Book Notes: Leadership and Self-deception

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
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Self-deception : The action or practice of allowing oneself to believe that a false or unvalidated feeling, idea, or situation is true.

“The box” is how we see people – when we are out of the box we see them as people, when we are in the box we see them as objects.

If we are “in the box” or “out of the box” impacts how were being towards others. It is subconscious but has impact on others. As such it is not about what you say to people, you can say the same thing both in and out of “the box” but the undercurrent of the message.

If you don’t feel a sense of betrayal at a choice it means you are already in the box.

If we are “in the box” our actions then cause others to reciprocate.

This repeats in a cycle because we need to be justified, and as such we see the world through this perspective which is a distorted view of the world. As such when people do what we want them to do we still find another way to prove ourselves right. Effectively we end up “colluding” so we both stay in the box.


  1. An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another is called an act of “self-betrayal”
  2. When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal
  3. When I see the world in a self-justifying way, my view of reality becomes distorted
  4. So – when I betray myself, I enter the box
  5. Over time, certain boxes become characteristic of me, and I carry them with me
  6. By being in the box, I provoke others to be in the box
  7. In the box we invite mutual mistreatment and obtain mutual justification. We collude in giving each other reasons to stay in the box.

Self-justifying where we justify our actions. The more people we can find to agree with our side of the story, the more justified we will feel in believing our story is right.

When having a problem, I don’t think I have one – I think others are responsible.

Out of the boxIn the box
What-focusResultsJustification (being right)

Ironically when people say they are “results focused” it tends to mean that they are referring to themselves which gets in the way of actual company results – people compete and withhold information to prove themselves the winner.

If you are blaming others it is not so they will improve, it is to justify my own failure to improve.

People who come together to help a company succeed can actually end up delighted in each other’s failures and resent each other’s successes.

What does not work in the box

  1. Trying to change others
  2. Doing my best to “cope” with others
  3. Leaving
  4. Communicating
  5. Implementing new skills or techniques
  6. Changing my behaviour

What does work in the box

  1. Question your own virtue

This way you can see others as people and not just objects

When we are in the box people follow you (if at all) only through force or threat of force – but not through leadership.

Knowing the material

  • Self-betrayal leads to self-deception and “the box”
  • When you’re in the box, you can’t focus on results
  • Your influence and success will 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 – “the box” and so on – 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 discover you’ve been in the box. Do keep trying.
  • Don’t deny that you’ve been in the box when you have been. Do apologise; then just keep marching forward, trying to be more helpful to others in the future.
  • 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.

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