Leadership and Self-deception – Book Review


This is a great book for challenging and changing your mindset. It might not suit those of you who are avid absorbers of tips on how to be more skilful, more focused, or more fulfilled. This is a book for deep reflection. An opportunity to challenge your belief system, to view things differently, to re-evaluate your attitudes towards other people (and stop seeing them as objects).

If you read this book, don’t rush to get to the end of it. Take your time. Allow your reflections to surface and play out. And if someone else needs you, then go to them.

One of the most repetitive themes I come across is people struggling to make lasting changes to their behaviour. They’re too busy, or just successful enough in what they are doing to make substantive changes. As there is nothing compelling them to look hard enough at their lives, to surface what they truly want and to adjust their priorities accordingly, it’s too easy for them to continue to muddle along, just doing enough to get by.

Leadership and self-deception book cover
Thanks to The Arbinger Institute and Penguin

It’s all about Choice

Well, this book makes you take a hard look at your life. At the heart of Leadership and the Art of Self-Deception is the concept that we always make choices as to ‘our way of being;’ subtle ways in which we see and respond to the world. Our response to others is to see them as objects, classifying them based on our own projections of how we perceive the world. We actively resist alternative perspectives and refuse to consider the possibility that it might be me that is the problem.

Written as the fictional account of a businessman learning and reflecting through discussions with senior execs in the company he has just joined, this book unravels “How people create their own problems, fail to see that they are creating their own problems and resist any attempts to help them stop creating those problems?”


Back in your Box

Thus, we occupy a box, whose walls we create by our self-deception, creating our own problems by treating others as objects and failing to acknowledge their needs as equally important to our own. How we do this is by committing acts of self-betrayal; That is, we act in a way that is contrary to what we feel we should do – the book uses the example of the central character not getting out of the bed to tend to his crying baby, and pretending to be asleep whilst his wife got up. We then begin to see the world in a way that justifies the self-betrayal – the man seeing himself as hardworking and important and, therefore, in more need of sleep.

In a self-justifying world, our view of reality becomes distorted – the man sees his wife as lazy and inconsiderate. It’s these “views” that then create “the box,” which cause others to adopt attitudes to us which mutually reinforce and fix our mindset. We remain in the box until we accept that “I am the problem,” and stop seeking opportunities to blame others for our choices.

This book was hugely useful for me to reflect and challenge my thinking and my attitudes to others. It still resonates now, whenever I find myself seeking to blame others for “events” which are really the consequence of choices I have made.

This book review is number 1 of 5 of what we feel are the best books on leadership development and communication. We will be releasing the other reviews over the coming months. To be in for a chance to win your own set of the books and to get the future reviews direct to your inbox sign up today.