I think I’ve read Leadership and Self Deception at least 10 times and it’s on virtually every book list I make. I had studied projection for years and never felt like I had it figured out. This book has greatly helped me to “get it.” And now, concepts from this book are included in all of my workshops such as Leadership & Legacy and Inspired Facilitation.

Leadership and Self-Deception The Arbinger Institute


Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the box


As most Arbinger Institute books, Leadership and Self Deception (shortened to L&SD from here on) was written in a collaborative way with multiple authors. This really enables a broad range of perspectives and examples to come forth in the book.

L&SD leads us to understand the impact of what happens to relationships when we judge another person. Often our judgement is unconscious and difficult to recognize. Through a shorthand of “the box” we are introduced to way of thinking about the impact when we judge another person unconsciously. With judgment we place them in “a box” of our own creation. When we put a person in this box, we create self-deception. We deceive ourselves into believing that we know everything we need to know about the other person(s) and have a reason to judge them. This frequently enables us to feel better than, or less than, that other person.

L&SD helps us become aware of the unconscious judgement and projection. Not only is this a top book in leadership literature but, in my opinion, it is the best book written on the topic of self deception and the negative power of judgement.

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What you’ll find in the book

Example Workplace Situation:

As a leader, I’m mad at the person who shows up late, but I don’t say anything. The next day that late person messes up something else and I overreact. Rather than be direct about being late it’s easy to make up a story like, “It doesn’t matter if I tell them 10 times they won’t change.” Or, “They should know better.” I’ve made up the story to take myself off the hook. We put the projection on the other person instead of recognizing that we’ve let ourselves down by not addressing the conflict and doing what should/needs to be done.

The authors of L&SD have created interesting dialogs and mechanisms for understanding how putting people in the box works. They include direct examples and theoretical ones. One example scenario in the book is: In the workplace I ask somebody to do something for me and they say no; they’re busy. The next day they ask me to do something and I say no based on the principle that they didn’t help me the day before. L&SD explains how that chain of events takes place, and decreases each person’s effectiveness.

Example Non-Work Situation:

This book doesn’t just help with workplace situations. There are helpful examples of how projection works in all areas of our lives. For example: I know I should really do this project that I’m working on with my partner. I don’t want to do it, so I didn’t get it done. I want my partner to do it, but they haven’t done it either. Now I am angry because they didn’t finish the project, even though I didn’t want to do it either; my partner is now in the box.

Especially when we’re in a leadership position we can get mad at people because they’re not doing something we want them to do and it’s my job to get them to do it. By using the information in this book we can learn to increase our awareness and modify our behaviour to be more effective and productive – to become more of who we want to be.  Let yourself and others out of the box of judgement.


Leadership & Self Desception illustrates how our brains allow us to conceal our true motivations and intentions from us and trap us in a “box” of endless self-justification. Fortunately and most importantly, it also shows us how to get out of the pit of self-deception.

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