Book: Leadership and Self-Deception

leadership and self deception I read Leadership and Self Deception (Amazon) years ago, several times. It was a book that profoundly changed the way that I think about things, the way that I approach the world. When some conflict arose at work, I saw how the ideas in the book would help, and tried to get everyone on my team to read it.

This wasn’t entirely successful. Eventually I bought it on Kindle (my physical copy had been a casualty of some international move) and re-read it again myself, so that I could better talk about the ideas in the book to people.

The main premise of the book is that there is a way of being, “in the box”, where you are just seeing people as they interact with you, and not how they are. Something I wrote after reading it originally,

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box (Amazon) is another book on leadership – one that I found completely changed the way I look at everything. It’s funny, because in a talk based on that one of my friends was irritated because it seemed like we were being given life advice – but having read the book, it’s true that it is life advice – because (I think) this view of leadership is all about being a nice, humble, respectful, and – crucially – taking ownership of the mistakes you make instead of assigning blame.

This book shows us a world in which we are all, inside our boxes, desperately trying to justify the actions we take that are less than honorable, less than kind. If you don’t want to be such a person, you can choose to live outside your box. You can see others as humans – with their own motivations, fears, and justifications, rather than as obnoxious objects trying to take you down.

It was really interesting to return to the ideas that I had internalized as part of my value system, and reflect on how I had lived up to them – and how I hadn’t. It was also interesting to reflect on these things now that I’m at a different point in my career. When I first read it, I was an intern. Now I’m a manager. I want my team to be “out of the box” to each other (and to me!) – I think it’s a pre-requisite for a blameless culture – but how do I create an environment that enables that?

(Especially if they don’t read the book.)

We did a discussion around the ideas in it, and it was so helpful – to build that shared language together. I think the most helpful idea in it to discuss as a team, is how conflict can escalate. When two people are looking to justify, neither of them are really listening to each other, and hilarity (not really hilarity) ensues.

Entertainingly – I steered away from life examples (deliberately) and focused on work examples (code review is a good one!) and afterwards someone observed that it was applicable outside of a work context.

I’m really glad that I took the time to re-read it, it’s re-enforced my conviction that it’s one of the most helpful books on leadership I’ve ever read. I really recommend it.

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