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Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

By Seher Awan, Accounts Payable Coordinator

“Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box” by the Arbinger Institute is written simply, but contains a powerful message that we often forget – people are the heart of an organization.

This book tells the story of a character named Tom, who is a new senior manager with the company Zagrum. One day, Bud, the executive vice president, calls Tom into his office, and we learn Tom is a supervisor with a problem; he is “in the box.” In his first month at Zagrum, Tom had already created a reputation for himself as someone who is difficult to work with; however, Tom doesn’t think his behavior is problematic. In fact, he believes that everyone else is to blame, whether it is his co-workers, employees, or even his wife – everyone else is at fault. During a two-day conference between Tom and Bud, he learns about self-betrayal, collusion, and getting “out of the box.” Through his discussions with Bud, themes of self-deception are revealed along with new terminology that helps identify how our view of others is often the root of most problems.

When we are “out of the box,” we see others and ourselves as people with equal needs, desires, and feelings. Being “out of the box” maintains our humanity; treating others with respect and dignity whether they are family, co-workers, students, or strangers. When you consider individuals as people with feelings, needs, and desires, you treat them as human beings and are “out of the box.” If your intent is sincere, they respond to you with the same respect.

To be “out of the box” we must stop resisting others. We cannot try to be perfect, but we must try to do better. We cannot focus on what others do wrong, but focus on what you can do right. Most importantly, we must not worry whether others are trying to help us; we should worry whether we are helping others. Although simple in theory, the book provides realistic scenarios of how these principles play a role in all organizations.

As a leader, it is important to ask yourself how you see others. Do you see them as people or objects? How can you lead others if you consider them the problem? How can you assist students if you think they do not deserve the help? How can you communicate with others if you find them at fault? All of these questions are important to consider.

The lesson throughout the book that stayed with me is that I should treat people as people and remember that I may not always know the whole story. Whether it is the person who cut me off on my way to work, the angry student, the upset parent, or the distant co-worker, I have to remember that these are all people equal to me, who deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. Treating everyone with respect and dignity, and serving students and employees to the best of our ability is what we strive to do at Valencia. So when emotions flare, I remember that the person on the other end of the phone needs my help, and that they too are dealing with circumstances that may be unknown to me. Lastly, yet so important, is that before blaming others, I must first examine myself. Self-awareness is a powerful tool for leaders to reflect and grow, as well as set a positive example for others.

A copy of this book is available in the Valencia EDGE Leadership Library. If you would like to check it out, please visit the Employee’s Tab in Atlas and click on “Leadership Library” in the My Development channel.

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