Be a Better Leader: Overcome Self-Deception

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Change. People and companies recognize the need for change, but it isn’t easy. Why? Inertia; resistance against change in order to protect the status quo.  Thus, the key to change is overcoming the resistances.

Several years ago, The Arbinger Institute published “Leadership and Self-Deceptionâ€, a book focused on this problem by asking this question: How can people simultaneously (1) create their own problems (2) be unable to see that they are creating their own problems and yet (3) resist any attempts to help them stop creating those problems?

They answer the question, using the metaphor that leaders are “in the boxâ€.  Imagine someone asks you to do something, we have a choice – to follow through on their request or not. However, all too often the decision isn’t rational and we unleash a series of thoughts, feelings and behaviors to justify ourselves; in doing so, we start deceiving ourselves that our actions are right and others are to blame. For instance, we may inflate our own virtue as well as others’ faults; we inflate the value of the things we choose to do instead, and blame the other people for not having taken care of the issue themselves.  Because this generates a cycle in which we create a world-view in which we justify other actions we take that support the initial decision, and as we continue to betray ourselves, we are now “in the boxâ€. By focusing on blame, we destroy the opportunity to stay focused on the goal of producing the desired results.

How do you end this cycle? Individual and cultural change occurs only by getting “outside the box†– where we stop blaming others, and recognize their view of the situation, and then work toward solving it. In other words, rather than demand that others change, the key is for us to change our perceptions and the feelings that they generate, in order to take a different course of action.

This is the key to leadership coaching: helping leaders see when they are deceiving themselves by blaming others, and possibly assuming the position of a victim of circumstances. Instead, by taking the broader perspective, the leader can recognize how he/she is contributing to the problem and needs to make changes in his/her behaviors, first.  As Eldridge Cleaver once said, “you can’t be part of the solution if you’re part of the problem.â€

Have you had such experiences? How has coaching helped you “get out of the box�