Book Review: Leadership and Self-Deception
This is a book review written for the Arbinger Institute's book titled, Leadership & Self-Deception, which was released in 2009. The book uses an easy to read, fiction format to discuss to primary concepts: being "in the box," and being "out of the box." By quick summary, "in the box" refers to when one sees others as mere objects rather than fellow human beings. A person who is in the box might see themselves as the center of the world, while everyone else is the source of all the problems. This is, however, what the Arbinger Institute would define as self-deception. The goal for leaders should be to live "out of the box." This refers to when people approach others the opposite way, seeing them as people. A person who is out of the box recognizes that others have cares, hopes, needs, and fears just as they do and take this into account through their leadership style.
This book presents a model of human interaction that can be considered a unifying theory for how one can live successfully in any area of their life. Most leadership themed books aim to approach leadership in either an organization, an individual's life, or one's family; very few are able to tackle all three through such a simplified approach. The concepts and models presented in this book are challenging in that they ask its readers to face themselves in ways that might not necessarily be comfortable. The reader takes a journey of self discovery with Tom, the character by which serves as the substitute for the reader. As new concepts are revealed and explained for Tom, the reader is taken on the same journey of discovery and self-realization.
One of the only critiques that might be given to this book is its lack of a solution. The book spends a good portion of the time defining the concept of the box and explaining the different ways and reasons the box manifests in our approach to others. Though this is a crucial element with a topic like self-deception, it left me feeling slightly hopeless. This book does a good job of beating its readers down, not aggressively, but in a way that shows even the most prideful the power of self-deception. I would like to have seen a stronger emphasis on the how and why of living and leading outside the box. What I can to discover later was that this book points heavily to the sequel, The Anatomy of Peace, which does take a stronger approach on the how and why.
The fundamental idea in this book is one that can be found in most of the world's largest religions about relating to other human beings. Do not look at others as merely a resource that can be consumed, but have empathy, be willing to turn the other check, and realize that your hardening of heart only hardens the heart of those around you. Despite the lack of depth this book offers its readers, it makes up for in clarification. By no stretch of the imagination should one walk away from reading this book not understanding the concept of the box and how self-deception plays such a vital role in our leadership. This book is often used in business coaching programs and trainings, which is where I believe this books thrives. This is where good leadership starts, but most certainly not where it ends. I believe this book becomes clearer and richer in its second or third read throughs, which makes this book a great annual read. These are fundamental, and I would dare to say foundational, concepts to every leadership model. The stronger grasp a leader has on the principles of this book, the better leader they will be.