Leadership And Self-Deception, The Arbinger Institute - Book Summary

The Arbinger Institute is a human resource training institute, specializing in management consulting and training in Utah, USA. The Academy has successfully consulted for large organizations and corporations around the world.


The book contains a wake-up call to those who are deceiving themselves. It gives us many valuable lessons to improve ourselves, is the key to perfect relationships, is the way to build a strong company, a happy family.



After eight interviews and three weeks of waiting, I was finally offered the position of manager for a Zagrum production line.

By Zagrum's own protocol, I was referred to Bud Jefferson, Zagrum's vice president, and would spend a day-long meeting with him.

Bud is considered the image of the company, both mysterious and open, fierce but very gentle, stylish but very honest, like the spirit of Zagrum.

- Hi Tom. I'm glad you're here - Bud smiled and held out his hand to shake my hand. Then continued:

Hey Tom, today we're going to talk about a very important problem, a tough problem that you need to deal with right away if you want to continue working here. I tried to stay calm and replied:

- A difficult problem, sir?

- Right! And you need to know the cause of it.


Bud continued:

"You've got a problem, Tom. But the funny thing is that he himself didn't know it. Think of these examples: You're going to put gas in your wife's car, but then you don't; he promised to take the kids to a baseball game but broke his promise for some silly reason. Regarding his style in the workplace, there are times when he condescends to others, but there are also times when he criticizes them or looks down on them; or you often have to work so hard to compliment others and you never really respect them...

– For many people, I apply praise and encouragement, but for others, I have to show them their shortcomings. Honestly, I feel like I'm doing the right thing and I'm so proud that I've been able to control myself like that.

Bud smiles.

– I understand you, but I think after today's talk, you won't be proud of that anymore.

- What do you mean? I tried to suppress the anger in my heart.

– I will help you understand what your problem is, because I have been through this stage myself. But first he needed to know a core problem of the humanities…


Bud told me about the birth of his first child:

“David was born. My life has never been so happy. But just a few days later, I received a phone call from my partner, asking me to be present at the meeting between all parties in San Francisco for a long time until the contract ended. Just thinking about leaving my wife and children in Virginia makes me feel insecure. But I couldn't help but go, I reluctantly boarded a plane to San Francisco. Due to being late, I had to sit on the 25th floor. I worked every day from 7:30 a.m. until 1 a.m. the next morning, and worked three times a day down to the cafeteria down the hall to eat, while everyone else was on the 25th floor. All meals are served on time. I feel very sad because no one told me that.

I failed to grasp the negotiation process and made it difficult for others. People accuse me of not being fully engaged or actively engaged in the work. So, from my perspective, who is making things harder for whom?"

"I think you've seen people as the cause of these troubles," I replied.

- You got the problem! Bud replied - What's more important is that I wasn't aware of the problem I was having. You know what, Tom! Philosophers call the blindness, stubbornness I demonstrated in San Francisco "self-deception". In Zagrum, he calls it a separate word, "locking myself in a box". That's what the core of the humanities is - Self-Deception - The Box.


Semmelweis was a Hungarian obstetrician, living in the 19th century, he worked at a General hospital in Vienna, a hospital specializing in research. At that time, the maternal mortality rate here was up to 10%, too high.

Here, there are many doctors who both study corpses and treat patients. At that time, they thought that was normal, because no one knew of the existence of germs.

After examining his practice, Semmelweis realized that something was being transferred from the cadaver to the patient through the doctor's hand. He immediately issued a rule requiring doctors to wash their hands thoroughly with a solution of lemon juice and chlorine to disinfect before examining patients. In the days that followed, the maternal mortality rate dropped to just 1%. Semmelweis himself said sadly: “I wonder how many patients died prematurely because of my fault.”

Similarly, there is such a germ in organizations and we are all infected with it. That germ is capable of killing leadership, causing many "human problems", that is, "self-deception" and "box" germs.

5 – Behind Ineffective Leadership

I'll tell you about my experiences at Zagrum," said Bud.

Sierra pioneered several manufacturing processes (which Zagrum is adopting today), but was eventually acquired by the Zagrum company.

Thanks to my successes in Sierra, I was assigned to Zagrum's management team. At my first meeting in Zagrum, I was tasked with researching the business and other related issues, having to codify them into a report in two weeks' time. Despite my best efforts, by the last day of the deadline, I still had not completed the assigned work. At the meeting the next day, I read the report, after which I honestly presented my problem with the lack of time and the difficulties encountered. After listening, Mr. Lou Herbert, the president of the company, turned to Kate Stenarude, then holding my current position, and asked her to take over the work that I had not completed. After the meeting, I felt embarrassed and felt so small with everyone around me.

Tom, you know what. Lou Herbert is truly a legend. He was the one who brought Zagrum from an ordinary company to the powerful corporation it is today.

After that meeting, when we were just out the door, Mr. Lou offered to come back to my office and talk! Mr. Lou asked me many things about family, life and work. Before we parted, Lou put his hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eye, looked at me tenderly, and said, “Bud, we're so glad you joined Zagrum. He is a talented person and has contributed a lot to the company. But you won't let us down again, will you?"

Maybe others will be offended to hear that, but you know, that didn't happen to me, because at that time, Mr. Lou was not harsh at all, and I also felt inspired. I'm excited and I promise I won't let you down any further.

Tom. We humans have always had the ability to perceive other people's feelings towards us. Sir Lou showed me what I am about to show you now.


Let me tell you two stories for you to compare, said Bud.

About a year ago, I took a self-selected flight from Dallas to Phenix. I arrived quite early, when I boarded the plane I found two empty windows. I put my briefcase on the empty chair next to me, deliberately spreading the newspaper out and pretending to read so that people wouldn't notice the empty chair next to me.

About six months ago, my wife and I traveled to Florida. Due to the problem, my wife and I could not buy two tickets next to each other, because it was too crowded so the flight attendants could not solve the problem for us. While we didn't know what to do, the woman sitting next to me got up and offered to change places for my wife.

Compare that woman to me, is it that I underestimated others and she didn't. So I was feeling anxious, restless, annoyed, while she didn't have any negative feelings.

Because the bottom price is low, others are me who deceived myself. In other words, I was "locked in the box", and the other woman was "out of the box".

Tom. This difference is the secret of Mr. Lou's success. Because he was always “out of the box,” he was able to see things properly, seeing people as they really are and where they are. When recognized and treated fairly, people become more talented, intelligent and hardworking.


Bud continued:

– You should remember, the reactions of those around you often stem from the way you act, not the nature of what you do. Maybe his actions will be right when he is “out of the box” but it will have unexpected results when he is still “locked in the box” because then he sees other people as an object. He remembers Mr. Lou passing the work that I had not completed to someone else but then asking me not to disappoint him again. Is that behavior soft or strict?

"Obviously strict," I replied.

- Yes. Bud said. In fact, there are two ways to be strict. And to show that strictness, I can “lock myself in the box” or “get out of the box”. The difference is not in the behavior, but in the way it is expressed. When you see the other person as a true person, that is, there is no feeling of belittling or underestimating them. That's what the "out of the box" attitude means. So Mr. Lou's stern message generated a positive response.

8 – Doubts

Through contact with some employees, I learned that they all learned about the box, self-deception or self-betrayal, collusion, getting out of the box… I don't think there's much. such thing to learn. Mr. Bud hasn't finished talking to me yet, but these days he has conveyed some very interesting things to me. I feel very comfortable inside. I decided to call Laura, my wife.

"I'm here, Laura," I said.

– Ah, Tom. What's up? Is everything okay? ' my wife asked worriedly.

- Yes, it's fine. Are you surprised that I called just to check on you?

"That's right, because you've never done this before." I'm just worried something happened to you.

– No, there is none. I just called to see how you were doing.

- Well, then I'm fine. Thank you, my wife replied sarcastically. Phone banging sound.

Without a doubt, I "locked myself in a box". How can Bud's philosophies be applied… I know Laura is having problems too, she doesn't acknowledge my goodwill. So what else can be expected? What a waste of time. “Excessive optimism! A perfect world? What a curse!”


9 – KATE

Mrs. Kate was the last of the eight people who interviewed me. At first sight I had a crush on Kate. Kate is the second-in-command at Zagrum and Lou's right-hand man. When Mr. Lou retired, she was elected president and chief executive officer. She talked to me:

“Tom. Almost everything we do at Zagrum builds on the foundation you're learning. Then you'll understand why it's so important.

Although sometimes and to some extent, we "lock ourselves in the box" but still achieve success because we dare to break out "out of the box". What's important here is that we feel better about ourselves and help improve the fundamentals of the company. It is psychological leadership at all levels of the organization that helps us make a difference.”

I looked at Kate with unease. There are many questions that are forming in me and are in need of clarification.


Before Kate and Bud, I boldly voiced my concerns:

– I called to talk to a person, but it was a special person “locked in a box”, and just talking to that person was enough to make me fall into the same state. I felt like I was trapped in a box by her even though I tried my best to get out of it. So, what if other people repeatedly push us into a state of “locking ourselves in a box”? What we will do? How to "get out of the box" when affected like that?

"Tom," said Bud, "we'll definitely learn how to '-get out of the box'." But first, we need to find out why we fall into the situation of "locking ourselves in a box". I tell you this story…


… One night many years ago, I was awoken by the cry of David, who was about four months old at the time. I looked at the clock, it was almost one in the morning and thought I should get up and take care of David so that Nancy, my wife, could sleep. But, you know what, I didn't follow that urge. I lay there, listening to David cry. I betrayed my intuition about what I should do with others. That act is "self-betrayal".

In self-betrayal, people begin to see the world through the lens of justifying their self-betrayal. I thought Nancy was lazy, inattentive, insensitive, insensitive, etc. I was a victim, worked hard all day, was sensitive…

So, in your opinion, with such thoughts, do I have any motivation to rethink my decision and carry out the original good intention? Bud asked a question.

12 – The Nature of Self-betrayal

“How did the self-betrayal work out?” – Bud asked a question and continued:

“Let's say Nancy is lazy and uncaring. But you must note that before I betrayed myself I intended to help her. That is to say, I used her fault to justify my own negative behavior. No matter how lazy and uncaring Nancy is, I only felt it after betraying myself. And the truth is that I exaggerated her mistakes to defend myself. With self-betrayal, I turned the truth into the opposite of what I had previously thought. I also try to minimize my mistakes and paint more of my goodness.

In short, when self-betrayal, people see the world through personal lenses, real people's judgments will be distorted. Self-betrayal is the cause that pushes people into a state of "locking themselves in a box".


Bud continued:

Now, let's continue to find out what life is like inside the box.

For example, I consider myself a “hard worker”, “important”, “anti-good person”… But, before I betrayed myself, would I lie there and assert myself like that? ? These thoughts only arise during my self-betrayal – when I want to defend myself. In fact, there's hardly a day that I don't betray myself, in some way, or even if my whole life is filled with such self-betrayal. Over time, self-concepts that come from being "locked in a box" will shape the person's personality.

If I was "locked in a box", I wouldn't know what to do for the people around me. But even if I have a slight sense of what I need to do for someone, that doesn't mean I'm "out of the box". Which could be a sign that I was "deep in the box".


My box can also affect others. By convicting others, I invited them into the box. And then, they turned to me again for accusing them of being unreasonable. And this situation creates a circle of solidarity that keeps getting tighter and worse. In short, "locking yourself in a box" will provoke others to make them fall into the situation of "locking yourself in a box" like me.

When in the box, those people deceive themselves, not realizing the truth about themselves as well as those around them. And one of the things that they didn't know was that the box had clouded their efforts to get what they really wanted.

So, when we “lock ourselves in a box,” we encourage each other’s bad behaviors and attitudes and gain reasons to justify our deviations. In other words, we give each other the opportunity to stay “locked in the box”.


When we "lock ourselves in a box", we cannot focus on our goals, but only focus on ourselves. Even if we focus on our work, our goal then is only to build or maintain our reputation. In general, we do not value the achievements of others as much as our own. We are not happy when we see the success of our colleagues. Therefore, we find ways to dominate others, just to achieve our own personal achievement. I shout for the common good, but it's actually a lie. And when we "lock ourselves in a box" we don't realize it. And then, we encourage and entice those around us to behave like we do. The more we try to control others, the more resistance we create. That connection is widespread.create opposing groups within the organization that lead to factionalism, internal disunity, and a negative impact on the overall effectiveness of the organization, just like the story of Semmelweis and the doctors at the main General hospital is the cause of transmission of puerperal fever without any way of controlling it.


- Tom. Do you remember what I experienced in San Francisco?

“Yes,” I replied, “You are uncooperative, you do not live up to your commitments, cause trouble, lack motivation, stress, lack of responsibility…

- How did these problems turn out, Tom?

– After you betrayed yourself.

- It's correct! Bud decisively. They are the result of self-betrayal. So, the key to solving most people problems that affect an organization is also overcoming the foundation of self-betrayal.

Kate commented:

– I left Zagrum once. At that time, this company was different. After Mr. Lou found this problem and it transformed him completely. And while it transformed Mr. Lou, it also changed the company. I've worked for Zagrum twice, but it feels like working for two different companies.


17 – HE LOUD

I was waiting for Bud when Mr. Lou Herbert appeared. To my surprise, after greeting, he said:

– Bud wants to ask me to explain some of the things I did here. Take it easy, Tom. How was everything going yesterday?

– What an amazing and interesting conversation.

"Then tell me," he said.

I started telling Mr. Lou about our happy family moment last night. I cooked for my wife and learned how to repair car engines with my son Todd. It's been a long time since I've felt so excited and grateful for my family. And last night, for the first time in a long time, I went to bed with gentle serenity thinking about my family members.

Mr. Lou asked:

"So what does Laura think of all that?"

– She kept asking me what happened, in the end, I had to tell her what I just learned. But then a disaster. I messed her up completely, the “box”, “self-betrayal”, “solidarity”… all messed up. Unbelievable.

– If the situation continues, you should ask Bud again. In the past, our company has held lectures on this subject at night and many relatives of employees came to listen to the lectures. Maybe Laura will like it too. What about Todd's attitude?

– Same as always, ie pretty quiet. It just answered "yes", "no" or "I don't know" as usual. But last night I didn't mind, whereas the previous times it drove me crazy.

"You remind me of my son," said Mr. Lou, looking out the window into the distance, "that's where Zagrum's story of change begins.


Sir Lou began to tell his story:

“My youngest son, Cory, almost 40 years old this year used to be a very unruly child. Drugs, alcohol… whatever it is, it's also involved. In his senior year of high school, he was arrested for drug trafficking.

Just having my child in jail for one day was enough to make me feel damned, I fought and appealed, and Cory ended up in jail for a year. This is a stain on the family line. I only visited it twice during that time.

When Cory got home from prison, we barely spoke to each other. Then he continued to associate with bad friends and only three months later he was arrested for theft. I tried my best to get my sentence reduced to 90 days of reformation and a survival training course in the highlands of Arizona. And we, as her parents, were forced to attend a one-day course to change ourselves. And it was after that class that changed my life.

At first I reacted, because we are not criminals but have status and are respected by everyone. But gradually I realized the self-deception in my justifications. I painfully discovered that for many years, I had "locked myself in a box" when it came to dealing with my wife and children.

I felt the burning desire to hold my baby in my arms, I felt lonely and ashamed. The “box” took away not only my beloved son, but also many of my most important employees leaving their jobs in search of “better opportunities.” I blame them for my own mistakes, some people challenge me by doing their own thing, I make more strict rules. As a result, we got each other into a vicious circle inside the box and became a mess. My company is in danger of collapse because of the loss of talented employees. I became a lonely man.

It was in that moment that the most important question for me was: how do I “get out of the box?”


Mr. Lou continued:

“At that time, I sat there, regretting what I did to my wife, son and employees. My condemnation, denial, and indifference completely disappeared. The moment I longed to "get out of the box" was when I really stepped out of my box. Feeling the urge to have them in my life is a sign that I'm in an "out of the box" state for them.

Tom, when you feel like you want to "get out of the box" for someone, you're already out of the box at that point. Because he can only feel it once he sees that person as a human. The key is “how do I stay out of the box when dealing with them? What should I do to maintain this change?”


Mr. Lou asked:

“Why can't we get out of the box?

We often have a tendency to change the opposite person, will when we try to change others, will we achieve what we want? Or end up just provoking opposition and making them create more conditions for us to “lock ourselves in a box”.

What about trying to cope with others effectively? Confrontation is really just another form of condemnation.

Maybe in certain situations, giving up is the right thing to do. But basically, just leaving the situation isn't enough. We need to get rid of the box too.”

Bud added:

“But what if knowing how to be more tactful, that is, knowing how to communicate things more delicately?”

Sir Lou agrees:

“When I was in the box, even though I was a master of communication, it was difficult for me to hide my negative judgments. That's the problem. But when did you “get out of the box” through good communication or did you communicate well through “out of the box”? So, how can changing other people, or confront them, or walk away, or change their communication attitudes that don't work, how can I "get out of the box"?

If he was inside the box, the behavior inside that box could not be the way for him to get out. And if he was outside, then he no longer needed any attitude to "get out of the box".

In short, his attitude wasn't what got him out of the box, it was something else."


Mr. Lou continued his analysis:

“Inside the box, we actively resist what our conscience calls us to do for those around us. In the box, everything we think or feel is part of self-deception. We can completely stop our self-betrayal, that is, stop resisting them.

We have many relationships, so at the same time, we can "lock ourselves in the box" for one person but "out of the box" for another. And that simple fact can act as a lever to help us “get out of the box” in some of the situations we find ourselves in. When we are “out of the box” for them, we feel almost understanding and sympathy for them.

"Getting out of the box" and seeing others as human beings doesn't mean I have to take on extra burdens. Because the basic obligations of a human being have been fulfilled, simply by a fundamental change in the way we treat them. When he feels overwhelmed, it's not because of his obligations to others but because of his desperate efforts inside the box.

Years ago, as I sat in my office in Arizona and learned these things, my box began to melt. I felt extremely sorry for the way I treated the staff before, and in a moment of regret, I was "out of the box" towards them.


Sir Lou continued:

“For employees in the company, what we need to do here is to help them avoid self-betrayal and always know how to 'get out of the box'. If successful, that will be the key to our success in the marketplace.

Most people feel good when starting a new job. They are grateful to the employer for giving them the opportunity to work. They want to do their best to contribute to the organization and other members. But after only a year, if you talk to them, you will see that their feelings are much different. I think the cause comes from other people in the company, from the director, colleagues, and subordinates. If reprimand is needed, then we must blame ourselves, not others. The truth is that condemnation only makes others worse.

A leader with a "locked-in-the-box" mentality towards everyone will quickly make employees fall into that state as well. Because when you "lock yourself in a box" it is not leadership but oppression. Whether or not he can become a successful leader will depend on how well he comes out of his self-betrayal. Only then could he encourage everyone to “get out of the box” as well. And only then can he create a leadership team that people respond to, trust, and want to collaborate with. That's the debt you owe to everyone here, to Zagrum, when you take office."


Mr. Lou pondered and then said:

“Kate's team used the ladder as a visual representation of the company's new product campaign. I vehemently object. However, despite my objections, Kate's department carried on with their idea. One night I had security removed the ladder, and three days later, Kate and four other team members submitted their resignations.

When I left Arizona, I heard that Kate would be starting a new job in the Bay Area within the next few days. I tied the ladder to the hood of the car and drove it straight to Kate's house to apologize to her. I said, “I am a fool, you know it and everyone knows it. But I never knew. But now things are different, I'm really scared when I think about what I've done to the people around me, including you." For the next three hours, I tried to share with Kate the idea of ​​the box and what I had come to realize. She recognized my sincerity.

I understood what I was up to, and of course, to do it, I needed Kate's help. I said, "We need to put together a system of methods that can help people stay focused on their goals to stay 'out of the box,' I know no one can do this better than you."

Kate sat in silence, thinking, and after a moment she said slowly, “I'm not sure. I need more time to think. Shall I call you back?”

I was relieved: “Of course!”


Mr. Lou continued:

“Kate called me. And from there, the Zagrum company he had admired for so many years was the result of that second chance. The only thing we did well was turning the ideas you've been learning for two days into the foundation of Zagrum. This change has created unexpected positive changes. More and more people are being trained to “get out of the box” every day. We have developed a unique action plan that can reduce self-betrayal and build a work environment like the ones we talked about in the last two days.”

Bud continued the story:

“What you learned today is called phase one, it will help you realize all your goals. Phases two and three will bring you into the system. Here are the summary documents. He read and did some exercises. See you next week."

Mr. Lou said:

“Before you go, Tom, I want to share with you one last thing.

After three months, we went to pick up our son from the reformatory. Before that, I often wrote to him with all my love. And also received a reply from you, you are understanding and have many deep thoughts.

As the car rounded the last dusty hill, I saw in the distance a group of unkempt children, their hair disheveled and full of fatigue. I recognized Cory: “stop, stop!” I jumped out of the car, the boy also rushed over with a dirty, dusty face, he hugged me and sobbed: “I will never let you down again, Dad. I will never let you down again!” I choked up and replied, "I won't let you down either, son!"

Tom! What is shared between father and son, husband and wife, neighbors is also what is shared between colleagues. So what is always required of us is love, devotion and dedication!