“Leadership and Self-Deception”

One of the books I read for two of my D.Min. classes was Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. It’s a must-read for leaders.

In the preface, the authors assert that while “leadership is about making matters better,” “self-deception” is “central to leadership” because it tends to “make matters worse” (viii). The authors use the concept of being “in the box” to describe self-deception.

The book is a fictional account of the interaction primarily between Bud Jefferson, vice president of Zagrum Company and a new hire, Tom Callum. Bud aims to help Tom discover the importance of getting out of the box in his relationships with others. The success of the company depends on it, we’re told.

Bud tells Tom, “you have a problem” (5). It’s a problem everyone has. People tend to view others in ways that keep them “in the box” in their relationships with others. Bud confesses his own struggle with self-deception and admits …

The bigger problem was that I couldn’t see that I had a problem (14).

A danger for leaders is to become isolated, to allow oneself to be put a pedestal, and therefore, not be able to see yourself correctly. Leaders can have problems and not be aware of it. To guard against this, leaders need to live in community with others and be as honest, transparent, and vulnerable with others as possible.

Bud confesses further …

I saw others as somehow less than they were—as objects with needs and desires somehow secondary and less legitimate than mine (34).

Sometimes, leaders can see others simply as pawns to help them accomplish their own personal agendas. In this case, these leaders are “in the box.”

By being in the box, I provoke others to be in the box (93).

One of the real dangers of being in the box is that it causes others to be in the box, too. But if I am out of the box toward others, they will also be more likely to be out of the box, as well.

Being in the box is such an unhealthy way to live. It’s a downward spiral. It distorts our view of others and it causes us to need others to prove our distorted thinking toward them. Bud says …

When I’m in the box, I need people to cause trouble for me—I need problems (99). … Once in the box, we give each other reason to stay in the box (102).

The distortion that results from self-deception is destructive to relationships. When one person’s view of the other person in the relationship becomes distorted it is easy for the other person react in kind. This, too, becomes a downward spiral where both parties are in the box toward each other until someone breaks the cycle.

Leaders are encouraged to see the need …

to institute a process … where we help people to see how they’re in the box and are therefore not focusing on results. Second … we need to institute a system of focusing on results that keep us out of the box much more than we have been (161).

In the church, in particular, leaders can accomplish this by being people-focused rather than program-focused. Programs (or methods or systems) can, but when leaders become enamored with a program, it’s easy to lose sight of the real reason we’re using the program in the first place. Leaders must keep their hearts in the right place.

Well, because self-deception is such a part of the human condition, this book is a helpful resource for leaders.

3 thoughts on ““Leadership and Self-Deception””

  1. Thanks for the book recommendation Randy! I like this quote: “One of the real dangers of being in the box is that it causes others to be in the box, too. But if I am out of the box toward others, they will also be more likely to be out of the box, as well.” This is something that I have been very intentional about in the last couple of years.

  2. Thanks. It is a temptation for all who are Knowledgeable. To take advantage of those who do not know.

    I like to remind myself with this statement: If I don’t grow, those around me will not grow. If they don’t grow, I don’t grow. Thus I am pressed to grow even if others around me stay the same.

    Thanks for the reminder and accountability exhortation.
    God bless. from KenC


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