Book Review: Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute

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“The bigger problem was that I couldn’t see that I had a problem.” -Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box, Arbinger Institute

Determined leaders seek answers to difficult questions. Mostly, these questions surround the affairs of the company or workplace. However, what if the problem is more personal? What if the leader is the problem?

Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute explains how leaders become embittered when self-deceived. We are all self-deceived at some point or another in our lives. It’s critical to understand the self as it relates to personal surroundings, which is why this book shines as an example of how to identify problems within ourselves.

By using the metaphor of “the box,” the Arbinger Institute details how leaders become self-deceived. Leaders are not the only people who are self-deceived. Instead, this happens to everyone. When someone is in “the box,” they cannot see circumstances that surround their anger. Instead, they justify their thinking and place blame on their subject, inherently objectifying the other.

Before going further, I’ll split this review into a few parts. I’ll briefly describe the book, explain what I liked, and finally, what I didn’t like.


There are three parts to this book: Self-deception and the “box,” how we get in the box, and how we get out of the box. It follows a fictional story of a corporation called Zagrum Corp, where every employee from CEO to a janitor is required to know about “the box.” Influential people, like Tom Callum, came to Zagrum Corp to continue his career. But Tom didn’t know that he wasn’t just furthering his career. Instead, he was embarking on something more valuable.

The book begins a character named Tom Callum, who starts a new job at Zagrum Corp. Bud Jefferson, Tom’s boss, invites Tom to meet to talk about “the box.” Bud tells Tom that he has a problem. Tom is self-deceived. Not only is Tom self-deceived, but he also doesn’t even know it yet. Bud and Tom have a day-long discussion about “the box.”

Bud tells several stories about being in the box. One story was when Bud was on a full plane when he placed his briefcase on the seat next to him. Bud wanted legroom, but some people still needed to find a seat. Bud explained that he was in the box because he saw other people’s needs as secondary to his own, and he blamed people for invading his space. More profoundly, Tom realized later in the book that he was in the box towards his wife and son based on the experiences he heard from Bud.

Tom hears from Bud, the Zagrum Corp CEO, Kate, and the former Zagrum CEO, Lou. Each person tells Tom about times where they were in the box and what they did to get out of it. Bud explains that people get into the box through self-betrayal, which leads to blame and justification. Eventually, being in the box leads to a way of life where that person carries that box with them. These people carry a lifetime of burdens that weigh down their effectiveness all because they are self-deceived.

The final section talks about being out of the box towards someone. One of the best examples came from Lou, who’s work and personal relationships began to sour. Lou got out of the box when he realized how he treated others around him.

Buy Leadership and Self-Deception

What I liked

Overall, the Arbinger Institute expertly explained the concept of the box. Self-betrayal, self-deception, and collusion are all factors that contribute to seeing people as objects. Tom’s experiences enhanced the ‘box’ concept by creating a relatable figure. Kate and Lou were instrumental in emphasizing how we get into the box and what being in the box means.

Part three of the book, how we get out of the box, was the crowned jewel of the book. We know we have this self-deception problem, but the answer is less about what we do to get out of the box. Instead, we get out of the box by changing our perception of that person towards whom we are in the box. Instead of seeing that person as an object, we must stop blaming and colluding to keep ourselves in the box.

I listened to the audiobook as I do with most of my books. The narrator was engaging with the reader. He shifted voices for the characters, and he made the story flow well.

What I didn’t like

Although the narration was excellent, I highly recommend the printed version. The book uses diagrams and models to explain the ‘box’ concept, which would have been helpful when conceptualizing these concepts.

My last critique of the book is not a critique at all. Instead, the concept is so simple that readers will often feel like it is dumbed down for an uneducated person. Instead of falling into that trap, I highly recommend learning about the concepts in this book.


I can’t say enough about Leadership and Self-deception. Conceptually, it was profound. Logically, it was simple. Most importantly, the book highlights the concept that leaders fail to recognize: solutions begin with the leader’s attitude toward the people with whom they work. Foundationally, it’s fundamental to view others as necessary to grow. Further, if we see the world and its inhabitants as objects, then we’ll miss opportunities that we could otherwise enjoy.

Overall, I give this book a 10/10. It’s not often I give a perfect score to a book. But this one is the root of why we’re having issues in society and business alike. Leaders must engage in self-reflection to understand where they are deceived, myself included.

Also, I found a great review of the book on YouTube. If you want more information about the book, watch this video.

If you want a copy of Leadership and Self-Deception, click here.

Have you read this book? What was the most profound lesson you learned? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute”

  1. phillip says:

    Good overview you have provided here about this book here. Honestly, we don’t get to see far better review than you have done here about this book. This leadership and self deception book is truly what I need and I will try to get a copy for myself too. Thank you for sharing this here.

    1. Robert says:


      I’m glad you enjoyed the review. Go get a copy, read it, and let me know how it goes! It would be a good discussion indeed. Thanks for your comment.


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