Leadership and Self-Deception: Summary & Review

leadership and self deception book cover

Leadership and Self-Deception explaines how our self-centered and self-aggrandizing tendencies can eradicate our natural empathy and kindness and ruin our relationships.

Bullet Summary

  • We are in the box when we consider our own needs as superior to others
  • People can feel when we are in the box, even when we fake kindness
  • To stay out of the box you must act on your natural instincts of empathy and caring

Full Summary

About The Author: There isn’t a single author as “The Arbinger Institute“, a management consulting firm, decided to release the book with the name of the company and not of any single person.

Self Centered Box Thinking

The authors talk about self-centered self-deception, which they call “being in the box”.

We self deceive ourselves when we see other people’s needs as less important than our own. We may consider them as simple nuisances to our well being and see them as objects.

We’re Great – They’re Flawed

Another consequence of box thinking is to inflate our own qualities and to magnify other people’s weaknesses.
The main issue of this distorted worldview is that of blaming others instead of looking at our own contributions.

Fake Out of the Box

The goal is to get out of the box.

But most people are only apparently out of the box.


The authors say that sometimes we still harbor negative feelings about the people around, but we externally manifest positive feelings and nice behavior.
That’s because people can perceive our real feelings.

No matter what we do on the outside, people respond to how we feel on the inside

My note:
The authors seem to describe “passive aggressiveness” here.

Self-fulfilling Box Thinking

Our box thinking can feed on itself in a vicious circle.

For example, if we feel we are superior and more knowledgeable than the people around, we will block off new information.

And if we feel somebody is sneaky, we might force in them that exact behavior simply to confirm our own self deception.
We treat them as sneaky, they answer with more negative behavior and there goes the vicious circle.

Self Deception Starts With Self Betrayal

The author says we are naturally social people and we naturally feel empathy.

But sometimes we betray ourselves by not following our natural instinct of caring for the people around.
That’s the first step towards self deception.
Since you acted incongruent with who you are, now you need to change your world view to accommodate your new action.
And you start seeing yourself as a self-centered person, and you will start acting more and more like a self-centered person.

And now, you’re in the box baby.

Staying Out of the Box

To stay out of the box, you must keep honoring your instinctive natural feelings of caring.

My Note:
I wonder how do the authors know that the natural instincts will be positive.
Because, in my opinion, they’re not.

leadership and self deception book cover

Real Life Applications

See Yourself as You Really Are
If I had to derive one teaching from this book, would be to look at reality how it really is and avoiding
As Ray Dalio says in Principles: love reality.

Stop Blaming Ohters
This is a natural reflection for many of us. Resist that temptation. And since you’re there, develop a mindset of Extreme Ownership to greatly benefit your life.


There are great ideas here.
But also much that left me wondering:

  • Complicates concepts instead of simplifying them

The book takes concepts which could be easy and makes them sound complicated by making a new category for them (out of the box or in the box).
I find bigger virtue in taking the complex and making it simple.

  • New category for old (and disparate) concepts

This is a technique people sometimes use to sound more authoritative, to simplify things (not in this case) or to repackage information in a way that it seems like new insight.

I personally find that the book puts too many and disparate human tendencies into this box.
And when there are too many things inside a category, then that category isn’t useful anymore.

  • Self-centeredness is natural

I feel sometimes the author makes a convoluted story to explain what’s simply natural in human beings.
It’s only normal indeed that most of us put our own well being first.
Trying to paint humans’ natural self-centeredness as misplaced does not help.
We should talk about ways to use and channel our natural inclinations for the greater good instead, not demonizing them.

  • Is caring truly our natural self?

I don’t particularly like black and white thinking, and at times it feels to me that “Leadership and Self Deception” devolves into pure black and white thinking.
For example, when they say they encourage to follow our natural instinct of being kind and helpful, that’s black and white thinking to me.
As complex as that might be, we have both aggressive and nurturing instincts which co-exist.


Good idea to “step outside ourselves”
I liked the idea of “stepping outside ourselves” and to view and consider people as people. It can be helpful for many of us, in many situations.

Wake up call
Leadership and Self Deception could be a great wake up call for many who view themselves as superior to others.


“Leadership and Self Deception” didn’t resonate with me.

I found it simplistic in its blanket rule approach of “we are all hardwired to be nice”.
But it can be good for people with a superiority complex or people who lack empathy.
It has plenty of great reviews though, so maybe you will find it helpful for you.

Read more summaries or get the book on Amazon

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