Leadership and Self-Deception Book Summary, by The Arbinger Institute

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1-Page Summary of Leadership and Self-Deception


Leadership and self-deception is a business fable that describes ways in which we deceive ourselves. It begins with the new product line leader at Zagrum, Tom Callum, who meets with executive vice president Bud Jefferson. Bud explains to Tom that all of them are guilty of self-deception and gives him advice on how to avoid it. He also tells about his experiences as an employee at Zagrum, along with Kate Stenarude’s experience as well.

Self-deception is when people look at others as objects rather than human beings. They take on an attitude of helping them, but in reality they justify their decision not to help by making themselves seem virtuous and the other person seem like a problem. The more often this happens, the more people reinforce a mindset that keeps them from forming better relationships with others.

When people blame others for their problems, it’s sometimes because they’re self-deceived. When co-workers or employees are blamed, they may also be self-deceived and objectify the person who is blaming them. This causes a vicious cycle of blaming each other that reinforces the box instead of focusing on solutions to meet everyone’s needs. People who are self-deceived use blame to avoid improving themselves and forming a negative feedback loop in which everyone blames each other without trying to improve anything.

In order for people to end self-deception, they must accept that everyone has emotions. They should embrace the urge to help others and question their own virtue. Also, if they’re more open toward some people, then this will spread to other people as well.

Zagrum’s previous president, Lou Herbert, joined the meeting on the following day and explained how he was once a self-deceived leader who pushed others away and caused problems for them. He realized that while attending a counseling class related to his son’s rehabilitation. He promptly sought out an employee who had quit and won her back by offering to change his behavior and asking for her help. This was Kate, the company’s current president.

Leaders can only see others’ flaws and mistakes clearly if they don’t deceive themselves. Most people start their jobs without deceiving themselves, but engage in workplace self-betrayal when they blame others for their own problems. The best anyone can do is to always strive for improvement and accept responsibility without blaming others.

If you’re going to hire someone, it would be helpful to find out if they are open to new ideas. You can do this by including self-deception awareness training in the hiring process. This should also be a part of leadership and team training, accountability programs, conflict resolution strategies and personal development plans.

This book was first published in 2000. It has been updated for 2010.

Key Takeaways

Some people are self-deceived. They view others as problems rather than humans. This is dehumanizing and damages relationships because the other person can tell that they’re being treated as a problem instead of a human. People become self-deceived when they betray their feeling to help another person, which reinforces beliefs of innocence and victimhood. Self-betrayal creates a box where one feels like he or she is innocent in all things, but victimized by everyone else around him or her. The self-deception continues throughout life unless it’s changed somehow, such as through therapy or new experiences. Self-deception spreads from person to person by mutual reinforcement—where both parties focus on themselves rather than each other’s feelings about the situation at hand (which could be productive). Productivity suffers due to lack of productivity between two people who might otherwise be able to work together well if not for their sense of self-inflicted persecution against one another—a sense that stems from their own personal brand of self deception.

People can get out of their own way and stop being self-deceived by helping others. They should also be empathetic towards other people, as it’s the only way to escape the box they put themselves in. It’s hard for employees to stay out of that box, so much so that they often betray themselves after a while.

Leaders must be aware of their own shortcomings and avoid being self-deceived. They should encourage others to do the same by accepting responsibility for their mistakes. By training employees to recognize when they’re deceiving themselves, companies can make sure that everyone is accountable for his actions.

Key Takeaway 1: Self-deception is a dehumanizing perspective that some people hold. They view others as obstacles or threats rather than as fellow humans.

There are two ways to act. One is to treat every person as a human being with the same needs and desires, or to see other people as obstacles in your way. People who are self-deceived will often be impatient and inconsiderate towards others, which is called being ‘in the box.’

When people are self-deceived, they tend to objectify others. This is generally expressed in three ways:

  1. They might see the other person as an obstacle and reject any kindness or help offered by that person.

  2. They might view the other person as a vehicle for personal gain, ignoring their needs and avoiding acknowledging them for as long as possible.

  3. The other person may simply be irrelevant to the self-deceiver, so actions that hurt this person will not be considered at all for negative impacts on others around them.  This results in decisions that fail to consider obstacles they could create for others and which do not serve to create the most benefit for the most people.

Key Takeaway 2: Any behavior performed from a position of self-deception damages relationships because people can tell when others are treating them as problems rather than humans.

Constructive criticism is the best way to improve. It’s good when people criticize you in a way that shows they see you as a person and not just as an object. When someone criticizes us, we can tell if it’s constructive or if they’re being fake. That happens at work all the time, where managers treat their employees like objects rather than treating them well.

There are many ways that a person can communicate dishonesty. People who don’t care about others will exhibit certain behaviors, such as looking at the floor when talking to someone or squinting their eyes when they’re trying to help you. These cues might be hard for other people to pick up on, but if someone is familiar with another person’s behavior, he’ll notice these subtle signs of selfishness and distrust. It’s harder to discern whether new acquaintances are dishonest because their body language differs from person to person.

Key Takeaway 3: People become self-deceived when they betray their feeling that they should help another person.

When people feel guilty about not helping someone, they may justify their decision by telling themselves that the person who needed help was at fault. In other words, if you’re going to let someone down, it’s better to tell yourself that he or she deserved it.

For example, if a project leader disagrees with the programmers about deadlines for a project, she could blame them instead of taking responsibility. She might think that she should have been clearer when discussing ideas or goals or more flexible in assigning those deadlines. If only other teams involved were held to higher standards, then maybe they wouldn’t be so busy fixing problems caused by factors outside their control. Instead of blaming herself as a bad leader and objectifying the programmers as entitled workers who don’t care about their jobs, we can see that they are people with motivations and obstacles themselves.

Key Takeaway 4: Self-betrayals reinforce inflated ideas of innocence and victimhood. This box of self-deception will follow the self-deceived person through life.

The more you convince yourself that you’re right and others are wrong, the more likely it is that you’ll believe in your own righteousness. And if you have bitterness or blame towards others, then those emotions will color your perception of them.

Having positive traits that self-deceived people assign to themselves is not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, the problem is using those identified traits to justify unfair treatment of others. This offers a useful test for readers to identify self-deceiving assumptions in themselves. If a man believes that he is a good father and uses that belief as justification for failing to help his child with homework, it could be evidence that he should work on improving his fathering skills. On the other hand, if he thinks he’s a good father but acknowledges the reason he failed to help was because of fatigue or being busy at work, then it’s likely his perspective of his child isn’t objectifying; instead, it shows humility and awareness of room for improvement as a parent.

Key Takeaway 5: Self-deception is contagious. People mutually reinforce each other’s sense of victimhood.

When someone lies to themselves and blames others, the recipients of that blame feel like they’re being treated as objects rather than people. They then inflate their own virtues in assigning blame back on the original self-deceiver for this disconnect in understanding. They look for behaviors in each other that reinforce their assessments because they want to feel justified. Their collusion ensures no one seeks solutions.

It’s not uncommon for people in a relationship to hide information from each other. This is also true with companies, as Spandex discovered. The European division of the company was withholding information from its parent manufacturing division. They were hiding their plans and even sending false information to one another. If they had shared that data, it would have helped both divisions serve employees better and increase sales. When consultants worked with them on this problem, the two divisions’ relationship improved substantially, much to the appreciation of leadership at Spandex.

Key Takeaway 6: Self-deceived people focus on themselves and their feeling of persecution rather than on getting results or serving people who need their help. Productivity suffers as the contagion spreads.

In an effective workplace, people spend more time thinking about the results they seek and the people they serve than blaming others. However, because self-deception is contagious, if it spreads unchecked in a workplace, employees will waste their time and energy justifying their negative assessments of others and feelings of innocence.

The authors of the book An Everyone Culture (2016) estimate that employees spend about a third of their time in work hiding flaws and mistakes. The companies profiled in this book were able to fix this by building accountability systems into everyday business processes. They also created a culture focused on constant improvement, which allowed them to become strong industry competitors. These organizations could further enhance productivity and success by introducing self-deception awareness training.

Key Takeaway 7: A person can escape self-deception by accepting the urge to help others and acting on humanizing emotions like empathy. Behaviors that originate from within the box cannot fix self-deception.

Even if people realize that they’re deceiving themselves, nothing can be done to improve the situation until they begin to accept that other people are human beings who deserve help. Feeling sympathy or empathy for others is a good way to start breaking down those barriers of self-deception. For anyone who realizes that self-deception is a problem, reading fiction can provide the tools needed to acknowledge the humanity of other people. Recent research suggests one way to access these tools is by reading literary fiction because it focuses on character relationships and development while still leaving opportunities for readers’ empathetic responses.

Key Takeaway 8: Everyone struggles to stay out of the box, so much so that employees often undergo self-betrayal after their idealistic starts.

People often change after they begin working for a company. They tend to look at others as objects rather than people when the going gets tough at work. In order to avoid that, you need to constantly remind yourself of your moral values and help those who need it.

It’s common for employees to go from idealistic beginnings in an organization to self-betrayal. This is especially true of government agencies and non-profit organizations that normally help people. For example, a woman might join an organization that helps underprivileged youth with the goal of helping as many children as possible. However, after just a few weeks, she will likely experience instances in which she couldn’t accomplish something because the systems for obtaining resources or connecting people to services were inefficient. Employees may catch the self-deception contagion from co-workers who already have a cynical outlook on their work and each other due to these barriers. Maintaining focus on the positive impact of their work and those they help can ensure they remain productive despite these obstacles.

Key Takeaway 9: Leaders can only see the flaws and mistakes of others clearly by avoiding self-deception, and they must avoid provoking self-deception with criticism. Accepting fault and responsibility can encourage others to own up to their mistakes.

Effective leaders are able to recognize their own limitations and mistakes in order to improve. They also motivate others by acknowledging the importance of imperfections (like wrong turns) in order to move forward as a team towards success.

Trust is a valuable commodity in the US Marine Corps. It’s part of the training from day one, and those who violate it are kicked out. If someone lies about a mistake rather than owning up to it, he could be kicked out for lying instead of the mistake itself. Marines must know that their leaders have their best interests at heart at all times and not doubt them when they make decisions. Doubt can lead to self-deception if you’re not careful, so don’t ever lie about mistakes or your intentions because there is no room for dishonesty in leadership roles within the military force.

Key Takeaway 10: Training to raise awareness of self-deception can become part of a company’s human resource processes to ensure that employees trust each other and hold themselves accountable.

Once leaders understand how self-deception works, they can use it to help their employees. For example, if a leader knows about the effects of self-deception in hiring interviews, he or she might screen out people who are too prone to that kind of thinking. Self-deception could also be used for training purposes and accountability programs across an organization.

Arbinger uses a strategy that involves teaching managers how to help their employees recognize and prevent self-deception. This plan ensures that everyone in the company comes into contact with a qualified instructor rather than having one person implement self-deception awareness programs or having employees encounter these concepts only when they make mistakes or go through the hiring process.

Book Structure

Leadership and Self-Deception is written in the style of a business fable. The book teaches lessons by describing how a character learns them, which differs from books that show readers what happens when people apply solutions to problems. In this case, only one person at Zagrum doesn’t know about self-deception already; the other characters teach him or her about it. We don’t see many examples of how Zagrum works better because employees understand self-deception or any specific results that have come from understanding it.

The story is about a man who wants to know how Zagrum works. However, the narrative ends before the narrator learns that information. The audience for this book can only be people who are willing to trust the authors and implement their ideas without knowing more details. In addition, they supply some testimonials from consulting clients in the back of the book. There’s little instruction on how to incorporate these lessons into a functioning business framework and there’s no mention of any kind of framework in which you could apply what you learn here.

The book was written by the Arbinger Institute, with no credit given to individual writers or supporters of the project. It is difficult to determine how many people were involved in writing it since the author uses “we” and “us” when referring to its writers.

The author mentions one example of a physician who discovered that the high mortality rate among his patients was caused by doctors examining cadavers without washing their hands. The source for this statement is not cited, nor is there any evidence to support it.

The characters are caricatures, and they ask themselves the same questions over and over again. They struggle with their own problems by blaming each other for them. This is done in order to convey a lesson to the reader.

About the Author

The Arbinger Institute is a private company that was founded in 1979. It specializes in organizational management, and it has written several books on the subject, including The Anatomy of Peace (2006) and The Outward Mindset (2016). C. Terry Warner got his PhD from Yale University, specializing in philosophy. His institute offers consulting services to public and private clients with an emphasis on changing people’s perspectives/focus.

Arbinger does not like to share the names of its authors, so that it can focus on the organization rather than individual personalities. The company also doesn’t list any directors or executives on their website. The public face of Arbinger is Jim Ferrell, who gives talks and consults for them through his blog. He attended Brigham Young University and Yale Law School, served a religious calling with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), wrote several books while working for Arbinger, and was credited as a co-author in Leadership and Self-Deception.

Full Summary of Leadership and Self-Deception

Self-deception is so woven into everyone’s life that it determines all of your experiences.

Self-deception is an important subject that affects all aspects of life, and therefore it’s very relevant to business. However, the public has not been aware of self-deception as an issue until recently because philosophers have studied it for a long time. Now that we know about self-deception, we can begin educating people on how to avoid falling victim to this type of behavior by recognizing the signs and taking action against them.

To see self-deception in action, look at a baby’s learning to crawl. The baby pushes backward and ends up stuck under furniture. It thrashes around, banging its head against the sides of the furniture and crying. Since it can’t get out on its own, it does what any other person would do: tries harder by pushing even more forward in hopes that this will solve the problem. However, this only makes things worse because it gets more stuck than before. If babies could talk they’d blame the furniture for their problems as they’re doing everything they can think of to get out from underneath it without realizing that there is nothing wrong with them but rather something wrong with how they are trying to move forward while crawling backwards under the piece of furniture.

Self-deception is like a person who sees furniture in the dark and thinks it’s an intruder. The person then takes action to protect himself, but he ends up hurting himself because of his false perception. Self-deception is also like that because it blinds you from seeing the truth about yourself or your situation, which means all your solutions will be ineffective. That’s how self-deception affects leadership because leaders are supposed to make things better for people, so if they’re deceived by their own beliefs and perceptions, they’ll fail at making things better for everyone else.

People get stuck when they can’t see the problems that are in front of them. They don’t know they have a problem because it’s invisible to them, so they think that there is something else wrong with their lives. However, if you put yourself in someone else’s position, you will be able to understand what the real problem is and help solve it.

“If you want to know if someone has a problem, ask them. If they say that they don’t have one, then the person is self-deceived and won’t accept help.”

“Of all organizational problems, this is the most common – and it’s also very damaging.”

Assessing Your Situation

One way to cope with other people is by manipulating them. People who are manipulated often resent it because they know that someone else is trying to control them. For example, a person might be trying hard to get along with another co-worker but the other one doesn’t seem interested in getting along back. So he tells his advisor what’s going on and says, “I don’t know what I can do about Leon; he just won’t cooperate.” The adviser asks him why he cares so much about Leon cooperating when all that matters is whether or not Leon thinks well of him.

Leon’s colleague was acting like he cared about Leon, but he really didn’t. The colleague deceived himself into thinking that he did care and it caused problems between them. Even if you do all the “right things” if you’re not sincere or have a hidden motivation to deceive yourself, people will resist your leadership efforts. If you’re insincere with others they won’t trust you because insincerity provokes resistance from those around us.

When you don’t respect others, it causes you to see them as a threat and not value their needs. This leads to anxiety and anger, which is usually caused by not respecting the other person in the first place. Therefore, this can be solved by seeing people for who they are instead of what they do.

Self-Betrayal as the Root of Self-Deception

Self-betrayal is when you don’t act on what you really want to do. It’s not doing something that you feel strongly about doing. Self-betrayal is very common and happens in the smallest ways, as well as bigger things like relationships or jobs.

There are only two choices when you want to do something. You can either honor your desire, or betray yourself and not follow through with it. If you choose the latter option, that decision will lead to a series of events in which you deceive yourself into believing things about the situation that aren’t true. This is what happens:

  1. If you do something that goes against your beliefs, it’s called self-betrayal. When you betray yourself, you begin to see the world in a way that justifies your betrayal. If this happens, then your view of reality becomes distorted and you enter “the box.”

  2. Over time, people develop certain habits and tendencies that define who they are. When you put yourself in a box, others respond by putting themselves in boxes too. Everyone justifies their actions by blaming everyone else for what’s wrong with the situation. That’s why it’s so hard to break out of the box and get things done—because no one wants to do anything different from how things have always been done before.

  3. When you’re in the box, you don’t realize that your own thinking is limited. You think other people’s thoughts are limited.

  4. When you’re in a box, you provoke others to act badly toward you. You also provoke problems in them. The box “provokes what you take as proof that it’s not your problem.”

  5. When someone tries to correct the problem in you, you resist. You deny that there’s a problem and justify your actions. Then when others try to correct the problems they see in you, conflicts arise because neither party is willing to compromise or recognize their own faults. If everyone could recognize their self-betrayal and solve it, then all of these other problems would be solved as well.

  6. If you resist self-betrayal, then you won’t end up in the box. Self-deception has many symptoms that can affect an organization, including lack of motivation and commitment, stress and communication problems, and others. If you don’t know about self-deception or its effects on your personal relationships, then it could be a problem for them as well.

When you’re in a box, it means that you’re stuck and not doing what you really want to do. You can get out of the box if you stop resisting other people—the way out is right before your eyes because they are right before your eyes.

Recognizing that You Are in the Box

You can recognize when you are in the box. This often happens with conflict, such as a child getting in trouble or co-workers quitting. When this happens, it’s important to realize that you have been “in the box” for a long time and haven’t seen your role in the conflict until now. You may see that you’ve been choosing to see people negatively to boost your own sense of importance and provoke problems. Those around you are most likely also in their own boxes making for great conflict. However, if one person recognizes this situation and gets out of the box, others will be liberated from their boxes by that person’s change of attitudes and actions. In the box, we often provoke many problems ourselves because we feel justified all along based on our perceptions from being inside it so long.”

The moment you realize that you’re in a box, and want to get out of it, you will have already gotten out of the box. You may still be in other boxes regarding different people or situations.

Being Stuck in the Box

If you try to change others or cope with them, you will be stuck in a box. You should leave the situation, but that won’t work because “the box” goes with you. You can implement new skills and techniques, but even communication doesn’t work when you’re in a box. If you are in a box, then whatever is communicated will not be true.

“If you’re trying to fix people problems with skills, it won’t work. The problem isn’t a lack of skill; the problem is self-betrayal.” People who blame others for their problems are stuck in the box. They don’t have real solutions because they haven’t addressed their issues.

Getting Out of the Box

The only way to get out of the box is to realize that you’re in one. Once you do, then you can change your attitude and behavior. However, if those changes aren’t genuine or sincere, they won’t work because they’ll be a means to an end rather than something that comes from outside the box. If you see yourself changing as a means for getting what you want, then it’s obvious that you’re still stuck in the box. Recognizing when this happens gets us out of the box and allows us to make genuine and sincere changes; these are things we can only do once we’ve left the confines of our boxes.

When a man’s wife needs help and he doesn’t give it to her, they’re both in their respective boxes. He is resentful of her for needing his help, while she resents him for not helping. However, if the man recognizes this situation and stops resisting his wife’s neediness, they can resolve their conflict. When two people are out of their respective boxes with each other, they can continue talking until an agreement is reached. If you notice that you are still boxed regarding one person or group but not another (for instance your boss), then you might be able to pop out of that box too by recognizing your resistance to them as well as the reasons behind it (perhaps because someone else has more power than you).

Staying Out of the Box

In order to be successful, it’s important to stay out of the box. You must honor other people and see them as equals with real needs rather than betraying their trust in you. If you do that, your life will be more fulfilling personally and professionally.

Leadership and Self-Deception Book Summary, by The Arbinger Institute

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