Leadership and self-deception

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Self-deception actually determines one’s experience in every aspect of life.

An infant is learning to crawl. She begins by pushing herself backward around the house. Backing herself around, she gets lodged beneath the furniture. There she thrashes about—crying and banging her little head against the sides and undersides of the pieces.

She is stuck and hates it. So she does the only thing she can think of to get herself out—she pushes even harder, which only worsens her problem. She’s more stuck than ever.

If this infant could talk, she would blame the furniture for her troubles. She, after all, is doing everything she can think of. The problem couldn’t be hers. But of course, the problem is hers, even though she can’t see it.

While it’s true she’s doing everything she can think of, the problem is precisely that she can’t see how she’s the problem. Having the problem she has, nothing she can think of will be a solution.

Self-deception is like this. It blinds us to the true cause of problems, and once blind, all the “solutions” we can think of will actually make matters worse.

That’s why self-deception is so central to leadership—because leadership is about making matters better.

To the extent that we are self-deceived, our leadership is undermined at every turn—and not because of the furniture.


“Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box” (The Arbinger Institute), vii-viii.

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