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Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.
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Self-deception—our tendency to see the world around us in a distorted way—is a common personal and organizational problem. Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute explains how self-deception derails our relationships and keeps organizations and leaders from achieving the results they want.

Instead of focusing on producing results, many leaders are trapped “in the box” of distorted thinking—they blame others to justify their own failures. They create the “people” problems that plague most organizations. Through the fictional story of a new executive joining an unusual company, this book tells leaders how to get “out of the box”—but you don't have to be a leader to apply the principles to your life and workplace.

In-the-Box Thinking

You’re in a state of self-deception when you know or want to do the right thing but don’t do it. By not acting, you betray yourself, then feel guilty or frustrated by your behavior. To justify it, you blame the other person for causing a problem. You’re deceiving yourself about your behavior and motivations.

You don't see that you’re causing the problem and therefore you can’t resolve it. The book refers to this deluded state as being trapped “in the box.”

For instance, you betray and then deceive yourself when you:

  • Pull into the last parking space right in front of someone else, then rush into your building to make it look like you were in a hurry and needed the parking space.
  • Fail to share important information with a colleague although you know they would benefit from it. You tell yourself they should be able to figure things out themselves.
  • Treat a clerk poorly when you know they’re overworked and not responsible for the length of the checkout line. You tell yourself that regardless of the challenges, it's their job to provide good service.

A company can’t solve problems that are getting in the way of results if the people causing those problems are in the box, or unable to see how they’re responsible.

Being ‘In the Box’ Distorts Your View of Reality

When you’re in the box, you see only your own interests and have a distorted view of others—you see them as objects or as problems standing in your way. In contrast, when you’re out of the box and not limited by your distorted view, you see people as being human like you and having equally legitimate interests.

How you feel toward someone depends on whether you’re viewing them from in or out of your box. Here’s an example of how this works:

An in-the-box view: As a business traveler boards a bus, he notices there are few open seats. There’s an empty seat next to him but he doesn’t want to sit with anyone, so he puts his briefcase on the seat and spreads out a newspaper in front of him.

He viewed the other passengers as threats or problems rather than as people like him with the same right to a seat. He sees himself as more important and everyone else and their needs as secondary (he’s deluded or deceiving himself).

An out-of-the-box view: A couple is traveling together but the bus is crowded and they can’t find seats side-by-side. A woman with an empty seat beside her offers to take another seat so the couple can sit together. She sees them as people with needs and interests like hers. She’s outside the box and sees the things with a clear view.

On the two buses, the same thing is happening on the surface—both the business traveler and the woman are sitting next to empty seats. But their mental states of being in and out of the box are different.

How you truly feel about a situation or person—whether you're in or out of the box—comes through regardless of your words. Others sense how you feel about them and respond in ways that may be the opposite of what you want.

Self-Betrayal

The way you get into a box, or become trapped by self-deception, in the first place is by betraying yourself. You betray yourself when you choose not to do what you know you should do or actually want to do—for instance, not holding an elevator for someone, or feeling that you should apologize to someone but not doing so.

Once you’ve betrayed yourself, you act in destructive ways to justify or rationalize it:

  • You exaggerate other people's faults.
  • You exaggerate your own virtue or rightness.
  • You overstate the importance of factors that justify your self-betrayal.
  • You blame...

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Introduction

Self-deception—our tendency to see the world around us in a distorted way—is a common personal and organizational problem that deserves more attention. It determines how we relate to others as well as how they respond to us. In Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute, the authors explain how self-deception can derail personal relationships and keep organizations and leaders from achieving the results.

**Self-deception, or a...

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Part 1 | Chapters 1-4: The Problem of Self-Deception

Key Principle: Deceiving Yourself

You’re in a state of self-deception when you know or want to do the right thing but don’t do it. By not acting, you betray yourself, then feel guilty or frustrated by your behavior. To justify it, you blame the other person for causing a problem. You’re deceiving yourself about your behavior and motivations.

You don't see that you’re causing the problem and therefore you can’t resolve it. The book refers to this deluded state as being trapped “in the box.”

Examples

For instance, you betray and then deceive yourself when you:

  • Pull into the last parking space right in front of someone else, then rush into your building to make it look like you were in a hurry and needed the parking space.
  • Fail to share important information with a colleague although you know they would benefit from it. You tell yourself they should be able to figure things out themselves.
  • Treat a clerk poorly when you know they’re overworked and not responsible for the length of the checkout line. You tell yourself that regardless of the challenges, it's their job to provide good service.
  • Feel justified in criticizing an employee because...

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Shortform Exercise: Recognizing Self-Deception

You’re in a state of self-deception when you don’t realize or accept that you’re creating a problem because you have a distorted view of reality. You blame others in order to rationalize or justify your failures. (You’re deceiving yourself about your behavior and motivations.) The book refers to this deluded state as being trapped “in the box.”


Think of a problem at work in which you were involved. How did the problem develop?

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Chapter 5: Leadership and the Box

Key Principle: 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.

Examples

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...

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Shortform Exercise: What’s Your True Message?

Regardless of what management technique you use, people pick up on and respond to the feelings behind your actions (your feelings toward them). If you convey insincerity or disrespect, they’ll resist or respond in ways that make matters worse.


Think of a time when someone asked for your opinion on something, and you sugar-coated your response because you didn’t want to offend them. Did they pick up on your true feelings? How do you know this?

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Chapters 6-8: The View From the Box

Key Principle: Being ‘In the Box’ Distorts Your View

When you’re in the box, you see only your own interests and have a distorted view of others—you see them as objects or as problems standing in your way. In contrast, when you’re out of the box and not limited by your distorted view, you see others as people like you with equally legitimate interests.

How you feel toward someone depends on whether you’re viewing them from within the box or from outside the box.

Examples

An in-the-box view: As Bud boarded a bus, he saw there were few open seats. There was one next to him but he didn’t want to sit with anyone, so he put his briefcase on the empty seat and spread out the newspaper he was reading.

Bud viewed the other passengers as threats or problems, not as people like him with the same right to a seat. He saw himself as more important and everyone else and their needs as secondary (he was deluded or self-deceived).

An out-of-the-box view: On another trip, Bud and his wife were traveling together but couldn’t find adjoining empty seats. A woman who was reading a newspaper had an empty seat beside her and offered to take another seat so Bud and his...

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Shortform Exercise: Are You ‘In the Box’?

When you’re in the box, you see only your own interests and have a distorted view of others—you see them as objects or as problems standing in your way. In contrast, when you’re out of the box, you see people as being human like you and having equally legitimate interests.


Think of an incident recently where you were “in the box” and treated someone (for instance, a family member or a store clerk) as an obstacle or problem. What was the incident?

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Part 2: In the Box | Chapters 9-13: Self-Betrayal Boxes You In

Key Principle: Self-Betrayal

The way you get into a box, or become trapped by self-deception, is by betraying yourself. You betray yourself when you choose not to do what you know you should do or actually want to do—for instance, not holding an elevator for someone or feeling that you should apologize to someone but not doing so.

Once you’ve betrayed yourself, you act in destructive ways to justify or rationalize it:

  • You exaggerate other people's faults.
  • You exaggerate your own virtue or rightness.
  • You overstate the importance of factors that justify your self-betrayal.
  • You blame others for your feelings.

Over time, certain behaviors and justifications can become habitual for you and you apply them (carry your box with you) in many situations.

The Story: How Self-Betrayal Works

As he walked back to the meeting room feeling frustrated, Tom encountered the company CEO, Kate Stenarude, who had succeeded Lou Herbert as president. She was on the way to join their meeting.

Kate asked how it was going, and Tom said he had learned he was in the box. She replied that everyone found themselves in the box occasionally—the key for individuals and the...

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Shortform Exercise: Experiencing Self-Betrayal

You betray yourself when you don’t do something you feel you should do—for instance, not apologizing when you know you should. Once you’ve betrayed yourself, you feel guilty and try to justify it—for instance, by exaggerating other people's faults.


Think of a situation at work or at home where you thought of something you should do, but you didn’t do it. How did you feel immediately after choosing not to act?

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Chapters 14-16: Blame and Reinforcement

Key Principle: Mutual Reinforcement

While being in the box affects the way you see things, it also greatly affects others. When you blame others, they react and suddenly they’re in the box too. You get into a destructive cycle with them. You blame them, they react to your blame, you blame them even more, they react, and so on. You reinforce each other’s reasons to stay in the box and act badly.

In a sense, you actually collude with each other, because to justify your behavior, you each need the other person to behave badly. You end up undermining the effectiveness of everything you do and making things worse.

Example

Here’s an example of how mutual reinforcement works:

  • If you’re in the box in your thinking toward your teenager and he gets home late, you’ll see him as irresponsible and disrespectful. You might respond with criticism and discipline. If he’s in the box toward you, he’ll respond by viewing you as dictatorial. Rather than do what you want him to do—get home earlier—he’s likely to get home later. Thus you provoke him to do more of what you don’t want, and he, in turn, provokes more of what he doesn’t want from you: discipline.

...

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Shortform Exercise: Losing Focus At Work

In many organizations, instead of focusing on results, people and departments are “in the box,” blaming and working against each other. This undermines the company’s success.


To what extent does the above description fit your company?

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Part 3: Out of the Box | Chapters 17-23: New Chances

Key Principle: 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

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...

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Chapter 24: Working Outside the Box

The Story: Zagrum Gets Back On Track

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...

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Leadership and Self-Deception Summary Leadership and Self-Deception Guide Appendix: How to Use This Book

The ideas in this book can help organizations succeed and improve personal satisfaction and relationships. The following are areas where you can apply the concepts:

  • Applicant interviewing and hiring: Ask job applicants to read; then discuss the concepts and how they apply to company practices and expectations. Use this to evaluate whether candidates have the characteristics necessary for success.
  • ...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Introduction
  • Part 1 | Chapters 1-4: The Problem of Self-Deception
  • Exercise: Recognizing Self-Deception
  • Chapter 5: Leadership and the Box
  • Exercise: What’s Your True Message?
  • Chapters 6-8: The View From the Box
  • Exercise: Are You ‘In the Box’?
  • Part 2: In the Box | Chapters 9-13: Self-Betrayal Boxes You In
  • Exercise: Experiencing Self-Betrayal
  • Chapters 14-16: Blame and Reinforcement
  • Exercise: Losing Focus At Work
  • Part 3: Out of the Box | Chapters 17-23: New Chances
  • Chapter 24: Working Outside the Box
  • Appendix: How to Use This Book