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Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

Reader’s Guide

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, The Arbinger Institute (2010)


Leadership and Self-Deception is about getting out of the box. The box, in this case, is our own patterns of making ourselves seem good in our own eyes, pretty much at the expense of everyone else around us. The basic premise is that using others to reinforce our own self-justification is bad for community, and consequently, bad for business.


box close up

In three sections (“Self-Deception and the Box,” “How We Get In the Box,” and “How We Get Out of the Box”), the reader looks over the shoulder of a man getting some basic training at a fictional company. The thoughts and reactions of the main character help guide the reader through the major content and then show how that content might look if applied to real life. The book has a lot of conversations as we listen in on training sessions, but the internal dialogue helps keep the material engaging and concrete.


As the main character digests the training material, you can’t help applying it to your own life as well. But be careful! You may be challenged to reconsider your role in the relationships around you! While definitely high on the “ouch, that sounds like me” factor, the book also presents a very positive and hopeful view of the future.


“Leadership and Self-Deception” doesn’t pretend to be a theological book; at the same time, because it deals with how relationships work, we could think of it as fitting in the category of First Article (creation) gifts or perhaps even Natural Law, the Law that God has written on all of our hearts by virtue of our humanity. So you won’t find anything about the Gospel in this book. But you will learn a lot about yourself and your relationships as a human being, someone fallen yet redeemed.

When I [sin] . . . my thoughts and feelings will begin to tell me that I’m justified in whatever I’m doing or failing to do.

In some places, it might help to “translate” some of the terminology into language you might recognize better. When the book talks about “self-betrayal,” or acting contrary to “what I feel I should do for another,” it might sound overly subjective or emotional. But put in the context of “love your neighbor as yourself” or even “you too should wash one- another’s feet,” betraying what you know you should do for someone else is just another way of saying “SIN.”
In fact, this whole book is a great description of how sinful people tend to act toward each other. But it’s also a look at how even sinful people can build up rather than tear down the people around them.


Because this book is about how we (should and shouldn’t) live in relationships with others, it’s not supposed to be about Jesus. But knowing Jesus helps you read this book differently. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, ““Without Christ we also would not know our brother, nor could we come to him. The way is blocked by our own ego.” Leadership and Self-Deception helps us recognize and come to grips with the roadblocks our own egos throw in the way of our relationships.

Knowing and trusting Jesus also means we don’t have to feel the need for self-justification. That’s one of the key points to this book, that our own self-justifying thoughts and feelings cause us to treat people as if they were objects. But as a sinner justified by Christ, you don’t have to justify yourself any longer!

Ruth Koch and Kenneth Haugk put it this way: “The good news is that God, because of Jesus’ death on the cross, has already declared you righteous! You do not need to let that inner press for justification and rightness govern your relationships. You can form an opinion, offer a suggestion, say what you think, express your preferences. But you do not always have to be right.”

So if this book causes you some angst (and really, it should!), then you have a place to go with your sense of failure and guilt. And then, in the free forgiveness Jesus offers, you can return to your relationships covered in grace and ready to try living out your faith again this week!


Read this book about once a year and see what happens!

About Justin Rossow

Justin writes and talks at the intersection of Scripture, culture, and metaphor theory. As founder of Next Step Press, he helps people delight in taking a next step following Jesus.

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