Monday, March 12, 2018

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box - The Arbinger Institute

Summary:  Since its original publication in 2000, Leadership and Self-Deception has become a global phenomenon with sales increasing year after year and editions available in over thirty languages.  Its powerful ideas are based on Arbinger's work over the last 35 years -- work that has fueled the success of thousands of organizations around the world.  Through an engaging story about a man facing challenges on the job and in his family, the authors expose the fascinating ways that we blind ourselves to our true motivations and unwittingly sabotage our own efforts to improve performance and achieve success.  Read this extraordinary book and discover what millions have already learned -- how to tap into an innate ability that dramatically improves both your relationships and results. (summary from back of book - image from

My Review:  About a year ago, my dad sent me this book with a little note that indicated I should read it and that it had the potential to be life-changing.  My dad doesn't read much from a recreational standpoint but what he reads is always meaningful, so it might have taken me a while to move it up the stack, but I listened.  Here are my thoughts:

Leadership and Self-Deception is bestseller that looks like assigned college reading – and it is in some colleges -- but when I stopped focusing on its outward appearance and actually started reading, I found a book that was easily accessible, insightful, reflective, and infused with simple wisdom.  At just under 200 pages, I tore through it in a matter of hours, spread out over a few days (because KIDS).  Although this book was presented in a business setting, its principles can be applied to any kind of interaction – work, family, marriage, friendships, and even casual daily interaction.  Its story form was fluid and relatable with a series of helpful lists and illustrative diagrams that shifted my perspective on how I interact with the world around me. 

While I am almost sure to bungle my explanation (the book does it far better), I will try to at least introduce a little of what the Arbinger Institute teaches, even though I’m highly unqualified to do so.  
  • It starts with the concept of a person being either IN or OUT of the box.  When we are IN the box, we see the people around us as objects and are really only concerned with how they affect us.  When we are OUT of the box, we see the people around us as people with their own unique sets of strengths, weaknesses, needs, worries, and experiences.  Our chosen perspective affects our treatment of others in positive or negative ways. 
  • We can be either in or out of the box at any given moment with any given person.  It’s entirely subject to change and choice, though we can to make a habit out of it.
  • Secretly, we crave conflict.  I know that sounds weird but hang on for a bit.  Conflict allows us to feel superior to others as it encourages the I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong mentality.  In this situation, we tend to inflate our own value and in turn inflate the faults of others.  In doing so, we feel justified to continue acting however we’ve been acting and blame others for our problems. 
  • When we are IN the box, we invite others to enter their own boxes.  As you can imagine this is utterly counterproductive in virtually every situation. 

Leadership and Self-Deception also introduces the concept of self-betrayal (when we think of something that we should do for others then talk ourselves out of it) and self-deception (the process of justifying our behavior in a way that distorts our own reality).  Each concept was psychologically fascinating and I haven’t been able stop mulling them over with friends and family. 

I love books that change the way I think in a positive way and this was definitely one of them.  It invited me to question my own virtue and, in doing so, opened up windows of thought that I had to bend my brain around.  I’m not going to lie.  It hurt a little.  Do I thrive on conflict?  Am I part of the problem?  Am I THE problem?   I hadn’t read very far before drawing some fairly uncomfortable conclusions about my daily interactions with others, especially in regards to some of the more strained relationships in my life.  I may not be the only person IN the box, but I am in it and I put myself there.  Thankfully, this book also talks about how to get OUT of the box and move toward healthier, more meaningful, productive relationships.  The good news is that the “how” is simple and straightforward.  And staying out? They talk about that too.  If you keep reading, there is even an additional section in the back of the book (mine is the 2nd edition) that gives some specific ideas for how the book can be used in during the hiring process, for team building, conflict resolution, and personal growth. 

My suggestion?  Even if you don’t think Leadership and Self-Deception applies to you, get your mitts on it and read it.  You are bound to learn something; I know I did.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks they aren’t the problem, to anyone who knows they are, and to anyone who simply wants to live a better life.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (I'd give it a 4 for writing style and 5 for content)

For the sensitive reader: One swear word of the jack*** variety. Not sure if that’s even a swear word, to be honest.

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