Are you deceiving your self? How to find out, and what to do about it to become a better leader (and human).

I’ve never written so extensively about a book before, but after having read Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute, I felt massively compelled to, as it’s one of the most (if not the most), insightful books on leadership I have ever read.

Leadership and Self-Deception is a guide to becoming self-aware – by learning to see your faults more honestly, understanding others’ strengths and needs, and leaning further into our natural-born instinct to help others.

Self-awareness is hugely important in terms of leadership.

That’s why it’s the starting point to, and one of the four cornerstones of, our EQ Leadership Formula Model below.

Without self-awareness, you can’t fully manage yourself and your responses, you won’t have a large capacity for social awareness, and you will be extremely limited in how you are able to successfully manage your relationships with others.

All crucial, foundational leadership skills.

Without fully knowing yourself, you will be extremely limited in how you are able to motivate, inspire, and lead others.

In terms of organisational culture, a lack of self-awareness can, unfortunately, be seen everywhere…

The leader who gets visibly frustrated when something goes wrong, the leader who is not having difficult conversations with team members or peers, the leader who criticises their team for being lazy, demotivated or just not ‘up to scratch’, the leader who is burning out and expecting everyone else to work all-hours too, the leader who keeps cancelling your meeting or performance review.

Any instant in which a leader is treating someone as an object without feelings, rather than a human being with needs and emotions, is a display of their lack of self-awareness.

To find out if your self-awareness could do with either a big boost, or maybe just a little tweak, and what to do about it, here are the three key lessons I learnt from the book:

Lesson 1: Self-deception makes you think that the needs of other people aren’t important, which, in turn, makes you treat them like objects.

Imagine you’re sitting on a bus with an empty seat next to you. Are you carefully watching others around you, hoping that nobody takes the seat?

This is a form of self-deception in which you value your own comfort above that of others. And you do it all the time without realising it.

Everybody wants and even deserves respect. Our entire society, including laws and constitutions, builds on this fact. But when it comes to everyday interactions with others, this principle is easy to forget.

When you’re caught up in deception, you can’t see clearly. You’re “in the box” as the authors put it. You see others as mere objects instead of the living breathing beings they are. Which often means they don’t get the respect they deserve from you.

This is self-deception at its core. It’s the idea that you don’t see others as they really are but instead how you think they are. And most often what you think of them is based on the false assumption that your needs are more important.

In other words, you frequently deceive yourself into thinking that others don’t even really have needs at all. This is a severe limitation of your worldview. Not only does it limit the care that others get from you, but it also hinders your progression.

Lesson 2: You deceive yourself by focusing too much on others’ weaknesses while overemphasising your own virtues.

Once you fall into the vicious cycle of self-deception it can be hard to get out. Part of the reason for this is that you tend to think of it as being harmless to others. But it does hurt people, and it keeps you from reaching your full potential as a leader (and in life).

When you overlook others’ desires and virtues and overemphasize your own you prevent yourself from meeting their needs. That makes them suffer and makes you ‘selfish’.

Think about what would happen if you were talking with your spouse about where to go on vacation. If you were self-deceived, you’d think that what you want is more important than what your spouse wants.

You’d then consider your actions as justifiable and reasonable, and theirs as being unrealistic and flawed. This makes you blame your spouse, fail to meet their needs, and hurt your relationship.

But the reality is, your thinking patterns are just as flawed, if not more so. And your spouse’s desires are just as valid as yours.

It’s not easy to beat this because you actively look for reasons to justify your reasoning to protect your desires. Which, in addition to your ego, also get inflated in the process.

So how to stop doing this? ….

Lesson 3: If you want to stop self-deception commit to always acting on the natural instinct to help others in need.

Self-deception means betraying yourself, so if you can stop that, then you can get out of the box. But you can’t just change your behaviour, especially by trying to cope or avoiding others.

Instead, focus on changing your mind. Remember that self-deception doesn’t come from what you do, but rather from what you think and feel about others. So that’s what you have to target to beat it.

To change your mindset, always ask yourself if you’re actually better than the people you’re around.

Do this everywhere you go, from your car to the office and beyond. Commit to always giving in to the natural instinct to be nice to others.

When you succeed and get out of the box, the benefits will start showing up…
  • As a leader, you’ll create an atmosphere of personal responsibility where people focus more on getting work done, instead of blaming others.
  • Working relationships will get easier as interacting with people becomes less stressful or unpleasant.
  • You’ll feel happier and more optimistic after talking with others (and generally!).
  • You’ll no longer be harboring all of those bad feelings of anger and resentment, or have situations ruminating around your head
  • You’ll notice a subsequent improvement in your well-being and physical and mental health.
  • You’ll be a nicer person and notice the subsequent impact on the extent to which you can motivate and inspire your team – so that they are performing better all-round.

It’s a win-win – both for you, and everyone around you.

Have I convinced you to read the book? Let me know.

And if you feel like now is the time to develop your own self-awareness to become a more effective leader, or that of your people, get in touch to arrange a no-obligation consultation / 07931 996854