6 min read ⌚
Getting Out of the Box
Even though you may not know it – you’re probably living inside a box.
Getting out of it is easy.
Especially once you read “Leadership and Self-Deception.”
Who Should Read “Leadership and Self-Deception”? And Why?
An organization is only as good as its leader.
And “Leadership and Self-Deception” will teach you to become an inspiring one – since it’s not only a business fable but also a life-altering parable.
So, read it specifically if you are a manager with an objective to transform your organization for the better.
But also read it if you feel that you’re not treating some people you love the way they deserve – regardless of what you’re currently working.
About the Arbinger Institute
Founded by Dr. C. Terry Warner in 1979, the Arbinger Institute is a global consulting company consisting of many internationally revered multidisciplinary scholars.
A leader in organizational culture, the Institute has published few more classics in the field, such as “The Anatomy of Peace” and “Choice.”
“Leadership and Self-Deception PDF Summary”
In other words – to borrow the definition from Wikipedia – it is a “fictional story that shares… lessons that are intended to be applied in the business world with the aim to improve the organizational culture.”
The fictional part of this story is pretty much straightforward.
It concerns a fictional company with a pretty neat name, the Zagrum Company, and a guy with a rather big problem he knows nothing about, Tom Callum.
Tom Callum is one of Zagrum’s new division heads – i.e., senior managers – and little does he know that he is about to have the meeting of his life!
It’s one of those traditional day-long one-on-one meetings Zagrum prides in, and the guy sitting opposite Tom is Zagrum’s executive VP (and Tom’s soon-to-be new boss), Bud Jefferson.
Well, not only because “there’s nothing more common in organizations than self-deception,” but also because “self-deception actually determines one’s experience in every aspect of life.”
So, in other words, this fable just got real!
And this parable is not merely about work anymore; it’s about life as well!
Self-deception starts with self-betrayal, which is – to use a word the authors of this book use – “the germ” which creates the disease of self-deception.
And self-betrayal is nothing more – or less – than an act contrary to what you actually want to do. It’s getting stuck in a box you don’t even know exists!
Now, how is that possible, you may ask?
Well, let’s go over a simple – and quite literal – example.
Think of a baby crawling around the living room and somehow ending up under a piece of furniture (say, a table) with a narrow entrance.
It knows that it got in; but it doesn’t know how to get out.
So, the baby starts moving back and forth, banging its head and crying at the top of its lungs – but, no matter what it does, the table is still there.
And unlike an outside observer – say, its parents – this baby is unable to see the problem because it is inside it:
Identify someone with a problem, and you’ll be identifying someone who resists the suggestion that he has a problem. That’s self-deception – the inability to see that one has a problem. Of all organizational problems, it’s the most common – and the most damaging.
Now, let’s translate the analogy into more relevant terms and see how self-deception (rooted in self-betrayal) can cause all kinds of problems in the life of any individual and in the organization of any company!
So, the baby getting stuck under a table (or, as the authors of this book like to say, getting stuck in a box) was due to an act of self-betrayal. The baby’s intention, after all, wasn’t to get stuck; it just wanted to crawl from point A to point B.
And that’s exactly what will most certainly happen to you someday during your career.
For example, even though you’ll be doing your best to meet a deadline, fatigue will catch up with you eventually, and you’ll fall asleep at your desk.
Now, comes the real problem.
What are you going to tell your boss?
Surely not, “Mr. Jefferson, sorry I didn’t make it: I fell asleep…”!
Well, chances are – and both students and science have proven this over and over again – you’ll just think of an excuse.
And you’ve just let the cat out of the bag!
Because, even though you don’t know it yet, you’ve just started building a world of boxes!
You see, once we betray ourselves, we are much more interested in finding a justification for our actions, then the objective truth.
In other words, mistakes were made, of course – but not by me.
However, this is exactly what the box is: a distorted view of reality, in which there’s nothing more important than your needs and other people are just objects, that is, means by which you can get what you want (vehicles) or possible threats to your success (obstacles).
It wasn’t my fault,” the baby of our analogy would have probably said if it knew how to talk, “it was the table’s!
It may sound funny to you, but that’s exactly what you start doing once you found yourself in a box:
In the box, I’m blind to the truth about myself and others. I’m even blind to my own motivations.
There’s an even bigger problem: once you are in the box and start pointing fingers around, you are actually provoking those around you to shut themselves in their boxes as well: “you blame me… well, I blame him!”
Needless to add, this leads to an organization rooted in mutual mistreatments and mutual justifications.
That is, an unhealthy world of collusion, in which everybody is trying to self-justify his actions to (and this is the scary part) stay in his box.
Because inside it, you can’t see that you may have a problem as well – and it is much more convenient that way.
However, as should be obvious by now, this can be only temporarily true, the way a booze-fueled night is only temporarily a release; the headache and the hangover settle in the morning after and, suddenly, alcohol is a problem.
The best part?
There’s an easy solution to all of this!
You see, the very moment you start thinking about getting out of a box, you’re already halfway out of it!
Because now you see the problem from the outside!
And that’s when you finally see self-justifications for what they are – and your mistakes for what they have been all along!
And people – for what they should be: not vehicles or obstacles, but persons with needs and dreams like yourself.
Key Lessons from “Leadership and Self-Deception”
1. What Is the Box?
2. Getting Stuck and Living in the Box
3. Getting Out of the Box
What Is the Box?
“The Box” is the world you create around yourself once you start treading the road of self-betrayal and self-deception.
Instead of seeing things as they are, you start seeing a distorted reality of which you are the center, and all the other people are merely obstacles or vehicles.
Getting Stuck and Living in the Box
It’s almost too easy to get stuck in a box: find a self-justification once you make a mistake (instead of admitting to it) and you’re already there.
You’re getting everybody inside it as well!
In time, living in your box may become so natural to you, that you may start carrying it with you everywhere and start seeing everything through it.
That’s basically the definition of a prejudice or a bias.
Getting Out of the Box
It’s easy to get out of the box.
As Bud Jefferson tells Tom:
In the moment we cease resisting others, we’re out of the box – liberated from self-justifying thoughts and feelings. This is why the way out of the box is always right before our eyes – because the people we’re resisting are right before our eyes… The moment you see another as a person, with needs, hopes, and worries as real and legitimate as your own – you are out of the box.
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“Leadership and Self-Deception Quotes”
Our Critical Review
Even though we feel that “Leadership and Self-Deception” sometimes oversimplifies the complexity of organizational problems, it seems that the book isn’t too wide off the mark when it claims that you can’t overestimate the effects of self-betrayal and self-deception on the wellbeing of an individual or a company.
And since it’s a parable, it’s an easy and enjoyable read as well!