5 Questions to Avoid Self-Deception and Really Lead

Self-deception: the inability to see that one has a problem. It blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the “solutions” we can think of will actually make matters worse. ~The Arbinger Institute (author of Leadership and Self-Deception)

If you read the quote and thought to yourself, “I’m good, I really don’t think I’m struggling with self-deception,” then you may have actually proven the quote to be true. After all, it says the inability to see that one has a problem.

The Arbinger Institute tell us that the crux of “the problem” is simply that we see other people as objects, and not always realizing it in the moment. Here’s a very quick example.

You are seated in an aisle seat on an airplane on a business trip. You put your briefcase in the middle seat next to you to discourage anyone from sitting there so you can work more comfortably on the flight. A mother and child arrive later and are searching for two seats together. They spot the two seats next to you, but you encourage them to continue looking farther back in the plane.

You just committed self-betrayal, which leads to self-deception. Here’s how that scenario really played out.

And there it is. In a matter of minutes, or even seconds, we can quickly move from having an outward mindset (leadership) to having an inward mindset (self-deception).

There are a number of things we could try, but they DON’T WORK. Things like trying to change others, doing our best to cope with others, implementing new skills or techniques, or even changing our behavior. It doesn’t work because even with those efforts, we still have an inward mindset.

What DOES WORK? Simple. Cease resisting others. This means to honor others as people – persons with needs, hopes, and worries as real and legitimate as our own (have an outward mindset).

I believe this is one of the greatest challenges of leadership. As leaders, we feel the weight of the organization (or our department) on our shoulders. We allow ourselves to feel solely responsible. We begin to inflate our own virtue (even with the best of intentions), justify our actions, which leads to a distorted view of reality.

The Arbinger Institute provides 5 questions to avoid self-deception (an inward mindset) and really lead (an outward mindset).

  • Are my direct reports growing in their abilities?
  • Have I worked with them to set a collective result for the team?
  • Do they understand how they contribute to that collective result?
  • Do they understand how their work impacts the ability of others to make their contributions to the collective result?
  • What can I do to help them in these areas?

According to The Arbinger Institute, leadership is about supporting and enabling your people to help them achieve a collective result. That can only be accomplished with an outward mindset.

It’s not about you (you gave that up when you became a leader); it’s about them. That’s leadership.

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