The book Leadership and Self-Deception: getting out of the box from The Arbinger Institute, offers an important challenge for leaders.

The authors start with the assumption that leadership is not primarily about what you do. Leadership is about who yo are and how you do what you do. The techniques and strategies of leadership are less important than the person you as a leader bring to the task of leadership.

The central problem for most leaders is that when we find ourselves blocked or frustrated in fulfilling our role as a leader, we immediately rush to find a culprit out there. We want to know who is the problem. We want to uncover what factors or forces we can blame for the impasse in which we and those we lead find ourselves.

Instead of looking out there for the cause of the problem, the authors of Leadership and Self-Deception suggest we should view the struggles we face as an opportunity to examine our own lives and to see how our way of being with people has become the problem. Failure in leadership is a result of self-deception, the unwillingness to see ourselves clearly and to face the reality of our own attitudes, thoughts, and inner spirit.

People respond to how we feel about them more than how we treat them.

no matter what we’re doing on the outside, people respond primarily to how we’re feeling about them on the inside.

The authors identify two approaches to people. We may approach people:

“Out of the Box” – I see myself and others more or less as we are – as People (like me who have needs and desires as legitimate as my own)

Or we may approach people

“In the Box” – I see myself and others in a systematically distorted way – others are mere Objects (a threat, a nuisance, or a problem)

If we genuinely feel respect for people they will tend to be responsive and open towards us. If we are unable to encounter others as real full people they will not work well under our leadership no matter how skilled or smart we may be, or how hard we work.

Leadership and Self-Deception: getting out of the box defines the process by which I put myself “in the Box” as “Self-betrayal.” It has seven aspects:

1. An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another is called an act of “self-betrayal.”

2. When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal.

3. When I see the world in a self-justifying way, my view of reality becomes distorted.

4. So – when I betray myself, I enter the box.

5. Over time, certain boxes become characteristic of me, and I carry them with me.

6. By being in the box, I provoke others to be in the box.

7. In the box, we invite mutual mistreatment and obtain mutual justification. We collude in giving each other reason to stay in the box.

When we are in “the box” we inflate others’ faults and exaggerate our own virtues. They are the problem; we are the innocent, helpless victim.

We are “in the box” because we allow our lives to be dominated by our own insecurities. We project our failures on to others in an attempt to protect ourselves from our own reality. This strategy of self-deception keeps us trapped inside the box. It insulates us from the reality of our attitude towards others and its crippling impact upon our relationships.

When I am “in the box,” I spend my energy attempting to justify myself by finding fault with others. I need the people in my life to be the problem so that I do not have to face the reality of my own destructive choices. When I am “in the box” I am determined to keep others in the box, so I do not have to take responsibility for my own life.

The goal of leadership is to get “out of the box.” We get “out of the box” by desiring to treat others as whole human beings and encountering them as full equal human beings with shared aspirations, characteristics, and challenges.

This begins with honest self-awareness, followed by a willingness to view others as whole people.

success as a leader depends on being free of self-betrayal, only then do you invite others to be free of self-betrayal.

The key to getting out of the box and staying out of the box is to “cease resisting other people.”

we change in the moment we cease resisting what is outside our box – others.

People were not created to fulfill our expectations, needs or demands. We can only get out of the box ourselves when we face our determination to force the circumstances of life to conform to our needs, wants, and desires, and surrender our destructive urge for control.

Leadership and Self-Deception: getting out of the box is essentially a book about taking personal responsibility for my life. Yes there are situations that have been difficult and that have placed obstacles in the way of my thriving as a person. But, the only aspect of life over which I have any degree of real influence is myself. The only power I have is the power of my choices, my decisions, my attitudes.

So, the authors of Leadership and Self-Deception: getting out of the box urge me to examine my own life asking myself how my choices might be more life-giving for me and for all those around me.

Moses presented the same challenge to the Hebrew people when he summed up his presentation of God’s law saying,

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

We can not ever control the circumstances of our lives. We certainly can never control other people. But, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we can always “choose life.”