby.
The Story: Tom Gets Out of the Box
During the discussion of self-justification and provoking others, Tom thought of his wife and son and how he’d blamed and provoked them to justify his neglect of them. He realized they needed both his attention and apologies.
On his way home that evening (with his final session with Bud to take place the next day), Tom decided to pick up some items for a backyard barbecue. He would start turning things around by helping to prepare a meal for his family for the first time in months.
He also decided to ask his son to show him how to tune up his car’s engine. Todd liked working with cars, but Tom had ridiculed this interest because he wanted his son to have a higher-status job that would make his father look good.
That evening was the best Tom had had with his family in years. Without having any expectations, he just enjoyed spending time with them rather than thinking of them as problems or obstacles to his happiness. He cooked dinner and then worked with his son on the car. While Todd said little (at least they didn’t argue), Laura kept asking him what was going on. So Tom explained what he’d learned about how self-deception ruins your relationships. Laura didn’t quite follow his explanation, but they all went to bed without hard feelings for once.
The next morning when Tom arrived to meet with Bud, he found Lou Herbert, the company’s retired president, ready to meet with him instead. In telling Lou about his evening with his family, Tom realized that he’d gotten out of the box by thinking of them as people rather than problems and choosing to meet their needs.
The Story of Zagrum’s Transformation
Bud arrived and said he’d invited Lou to talk about how understanding and eliminating self-deception had transformed Zagrum Company.
Lou’s story started with his son Cory, who was in constant trouble as a teenager. Finally, at wits’ end, Lou and his wife enrolled Cory in a wilderness program for troubled teens in Arizona. The program included a session for parents on self-deception and its impact on their relationship with their teenager.
Lou discovered he had been in the box in terms of his behavior and attitude toward his wife and children. He also realized that being in the box with his company had driven away some of his best employees.
As the company’s CEO, Lou had believed he was infallible and that if something went wrong, it was someone else’s fault. His blaming provoked resistance and mistrust. The more his team resisted, the more controlling he became until, finally, five of six executive team members left on the same day. He justified his behavior by rationalizing that they were incompetent anyway.
As the session in Arizona, Lou began to see his family and his employees differently, and he realized that to save his company, he needed to change himself, then put the self-deception training into practice and instill it in everyone who worked for him.
The first thing Lou did when he got back to work was to visit Kate Stenarude, who was one of the executives who’d quit. He apologized, explained what he’d learned, and implored her to come back to help turn the company around.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Leadership and Self-Deception summary:
- How self-deception derails personal and professional relationships
- How to get "out of the box" of distorted thinking
- Why you need to stop seeing others as obstacles or threats