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What is the Zagrum Company from Leadership and Self-Deception? Why would this company be considered “out of the box”?
In the Arbinger Institute’s leadership fable Leadership and Self-Deception, the main character Tom struggles with self-betrayal and treating others with respect—both at work and at home. He is told about Bud’s experience at the Zagrum Company in hopes of inspiring him to change.
Here is the Zagrum Company’s story.
Others React to Your True Feelings
Leaders who are in the box create or exacerbate problems by trying to manipulate others. But your motivation comes through regardless of your words. Others sense how you really feel about them and respond in ways that may be the opposite of what you want.
People recognize and resent insincerity and manipulation. It doesn’t matter what management technique you use—managing by walking around, practicing active listening, or showing interest by asking personal questions. People pick up on and respond to the feelings behind your actions (your feelings toward them).
Self-deceived leaders who try to manipulate others provoke them to resist. In contrast, an out-of-the-box leader’s words may be unpolished, but she still may motivate people and inspire loyalty. They grasp the underlying message of how she feels about people; the words themselves are secondary.
Here are some examples of how people pick up on insincerity at home and at work:
- Gabe, a manager at Zagrum, tried to get an employee, Leon, to cooperate with him. To try to create a bond, Gabe asked Leon about his family and also invited him to lunch to show interest in him. But Leon responded with even more resistance because Gabe came across as insincere. It was clear to Leon that Gabe wasn’t really interested in him—Gabe was interested in himself and what he wanted to accomplish, for which he needed Leon’s cooperation.
- One morning before leaving for work, Bud had an argument with his wife over leaving dirty dishes in the sink. While they debated who should have washed the dishes, Bud suddenly realized he would be late for work. So to end the argument, he said he was sorry and kissed his wife. She responded coolly, however, saying, “You don’t mean it.” He then felt unappreciated and blamed her for refusing an apology.
In both examples, the first person’s words and gestures didn’t match his feelings, and the other person responded with resistance.
The Story: A Leader Who Inspired
As their meeting continued, Bud told Tom about an incident during his early years working for Zagrum company. He worked hard under a short deadline to complete every aspect of an assignment except a small one—he was tired after hours of work and decided this aspect was unimportant compared to all he’d accomplished. The next day, Bud presented his work to company executives, and noted at the end that he hadn’t finished the one small thing.
Lou Herbert, then company president, turned to then-vice president Kate Stenarude and reassigned the task to her. As Bud left the meeting feeling embarrassed, Lou walked him back to his office. After a friendly conversation, Lou gently said that he hoped Bud wouldn’t let the team down in the future. Lou was a legend in the company and industry for the way he inspired and motivated people—and now Bud understood why. He sensed that Lou cared about him and wanted him to do better, and he responded by improving his performance rather than by feeling resentful or threatened.
As Bud spoke, Tom realized that his own insincerity was part of the reason his wife Laura seemed increasingly resentful toward him. He was burying himself in his work and spending little time with her. She got the feeling from him that she and their son Todd were an annoyance and a burden to him. Their interactions had become superficial and strained.
People pay attention to the vibes they get from others, Bud noted. Some leaders can be awkward yet inspire commitment and results, while others can say exactly the right things but fail as leaders because people realize they’re insincere and discount what they say.
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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