Edward Stern was a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a previous writer on accredited online degrees.
The esteemed Arbinger Institute has done it again with Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box. A book for anyone in a leadership position but particularly those heading up an office or corporate team, the book seeks to make readers better leaders through doing what is truly the right thing—and not making excuses, or deceiving oneself, when what is right is not done.
The messages and morals of the book are told through a story. Tom, a straight-edged, by-the-book company guy who does good work, has just been hired as an executive at the fictional Zagrum Corporation. During his leadership training from two senior executives, Tom is shown how he is in the box without even being aware of it, how to get out of the box, and subsequently how to be a better leader, employee, and person. The box is limiting, and only by knowing how the box encapsulates his being and how to get himself out of it can he grow and stop deceiving himself.
Basically, “the box” confines because of the limited view of the person confined. This person has an inflated self-importance, often due to their status as a leader, and is not personally accountable. The person in the box makes excuses when tasks aren’t carried out completely, when promises are broken, or when team members are left out to dry. These excuses make the person believe they have done the right thing, it’s not their fault, or there was nothing they could have done to change how things turned out. People in the box avoid responsibility and accountability, and lie to themselves that they are doing right when they know, deep down, that they could be doing a lot better.
Rather than just purely about leadership, the book demands introspection and a rejuvenation of the self to get out of the box and to stay out of it. Doing so makes for a better person, which is necessary for one to lead other people and have them follow suit. The book takes a unique approach by identifying one source of where lack-luster leadership stems from and what it is, and how to identify it in other people and oneself.
The book also takes a unique approach by veering into fiction and teaching lessons through a narrative. Leadership and Self-Deception takes an approach equal parts show and tell. Tom is a relatable character, and it is very easy to see parts of oneself (especially less than glowing ones) in him. It makes the introspection happen a little bit easier, and it makes for a more spirited read than other dry self-help books that just tell you what to do in a dense non-fiction style. Like a really long fable or a philosophical discourse from the great Greek minds, the messages come out the reader regularly but do so through a story and through characters, one we can all identify with and, by the end of the book, strive to be.
Still, it’s this style that also keeps it one star away from a perfect score. The dialogue, and the writing in general, is very simple and can be unintentionally funny in how watered-down and elementary it sometimes is. Great literature this is not. Also, anybody expecting a neat conclusion will have to wait—the senior executives tell Tom there are three steps to getting out of the box and staying out of it, and as the book abruptly ends, he’s only completed the first step. Smart move by the authors to create demand for a sequel or two, but maddening for the reader.
That said, there’s a lot of good stuff in Leadership and Self-Deception and it deserves several readings to grasp its full message. It strives to help the reader become a better leader through first being a better person, and that is noble in and of itself.
Prev: 50 Ways to Be More Humble and to Act Humbly
Next: Resources Feb 2011