Review: Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute

What the book is about: 

Leadership and Self-Deception is a surprising nonfiction book, but in a good way. The main principle of this book, termed “Being in the box” is presented in a fictional narrative manner rather than the usual non-fiction ‘here’s the problem and here’s how to fix it’ manner.

This book explores the major hindrance to leadership skills and abilities: ourselves, our perceptions of others, and how we respond to these two things. Written as a story of a man, Tom, and his first few days in a new job at Zagrum Company, Leadership and Self-Deception present the main concept of the book in a non-threatening, yet still meaningful way. The authors skillfully tapped into the general inclination of people to look at the wrongs in others before searching out the wrongs in themselves. At the beginning of the book, it was easy for me to say “wow, Tom is screwed up” but by the end of the book, I was saying “wow, I can’t be this screwed up!”

Not only is the concept of “the Box” presented in a brilliant manner, tools for successfully determining when one is ‘in the box’ and how to ‘get out of the box’ are given in a simple and easy to follow manner. We as readers experience being in and getting out of the box before we’ve read the last page.

What I liked: 

  • The easy read format – the principle in this book is a game-changer, but the manner in which it’s presented is critical. By offering it in a fictionalized story, the message is accessible and engaging.
  • The character development – it seems weird to offer this as a plus in what is truly a nonfiction book, but it really is. Each character presented feels whole and complete and each person is an integral part of the story of the development of this idea. It is brilliantly conceived and successfully executed.
  • The applicability of of the material presented within – sometimes nonfiction personal development books can be really heavy and hard to apply because there is SO MUCH packed into it and it feels impossible to sift through and start the application process. Walking with Tom wrestling through these concepts gives the reader the freedom to do the same. Tom doesn’t grasp everything immediately and he has a hard time wrapping his brain around it, which gives the reader the freedom to grapple and admit when our brains don’t wrap around the material.


What I didn’t like: 

  • I often breezed over the white board recap sections, so for me personally, having them presented in a different way would have been better.


What to incorporate in your own writing: 

  • A unique presentation of your material – there are few new ideas under the sun, just new ways to package and present them and this book is a brilliant example of a surprising way to successfully give a good package to the material.
  • Simplicity – the entire book is based on one point – The Box. This made it very easy to absorb the information because it was all about this one idea and exploring in a non-threatening way.


How I came across it: 

This book was recommended to me by a pastor of my church.


Overall thoughts and opinions: 

I’m not one to give into a lot of hype about a book, especially from the front or back copy, but I really agree with every strong, positive statement given about this book. I read it in just over a day because I literally could hardly put it down. I carried it with me wherever I went in my house and chewed through it.

At first, I thought the narrative format was confusing, but as I got into the story, I really got into the story. I’m not used to nonfiction books being presented in a fictionalized manner all the way through, so that was a new experience, but definitely a good one. This showcases that nonfiction books don’t need to be dry or boring, as some might presume they are, or that we need to bare all of our deepest secrets in order to connect with our audience.

For anyone looking to improve their leadership skills, this book is an absolute must-read. It stares directly at our biggest leadership hindrance – ourselves – and unapologetically explores the ways in which our hindrance hurts other people. It also gives hope that it doesn’t always need to be this way and that we can, in fact, break free of our screwed up tendencies.

Given all of these things, I give Leadership and Self-Deception five stars.

5 star rating

Learn more about The Arbinger Institute and Leadership and Self-Deception.


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