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Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box Hardcover – January 15, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 1,153 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

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. --Pat McGill


"... not just another book on leadership. It identifies the central issue of all performance. I recommend it very highly." -- Brad Pelo, President and CEO, NextPage

"... shows why the truth about failure is so difficult to see, and explains how to overcome such self-deception." -- Dave Checketts, President and CEO, Madison Square Garden Corp.

"Arbinger taught our leadership team at LensCrafters and the difference...was remarkable. This is the...key to productivity and creativity." -- Dave Browne, former President and CEO, LensCrafters

"Don't be fooled by the title--this book is for everyone. I can't think about my life the same way again." -- Jack Anderson, Syndicated Columnist and Pulitzer Prize Winner

"Fascinating, thought provoking, and insightful! Once I started reading, I couldnt put it down." -- Steven C. Wheelwright, Professor and Senior Associate Dean, Harvard Business School

"From boosting the bottom line to increasing personal joy, this book shows the way." -- Bruce L. Christensen, former President and CEO, PBS

"I love this book. Like truth itself, it reveals more with each re-examination. I recommend it highly." -- Doug Hauth, Sales Vice President, Lucent Technologies

"I've known the work of the Arbinger Institute for years. Arbinger's ideas are profound, with deep and sweeping implications for organizations. Leadership and Self-Deception provides the perfect introduction to this material. It is engaging and fresh, easy to read, and packed with insight. I couldn't recommend it more highly." -- Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

"This is significant, original stuff. This book is a terrific introduction to Arbinger's groundbreaking material. I enjoyed it immensely." -- Robert C. Gay, Managing Director, Bain Capital

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 181 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (January 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1576750949
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576750940
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a most unusual book on leadership. The premise here is not about leadership approaches, methodologies for managing employees in the workplace, or other business strategy, but is instead a close and powerful look at how we view others and how that view impacts our ability to lead them.
The first unusual aspect of this book is the manner in which it is written. It is basically a novel. It starts with contextual story written in first person, of a man who has recently joined a successful company as an executive and is called in to meet personally with the Company senior leader. From the first few pages I was anticipating and wanting to know what would happen next. It is within this method that the leadership principles are revealed. This is an extremely important way to deliver a message. I know a few people who do not read novels, but stick to non-fiction types of books. This is a tremendous loss, as truth is most eloquently and powerfully conveyed within the context of a story. In the New Testament for example, Jesus taught most powerfully in parables, weaving truth into a common story people could relate to. In that manner this book weaves some powerful messages about leadership into a modern day parable of a business executive.
The concept presented in this book of what leadership is, is also a more unusual one in that the focus is not on "what" we do behaviorally to others, our outward leadership style, as most leadership books focus on, but rather our inward view of these individuals as people. The foundational question is whether we are "in the box" or not. "In the box" refers generally to viewing others as objects through our own biased lens, which often without our knowledge inflates our self-importance while diminishing theirs.
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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
I hate business books. Hate them.

My parents and siblings practically insisted I read Stephen Covey's jargon-rich "The Seven Habits..." and I got as far as something about the "P/PC principle" before deciding I'd had too much. Just seeing print ads for "Who moved my cheese?" makes me want to vomit.

That said, this is not really a business book. It's a book about truly being a better person, and by being a better person, being a better spouse, parent, boss, friend, citizen, and employee. The whole concept of the book is one simple idea: treat people as if they're people, not as if they're objects.

Some car cuts you off in traffic?

Get mad!

No. A car didn't cut you off. A person did. Why? Why would a person do that? Have YOU yourself ever cut someone off? You did? Why did you?

"Well, I was in a hurry. I was late for an appointment...."

Well, maybe that guy was too....

Using this simple approach, the world can be a much nicer place, you can spend a lot less time being angry or frustrated, and you could end up liking people a lot more.

Unlike books like "How to Win Friends and Influence People," this book is not about tricks, or flattery, or social politics. It's about truly seeing people as real individuals, and then, it doesn't matter what you need to say to them, as long as they can tell you realize they're a real human being with real needs and concerns. Because to truly see someone, is to truly value them.

This book isn't perfect--it uses some pretty fruity terminology at times, its format of a boss talking with an employee is a little cheesy, and it ends abruptly--but it could change your life nonetheless. One reviewer said, "Upon finishing this book, I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas morning," and I'd have to agree.

In fact, I'm going to re-read it, and get that feeling back again.
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