Book Review - Leadership and Self Deception

This is a review of Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute.



  • You’re “in the box” when you’re viewing others around you as mere objects and not as people.
  • Other people respond primarily to how to see them, not how to act towards them.
  • Everyone is in the box towards some people, and outside of the box towards others, all the time.
  • You get in the box by not acting the way you know you should.
  • When you’re inside the box, you need to feel justified, and can’t focus on results. This is known as self deception.
  • This distorts how you see other people.
  • Over time, your boxes can become baggage that you bring to new relationships.
  • When you’re in the box, you invite others to be in the box towards you.
  • Only seeing people as people AND stopping resisting them will get you out of the box.
  • Things that DON’T get you out of the box: try to change them, cope with them, leave, change your behavior or even communicate better.


The book is written in the form of a narrative of a fictional new employee at a fictional company, going through a training session on leadership. This is a somewhat surprising format for essentially a self-help/business/management book. But it works for me, I find it to make the subject matter easier to retain. It’s also an easy read.

The concept of being “in the box”, is simultaneously intuitive in the broad strokes and counter-intuitive in the details. The key insight from my perspective is that you get in the box by betraying your own sense of how you should act in a given situation. I have found myself reflecting on this a lot since I read the book. It’s also caused me to rethink some of my previous working relationships.

I’ve also been trying to think of when I have been victim to self deception in the past. By the very nature of the problem, it’s hard to know whether or to what extent you’re effected. Perhaps it’s best to focus on how to flag self deception in the future. Many corporate cultures have a mechanism for attempting to get this kind of feedback. Even so, I can’t help but think that it’s often not very effective. I will make a point in the future to explicitly ask people I work with how I am currently deceiving myself.