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“Leadership and Self-Deception” Book by Arbinger Institute

Introduction / Book Summary

“Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box” by the Arbinger Institute is a book addressing the problems and misunderstandings that people and organizations face as a result of what the authors call “self-deception”. The book is based on the premise that understanding the concept of self-deception will end most of the personal and organizational problems people face. This will subsequently lead to an increase in the productivity of personal and organizational relationships.

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The book begins by illustrating what “self-deception” and the “box” are. The authors suggest that self-deception is so deeply entrenched in our lives that it determines our experience in every aspect of life. By use of entertaining stories, an illustration of how a lot of our personal and organizational problems are caused by self-deception is made.

Tom who is a corporate climber meets with his boss Bud who discusses with him a discovery on solving people’s problems. Bud begins by pointing out that Tom has a problem which is articulated as “you don’t know what your problem is”. Bud illustrates that we see others as the main cause of our problems and therefore miss the biggest problem which is ourselves.

This self-centered outlook results in self-deception. The authors state that how people react to us is not based on what we think but rather on whether we’re in the box with respect to them or are out of the box and see them as people and afford them the necessary respect.

The second part of the box discusses how we get in the box. Self-betrayal is highlighted as the major means through which we get into the box. This self-betrayal is defined as acting in ways that are contrary to what we feel is the right thing. Without self-betrayal, a person is able to view things in a way they really are. In this frame of mind, the other person is a human who has needs that you can fulfill and by honoring these needs, you feel balanced.

The implications for self-betrayal are great since once we betray ourselves; our view of reality becomes distorted. A person who has engaged in self-betrayal will have the need to justify their view of the world and invariably view him/herself as the victim. The person will overestimate their own virtues which may not even exist and magnify the vices in other people and therefore start to blame others. The book then discusses the conditions of life in the box.

Here, a person sees themselves as worth, and they give themselves all the virtuous attributes they think they deserve. This is because of the need for self-justification that comes with self-betrayal. This self-justifying view is repeated until it becomes a part of who we are. We are attracted to people who reinforce our self justifying images while we view those who challenge these views as enemies.

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Part three of the book offers solutions by proposing ways in which we can get out of the box. The authors first of all note that we respond to negative situations with blame, disappointment or even anger. Such a response encourages more negative behavior as a result of resistance and resentment. The first step towards getting out is to decide that you want to be out of the box.

This means that you should desire to see the other person as a real person and want to fulfill their needs and acknowledge their strengths. The authors point to dead ends which are ways that will not help a person to get out of the box. While in the box, measures such as trying to change others, communicating, and implementing new skills or techniques will not work since you still view others as objects and you have a self-justifying image of yourself. The authors reveal that being in the box is a metaphor for how we resist others; once we stop resisting then we are liberated and hence out of the box.

One should realize that they can be in the box with some people while they are out of the box with others. By liberating ourselves from self-justifying thoughts and feelings, we will start seeing and feeling straightforward and hence deal with others better. We will help others in their efforts at self-improvement and therefore benefit others, ourselves, and the organization.

Once you have gotten out of the box, it is important to stay out. The authors reveal that we are invariably going to interact with people who are different from us and who may be lazy or even uncommitted to the task at hand. When this happens, we should avoid blaming them since this is an in-the-box behavior and it will only make others to revert to their boxes.

How the Book Relates to


Organizations are constantly evolving entities and this evolution is necessitated by the need to adapt to the market environment in which they exist. Change is desirable if success is to be achieved in an organization since without it, an organization is bound to become obsolete or inefficient which will result in its failure. Change requires us to find new innovative ways of doing things or even acquire fresh perspectives on traditional values.

The book suggests that self-deception is an enemy to change since it relies on the same self-justifying habits which only reinforce themselves over time. The person in the box is unlikely to change and sees proposals for change coming from other members of the organization as being personal attacks on them. For change to occur, a person has to get out of their box and welcome ideas from people. By so doing, the organization will be able to benefit from change initiatives and therefore remain relevant to the market it serves.

Many organizations exist in environments which are characterized by extensive competition. For such organizations to remain profitable, they have to be innovative and come up with new ideas. This has made innovation a necessity for the growth of many companies. The book highlights how being in the box hampers innovation since for innovation to occur, there has to be increased knowledge sharing among employees.

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Self-deception also makes the individual to focus on his own self interest and discount the innovative strategies advanced by others. Being out of the box will help a person to give credit to innovations by others and therefore benefit the organization.

Due to the harsh economic reality of the times, many organizations are engaged in restructuring efforts so as to increase their productivity and decrease costs. Most of these efforts are championed by the organizational leaders. If the leader suffers from self-deception, the restructuring process will be detrimental to the well being of the organization. This is because such a leader will not involve the employees or consult them on the restructuring efforts.

The employees will therefore be resentful and resistant to the change. If the leader is out of the box, he will view the employees as important players in the organization and seek to involve them in the efforts. By use of open communication, employees will not feel sidelined in the making of decisions that affect them and they will therefore support the process and increase the likelihood of the restructuring efforts succeeding.


The book addresses many issues that leaders face as a result of being in the box and how the same issues can be resolved once a person is out of the box. The book highlights the importance of establishing relationships and showing concern for others. This concept has great significance in leadership since followers are likely to respond more positively to a leader who shows genuine concern for their wellbeing. A leader cannot influence others sufficiently when they are in the box.

The authors also advocate for compassionate leadership which requires the leader to recognize the connection between individual problems and the social context within which they exist. The leader should then seek ways to demonstrate concern and reassure the followers in case of uncertainty. By demonstrating a genuine commitment to the well being of the followers, the leader will gain the trust and support of his followers and therefore achieve the goals and objectives set.

An important leadership issue addressed in the book is that of delegation. The authors note that as a result of being caught up in self-justifying images, leaders take up more responsibility for their teams’ results and try to be overly involved in all the tasks. This is in spite of the fact that leadership cannot be successful without the usage of help and support of other relevant personnel in the organization.

Such an attitude fosters mistrust since the followers will feel that the leader does not deem them capable of accomplishing tasks on their own. In addition to this, taking responsibility for the team’s results undermines the creativity of the followers who end up being reliant on the leader for all creativity.

Conflicts are common in human life and every day, minor and major conflicts occur in our personal and professional lives. While a conflict free environment is preferred, some conflicts may in fact contribute to our wellbeing or that of the organization. However, this positive contribution by conflicts is dependent on how well we resolve the conflicts.

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This book notes that the difficulty experienced in conflict resolution comes about since every party in a conflict sees the conflict as being someone else’s fault. By learning the concept of being in the box, one will be able to avoid this self-deception and consider his/her own contribution to the problem. Once this has been done, conflicts will be resolved in an amicable manner.

The leader has to work with others and in recognition of this; the book also offers great insight on team building for effective leadership. To begin with, it is articulated that a leader who always wants to be in control will not achieve a lot and will foster resistance and resentment among the followers.

A good leader aims to improve the proficiency of all individual members of the team since the team is only as strong as its weakest link. All organizations have classes of employees who lack the necessary motivation to perform well and this group needs the guidance of the leader in order to increase their productivity. For some of these employees, their problem is that they misdirect their efforts or underutilize their potential.

Organizational Analysis

In the organizational setting, employees are bound to blame others (their colleagues, management, competitions to name but a few) for their own failure. Blaming others makes a person to not take responsibility for his/her own shortcomings since the problem is perceived as coming from others. The book makes a person to appreciate the extent to while self-deception blinds us to the true cause of problems as we blame others and the environment for our own shortcomings and fail to see ourselves as part of the problem.

Organizations have certain rules and regulations that individuals are supposed to follow. Even person is expected to be accountable and take responsibility for their actions and be willing to bear with any consequences attached to certain actions. The book emphasizes on the need for discipline by highlighting that people do not need to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or blame others.

Once a person is out of the box, they will be accountable and own up to any mistakes they have made. This will result in a robust system of accountability and responsibility being developed in the organization. Such a system will result in increased productivity by the organization and therefore accelerate organizational growth and development.

The book offers insights on how cooperation and teamwork across the organization can be implemented. In most organizations, various departments act as autonomous units and the set and achieve goals independent of other departments. While this might increase efficiency in some cases, the organization misses out on the opportunities that can be gained from cooperation between departments.

Departmental knowledge that may have been laboriously developed over a long duration of time through the trial and error method cannot be shared in such an environment and the organization therefore fails to benefit from knowledge that it has but is unaware of. The book encourages people to work together and cooperate so as to enhance their performance and increase organizational productivity.

An organization can only succeed if everyone focuses fully on accomplishing set goals and achieving favorable results. However, this is not the case in many organizations where people are focused on themselves and justification. The book offers a way out of this by providing people with the knowledge necessary to realize that they are engaging in self-deception. When employees know this, they can take steps to focus on results and avoid the wasteful habits.

Quality Improvement

This book can also provide great assistance in the quality improvement efforts of an organization. The increasing demand for superior quality goods and services from an organization by its clientele has led to an emphasis on accountability and excellence by organizations. Organizational change sometimes requires changes in the thinking pattern of the people who make up the organization. The book offers ways in which these changes can be implemented so as to bring about personal growth and development. It highlights the harmful habits that people develop as a result of being in the box.

To increase overall performance, many organizations are focused on ensuring that all their workers perform optimally and to ascertain this, their performance is often quantified through performance reviews. These evaluations are then followed by feedbacks which help the employee to recognize their capabilities and areas of weakness. The book articulates that a leader who is out of the box will offer feedback to the employee in a manner that will enhance his future performance. This is because an out of the box leader will be very specific when offering positive performance feedback and be very helpful when discussing poor performance.

Key Take Home Messages

  • The first step to solving problems is to identify that we are in the box; that is we’re in self-deception.
  • We should try to continually aim to reduce personal and organizational self-deception.
  • Misunderstandings occur since from our perspectives, we are the most committed and on the right while the people we interact with are the ones at fault. The people we interact with have the same positive perspective about themselves and they view us as the problem.
  • Self-betrayal leads to a distorted view of who we really are and it makes it necessary for us to keep justifying ourselves.
  • Most times we perceive problems in other people because we don’t want to deal with the real cause of the problem which is ourselves.
  • I will be more successful dealing with problems if I seek to work on my own problems since I can control and influence the manner in which I act. I stand a higher chance in dealing with my own problems as opposed to trying to get other people around me to deal with what I think is their problem.
  • Other people also have needs, hopes, and worries that are as real and legitimate as the once I have. I should therefore endeavor to honor people as people.
  • Do not concentrate on the mistakes other people are making; rather, focus on their strengths and measures that you can take in order to assist them rectify their mistakes.
  • As a leader, I should seek to enlist the support of all followers and enable the creativity of my team by giving them room to work on their own without my constant interference.


This book introduces the little known concept of self-deception and goes on to demonstrate how this is the cause of most personal and organizational problems. From the book, a person is able to appreciate the influence that self-deception has on them and how it can be an issue in their professional and personal life. By following the principles given in the book, one can become a successful and great leader who will be able to effectively influence others to achieve great outcomes.

The book causes an individual to reevaluate their self-perception and in most cases, this image (which was based on self-deception) is dramatically changed as the person gains a better understanding of who they are. The person’s interaction with other people is also enhanced since he no longer views them as objects but sees them as people and treats them in an appropriate manner.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, May 14). “Leadership and Self-Deception” Book by Arbinger Institute.

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