Book Review: Leadership & Self-Deception. Highest Rating: 5*. Game/Life Changer.

I highly recommend this powerful little book to leaders and non-leaders in all walks of life.  I’ve given it the highest 5* Amazon rating for reasons outlined below.

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.  This book was the #1 reading list recommendation of a new blogger that I am following regularly: Manage Better Now – A Common Sense Guide To Becoming a Better Manager.  The publisher describes the book as an “international word-of-mouth phenomenon selling more copies each year than were sold in the first four years after publication.”  I had never heard of this book previously but now I understand why Manage Better Now recommends it highly and why this book is a word-of-mouth phenomenon.

In the spirit of “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Manage Better Now has also inspired me to add Suggested Reading lists to my blog as a number of followers have asked about my favorite books.  (See right hand side of my Blog’s Home Page below Blog Roll and Reading Now).  I’ve added this book to my top recommendations in the Personal Development and Leadership/Management categories.

Here’s my overview of the book:

  • Leadership & Self Deception 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 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.  He elevates his own importance over his wife; he rationalizes why he is justified in not getting up to help the baby; he gets angry and this ultimately leads to a response which is opposite to what he was looking for.  Even though no words are spoken.
  • The answer will not be found in a new leadership strategy.  It will not be found in developing a new communication skill or changing your behavior.  It will not be found in trying to change someone to your way of thinking.  The answer is changing “your way of being.”
  • I’m not a fan of parables because I have often found this format either too contrived or generally not relevant to me.  Yet, I believe this story, the message and the anecdotes are universally applicable and true and will resonate with many readers.
  • The < 200 page book is a quick and easy read.  It should take you less than 3 hours.
  • While the book is framed in a business context, it will benefit all readers: leaders, non-leaders, professionals and individuals in for-profits and non-for-profits.
  • Any cons?  I have two “nits.” (1) You reach the end of the book to learn that Part II (Accountability Transformation System) and Part III (Monitoring System) are not discussed or included in the book and you would need to enroll in Arbinger’s seminars to learn this.  This was a bit deceptive and unnecessary in my opinion as the core message in the book remains powerful.  They should have stripped these references from the story and included it in the appendix.  (2) Later editions of the book were revised to include a section on “How to Use Leadership and Self-Deception” including hiring, team building, conflict resolution, accountability and personal growth and development.  This section added very little utility – but again, it does not detract from the value of the book.
  • So many self-help leadership books leave no lasting value or impression – you get a quick high (if you are lucky) and the message evaporates.  Not this one.  This one will stick.  Highly recommended.
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