Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

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 does it mean to lead outside the box? What makes the Zagrum company an out-of-the-box company?

In the Arbinger Institute’s story Leadership and Self-Deception, they tell of a company called Zagrum that manages to keep people focused on results while treating others as people—this makes them an out-of-the-box company. And if the main character Tom wants to keep his job, he’ll need to learn the Zagrum way.

Continue reading for Leadership and Self-Deception advice for getting out of the box.

The Story: Zagrum Gets Back On Track

In Leadership and Self-Deception, getting out of the box is the main goal for every company and leader. In the story, Kate gave Lou and the company a second chance. They started sharing the basic ideas about being in and out of the box with others in the company and the atmosphere began to change. Then over the years, they developed a system to incorporate the ideas into training as well as company strategy and practice. The process included a one-on-one meeting with each new employee introducing the concepts and an accountability system that focused on results and minimized “people” problems.

The result, Lou explained, is that Zagrum is an out-of-the-box company that keeps people focused on results while treating others as people.

Lou’s story about his son had a positive ending as well. While he was focused on changing the direction of his company, Lou and his son began exchanging letters during the two months of the wilderness program. Through the letters, they apologized, and started getting to know each other as people and healing their relationship.

The key, Lou said, was getting out of the box. You can’t know the people you live and work with until you see them outside the box, free of your distorted thinking and blaming.

Leadership Outside the Box

Tom’s last step was to become an out-of-the-box leader to support Zagrum’s strategy and bottom line.

In their final conversation, Bud and Tom discussed managing outside the box. Bud cited a common workplace self-betrayal: employees get into a box in terms of their relationships with coworkers and undermine the company’s results.

Here’s how it develops: When most people start a job, they’re thankful to have it and feel an obligation to contribute to the company’s success. They start out wanting to do their best but over time, their feelings change. They begin to develop negative feelings toward coworkers and to have problems. They get into boxes.

Managers who are in the box themselves, or thinking in distorted ways, can’t fix these employee problems. But being out of the box and seeing the situation clearly allows you to assess responsibility and solve the problems. Because you’re not focused on blaming others and justifying your own actions—but on meeting the company’s needs—you’re in a position to help employees improve their performance.

Tom thought of his former boss, Chuck Staehli, whom he’d been blaming for treating employees badly and being difficult to work with. Chuck was clearly in the box, but Tom realized he was also in the box in terms of his thinking toward his former boss. 

Bud acknowledged that it’s challenging to work for someone who’s often in the box, and you can get pulled into a box of your own, in which you justify your failings by blaming your boss’s bad behavior. Of course, once you respond from within your box, you need your boss to continue being a bad boss to maintain your justifications.

But when your boss is in the box and behaves badly, you should take note of the effects and resolve to be a better leader yourself if you get the chance someday. Bud explained that people may follow an in-the-box manager because they feel they have no other option. However, forcing allegiance isn’t leadership. In contrast, people choose to follow out-of-the-box leaders.

Your success as a leader depends on avoiding self-betrayal by being true to yourself and responding to others’ needs. When you’re out of the box, you can support out-of-the-box behavior in others. Leaders owe it to themselves, their company, and their employees to be out of the box.

Tom realized that to be a better leader and get results for the company, he’d have to rethink his job, use new methods of assessment and reporting, be accountable, and hold his employees accountable while also helping them improve their performance.

To help Tom get started, Bud gave him a quick-reference card about self-deception and how to counter it:

The Truth About Self-Deception

  • Self-betrayal leads to self-deception, which limits your thinking or traps you in the box.
  • When you’re in the box, you can’t produce the results you were hired to produce.
  • To succeed as a leader, you have to be out of the box.
  • To get out of the box, stop treating people as obstacles and resisting their needs.

How to Be an Out-of-the-Box Leader

  • Aim for improvement, not perfection, and don’t give up.
  • Apply the principles in this book, but don’t use the terminology with people unfamiliar with it.
  • Instead of pointing out others’ boxes, concentrate on staying out of the box yourself.
  • Don’t focus on your failures or others’ failures—look for more ways to help others in the future.

Families, organizations, and companies are made up of people. To know and appreciate them as people, you need to be out of the box and free of your blinders and self-centered thinking.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of The Arbinger Institute's "Leadership and Self-Deception" at Shortform .

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

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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