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Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box Paperback – January 5, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 740 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“This is a profound book, with deep and sweeping implications. It is engaging, fresh, easy to read, and packed with insights. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.”
—Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

“Extraordinary . . . Five Stars.”
—Business Ethics

“This is the most profound and practical business book I have ever read! Everyone I have recommended this book to has been challenged intellectually and also touched emotionally. It is a must-read that I will give to my kids to read before they begin their careers.”
—Tom A. DiDonato, Vice President, Human Resources, American Eagle Outfitters

“I love this book. It identifies the central issue in all organizational performance. Like truth itself, this book reveals more with each re-examination. I highly recommend it.”
—Doug Hauth, Business Development Manager, Convio, Inc.

“Imagine working in an organization where the aim of your colleagues is to help you achieve your results. I could not believe it possible. After reading this book I just had to bring Arbinger to the UK to teach our people. What an experience! We are all better people for it. This book touches the very foundation of culture, teamwork, and performance.”
—Mark Ashworth, President and CEO, Butcher’s Pet Care, UK

“It’s rare to find a business book that is good enough to recommend to your boss, your work team, and your friends. The concepts in this book
have transformed both the way I work and the way I live.”
—Robert W. Edwards, Managing Director, Sales, FedEx

“After decades of executive leadership in senior management positions,
I’ve finally found in Arbinger what I consider to be the best means of improving every measure of success. From boosting the bottom line to increasing personal joy, this book shows the way.”
—Bruce L. Christensen, former President and CEO, PBS

“This astonishing book is a MUST-read for every executive or personal and professional coach.”
—Laura Whitworth, coauthor of Co-Active Coaching, and cofounder, The Coaches Training Institute

“The concepts in this book are powerful. They are fundamental to success whether on the playing field, in the office, or perhaps most importantly, at home. Read this book and you’ll see what I mean.”
—Steve Young, two-time NFL Most Valuable Player

“Rarely has a book had such an immediate and profound impact on
the hundreds of CEOs of fast growth firms we work with through our
MIT/Inc./EO Executive Program. And it’s one of those rare books that
touches both the personal as well as professional lives of these leaders.”
—Verne Harnish, cofounder, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and CEO, Gazelles, Inc.

“Leadership and Self-Deception is a touchstone for authentic leadership. Arbinger’s innovative exploration of what lies beneath behavior uplifts, enlightens, and transforms. We’ve wholeheartedly adopted Leadership and Self-Deception as the foundational material for our administrator development program.”
—Troy S. Buer, Educational Program Director, University of Virginia School of Medicine

“This is probably the most outstanding book that directs us to soul searching and introspection. It teaches us to take accountability for our lives and our destinies in a down-to-earth and bluntly practical manner. The lessons in this book have helped me personally, as well as other people I love.”
—Kalyan Banerjee, cofounder and Senior Vice President, MindTree

“The principles of Leadership and Self Deception provide the groundwork for our success as individuals and organizations. I recommend it highly to my fellow board members, to global networks, corporate clients, entrepreneurs, and individuals alike. “
—Heidi Forbes Öste, CEO and Founder, 2BalanceU and Public Relations, Europe Region, Business and Professional Women International

“Because it distills important leadership, spiritual, and life principles into one profound and impossible-to-put-down-book, Leadership and Self Deception is a treasure. MBA students in my classes share my enthusiasm for this rare book. You will surely return to this book again and again; and each time you do, it will be as penetrating a learning experience as the first time.”
—Barry Brownstein, CSX Chair in Leadership, University of Baltimore

“The leadership principles in this book have had a greater impact on the quality of leadership in our company than anything we have ever implemented. They have been extraordinarily important in helping make our company a great place to work while at the same time helping us focus on results and increase productivity as never before.”
—Michael Stapley, President and CEO, DMBA

“While reading, I reviewed my life, and, sure enough, what successes there were in it were based on Arbinger’s principles. This book is a tool that could transform and elevate the way government functions!”
—Mark W. Cannon, former Administrative Assistant to the Chief Justice of the United States and Staff Director, Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution

“Simple . . . clear . . . powerful. With many years of experience in leadership, organizational development, and training I was surprised to find
something strike me with such impact.”
—Janet Steinwedel, President, Leaders Insight

“As a therapist I was pleasantly surprised to find that a book geared toward managers could have such far-reaching implications in my life and the lives of my clients. I believe the ideas in this book could transform the counseling profession. It is now required reading for all my clients.”
—Jason Beard, family therapist

“Are you relating to the world anxiously or angrily, not comprehending why you hold judgmental attitudes, feel uncontrollable fear, or unleash explosions of temper against your colleagues without being able to explain why? Do you feel hopeless and unable to change? Learn the practical tools provided in this fascinating book and eliminate this problem at its source right now!”
—Marcos Cajina Heinzkill, Certified Coach and Facilitator, founder and President, Renewal, Spain

“Remarkable. Arbinger possesses the hidden key to productivity and creativity. Do whatever you can to get your hands on this material.”
—Dave Browne, former President and CEO, LensCrafters

“This book is a rare gem that is treasured by all who have read it. The organization for which I work has passed this book to so many people, and it is amazing to watch peoples’ attitudes and behaviors towards each other changing. Each day everyone gives a little more, making us better leaders but more importantly better people.”
—Nuala Murphy, Senior Vice President, Global Financial Services Company

“Leadership and Self-Deception holds up a brutally honest mirror to behavior in which we all indulge to justify our shortcomings. The result is not self-remorse or punishment but a glimpse of a life to be lived with integrity and freed of the boundaries and constraints we inflict upon ourselves and others. I am always excited to watch Arbinger’s thinking help my clients to unlock painful family disputes and lead them to resolution.”
—Neil Denny, family lawyer, Wiltshire, UK

“A remarkable book. It can be valuable to your understanding of why so many people create their own problems, are unable and/or unwilling to see that they are creating their own problems, and then resist any attempts by others to help them stop creating those problems.”
—Robert Morris, Amazon Top 50 Reviewer

“I’ve been in the book publishing business for twenty five years. Rarely have I read a book as profound and life-changing as Leadership and Self-Deception.”
—David Sanford, Literary Agent, Credo Communications

“This book was recommended to me at an annual strategic planning session. I was stunned by the truth of it and the simple solution. Our entire management has now read it. It has been a building block for our personal and organizational development.”
—Rick Chalk, CEO, Cal-tex Protective Coatings

“My business partners and I built a health-care company on the ideas in this book. We are amazed at what it has helped us achieve. Careful reading and rereading of this book has proven better than any productivity, team-building, or leadership training we’ve encountered.”
—Mark Ballif, CEO, Plum Healthcare

“An important book that has the potential to change the way you think, behave, and live your life, both personally and professionally.”
—Rolf Dobelli, Amazon Top 50 Reviewer

“Our Executive Committee read Leadership and Self-Deception nearly two years ago. Since then every member of our staff has read it. The
Arbinger approach adds tremendous value as we grow the company and integrate companies we acquire along the way.”
—Robin Hamill, Chairman, Igility Group

Book Description

Leadership and Self-Deception uses an entertaining story about an executive facing challenges at work and at home to expose the precise psychological processes that conceal our true motivations and intentions from us and trap us in a “box” of endless self-justification. Most importantly, the book shows us the way out. The book’s central insight—that the key to leadership lays not in what we do, but in who we are—has proved to have powerful resonances not only for organizational leadership, but in readers’ personal lives as well.

This new edition has been revised throughout to make the story more readable and compelling. And drawing on the extensive correspondence they’re received over the years the authors have added a section that outlines the many ways that readers have been using this book.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; Second Edition edition (April 30, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781576759776
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576759776
  • ASIN: 1576759776
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (740 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author


In the 1970s, a team of scholars led by philosopher C. Terry Warner embarked on an exploration into a core problem at the heart of the human sciences--the "problem of self-deception." The research explored how we end up creating and sustaining problems we don't know we are causing, and how and why people resist helpful solutions.


Initially, all attempts to understand the phenomenon of self-deception failed, just as all attempts had for over 100 years. After years of work, however, the research team discovered a solution no one expected. They discovered the clear and surprising way that people begin to evade responsibility without thinking that they are doing so, and therefore end up blaming others or circumstances they, themselves, are helping to create. More importantly, they discovered how this could be corrected.


Following this scholarly discovery, Arbinger's founding members began teaching the principles in academic circles and within the university environment. This soon led to demand from individuals and families and then to requests for organizational applications. As more and more people and organizations experienced the profound changes that were enabled by Arbinger's work, Arbinger evolved into a full-service consultancy that helps individuals and organizations solve the problems they have never been able to solve.


Arbinger was founded in 1979. Since then, Arbinger has worked with thousands of individuals and organizations and helped them to transform their effectiveness and performance.

Early on, Arbinger's growth was fueled solely by clients who spread the word about Arbinger's impact. Arbinger's public profile was then dramatically increased by the global success of its first book, Leadership & Self Deception, which was published in 2000. The book quickly became a word-of-mouth bestseller. It is now available in 27 languages and has sold over a million copies.

Arbinger's second international bestseller, The Anatomy of Peace, was published in 2006. Available in 14 languages and having sold nearly 500,000 copies to date, The Anatomy of Peace demonstrates the power of Arbinger's work in resolving conflict.

Arbinger is now recognized as a world-leader in improving organizational culture and conflict resolution. Arbinger's clients range from individuals who are seeking help in their lives to many of the largest companies and governmental institutions in the world.

For more information, please visit www.arbinger.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Leadership and Self Deception was originally published in 2000 and has become an international bestseller with over 750,000 copies sold & translated into 22 languages. The book tells a story about a senior business executive who is struggling at the office and at home. (He doesn't know he's struggling professionally to optimize results - but he quickly learns this is the case.)

* This is a simple story, with a logical message. Yet, the story nicely explains that we all often fail to see that we have a problem. We do engage in self-deception. We do "unwittingly sabotage relationships at work and at home." And our actions do provoke a response that encourages the opposite of our intention.

* Part I explains "Self-Deception and the Box." Part II explains "How We Get In the Box." Part III explains "How We Get Out of the Box." Being "In the box" is seeing others as objects. "Out of the Box" is seeing yourself and others as people. (They make this come alive in the book.)

* As I was reading the book, particularly Part I and Part II, I was impressed at how they framed the narrative and discussion to make me realize how I've been deceiving myself. Several "AHA" moments here. Rather than give too much of the story line away - they use a simple example of a Business Executive sleeping and then hearing his infant crying - he knows that he should get up to help his spouse - he doesn't - he then justifies not getting up by mentally elevating his importance (he needs to get up early in the morning; he's the main bread winner; he's a good dad; he's the victim) while he mentally frames up his spouse who isn't getting up as being lazy, unappreciative, inconsiderate, etc.
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Format: Paperback
This was a management book from work so I read it before seeing the reviews here. I was really looking forward to it because introspection and self deception among leaders are concepts I've thought about at work. After reading it however, I can't seem to understand why so many have such high praises for this book, though of course, the book itself has a ready answer for that -- I must be inside the box. The authors have done a good job there at least in setting up a concept where if you disagree with it, you haven't been enlightened yet.

My main comments:
a. Narrative form. While this can be good, it's overdone in this book. The characters are too flat and designed to be exactly what the authors need to make their point. No depth, no constraints on their actions. Just stick figures. Likewise the story is set up in self justifying little snippets.
b. The authors use the story format to set up strawman arguments and proceed to knock them down. No counterpoints or alternatives are allowed to mess up the narrative. Each time they get to a key point, they put it off for later with a "you're not ready for that yet" statement. Later turns out to be seminars your company can purchase.
c. No data or background research is presented. Mostly pop psychology presented in such a way to resonate with people, and like pop corn fills you up with no substance. The closest thing to data are random notes in the back about someone, somewhere, learning something.
d. The book is not complete in itself. It's a teaser for the seminars offered by the authors.
e. While there are some good points in here, they could as easily been covered in a two page white paper (or 862 PowerPoint slides)

Bottom line, if you read the reviews here, you will be given the entire message from the book.
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Format: Paperback
Interesting book! Fairly simple ideas, though. Here ... we can sum it up this way:

Most people are jerks. In fact, YOU are probably a jerk. Even though you don't think so, it's most likely true.

It's really a suboptimal way to go through life, being a jerk. We shouldn't do it. So you really should stop it. But it's very hard to stop being a jerk. Nothing works! No, not that. Not that, either, I'm afraid. No, not even THAT works. It's almost impossible to stop being a jerk.

If you already know you are a jerk, you can skip to the end of the book. If you don't, then read the first 98.73% in oder to be convinced otherwise. Once you accept that you have lived your life as a jerk and decide you want to change, they've got a training program to sell you...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box and The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict because I'll be starting a program in conflict resolution in a few months and I wanted to become more familiar with some of the basic concepts before I started. So far, I've only read Leadership and Self-Deception. I bought the two books because they are popular and were reviewed by a lot of people, and the majority of reviews were very positive. I have to admit I was in a bit of a rush, so I just read a couple of the very positive reviews as well as a couple of the very negative reviews befor I made my order.

When I received the books I was surprised to find they were written in narrative form. Because the books were written by an "institution" and not a specific author, I wrongly believed the style of the writing would be more scholarly or at a minimum journalistic. That's what I was looking for.

Because it was written as a narrative, I feel it's only fair to briefly review this aspect of the book. I found all of it very contrived, and I felt like I was being pushed along from point to point to point. All fictional narrative is about manipulating the thoughts and feelings of the reader (movie goer) and that's fine because it's a part of the contract between the narrative creator and the viewer. In the case of narrative in Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box I felt manipulation because the message (themes) were meant to be so clear. I think with fictional or journalist narratives the themes aren't supposed to be so on the nose or in the case of journalistic writing it's often just descriptive or factual. There is some room for interpretation. Anyway, for me, the narrative structure wasn't effective because I felt manipulated.
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