Leadership and Self Deception by The Arbinger Institute

General Description (from Amazon.com)
Using the story/parable format so popular these days, Leadership and Self-Deception takes a novel psychological approach to leadership. It’s not what you do that matters, say the authors (presumably plural–the book is credited to the esteemed Arbinger Institute), but why you do it. Latching onto the latest leadership trend won’t make people follow you if your motives are selfish–people can smell a rat, even one that says it’s trying to empower them. The tricky thing is, we don’t know that our motivation is flawed. We deceive ourselves in subtle ways into thinking that we’re doing the right thing for the right reason. We really do know what the right thing to do is, but this constant self-justification becomes such an ingrained habit that it’s hard to break free of it–it’s as though we’re trapped in a box, the authors say.

Learning how the process of self-deception works–and how to avoid it and stay in touch with our innate sense of what’s right–is at the heart of the book. We follow Tom, an old-school, by-the-book kind of guy who is a newly hired executive at Zagrum Corporation, as two senior executives show him the many ways he’s “in the box,” how that limits him as a leader in ways he’s not aware of, and of course how to get out. This is as much a book about personal transformation as it is about leadership per se. The authors use examples from the characters’ private as well as professional lives to show how self-deception skews our view of ourselves and the world and ruins our interactions with people, despite what we sincerely believe are our best intentions.

While the writing won’t make John Updike lose any sleep, the story entertainingly does the job of pulling the reader in and making a potentially abstruse argument quite enjoyable. The authors have a much better ear for dialogue than is typical of the genre (the book is largely dialogue), although a certain didactic tone creeps in now and then. But ultimately it’s a hopeful, even inspiring read that flows along nicely and conveys a message that more than a few managers need to hear.

Why the President Should Read It
Leadership? Why would the President need to know anything about that?

This book is about avoiding self-betrayal, or self-deception. It’s also about seeing human beings as people, rather than objects. But it is not touchy-feely, fluffy nonsense that leaves you feeling good but doesn’t have a lasting impact on your life. This is a book with concrete, clear instructions on how to be a “real” person. It is not a book about interpersonal skills. It’s not about how to make friends and influence people. Sure, skills are great, but skills can be used for nefarious purposes. Simply put, this book helps good people be better, and bad people become good. If there is any one person who needs to read this book, it’s the President of the United States. If everyone in government read it, understood it, and lived it, it would change the world. That might sound a bit overblown, but if you read it I think you’ll agree.

Personal Notes
I was less than a half hour into this book when I stopped reading and thought “Rats. My life is never going to be the same.” It was a moment when I realized I could choose to be dishonest with myself and deny that I had read what I just read, or I could embrace it. The reason I thought “Rats…” about embracing it was because I knew it meant the eventual end to all the selfish, lazy desires I had indulged in.

That was all 10 years ago. The change in my life initiated by this book is still happening, and probably will continue until the end of my life. I hope it does, and I’ve given up saying “Rats” about it.