When you hear the phrase “out of the box”, my guess is that you think about ways to “shake up” something that has gotten stale. But in our association, the phrase “out of the box” means entirely something different.
A few years ago, our CEO asked a facilitator what book he was reading. And the facilitator handed him Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. Our CEO took the book with him on a transcontinental flight and by the time he landed, he knew that he wanted to implement it in our organization.
Countless pages have been written about changing behavior or finessing certain skill sets to become more effective leaders or to affect change in an organization. Leadership and Self-Deception draws attention to the importance of changing mindset first; specifically, about the way we view the people we interact with both at home and at work. Mindset is our lens of the world – how we see challenges, situations and people. When our mindset is outward, we view people as mattering like we matter. When my mindset is inward, I see others as objects, who are either vehicles to help me get what I want, obstacles preventing me from getting what I want, or irrelevancies that have no impact on me getting what I want. In other words, when I’m inward, I’m all about me. When I’m outward, I take others into consideration and think about Us and Our results.
The book uses the format of a fable to tackle the complex concept of self-deception and how it puts us “in the box”. Being “in the box” impacts our ability to connect with people in a way that shows that we see them as human with similar life and professional challenges. Instead, it causes us to see them as objects to our end results. A quick overview of the book can be seen here.
Self-deception is the betrayal of an initial sense or instinct toward a person or situation. And when you give in to the betrayal, you view the person as an object and you put yourself in the box. The problem with being in a box is that my view of reality is distorted and therefore my ability to be truly effective or helpful is significantly diminished. Let me share an example our session leader shared which rang true to me. One busy morning, her husband got up, ironed the shirt their kid needed for school and then drove carpool. Later that morning, she walked by the ironing board left out after the morning rush and had the sense to put it away. Instead of honoring that desire to be helpful, she started justifying leaving it there. “Why do I have to do everything?” she thought, “Can’t he finish anything?” Instead of expressing thanks for the help on a busy morning, she ignored her original instinct and focused on the fact that iron and the ironing board had not been put away. Appreciation was dismissed in favor of her justification. This example hit me like a ton of bricks. Yikes! That. Was. Me. I was so far in the box it could have been a concrete bunker.
I began to tally in my head all the times that I had done something like this in my own home. Embarrassingly there are too many too count (the dishwasher was loaded – but I focused on how it was loaded wrong! Huh??)
And at work. How many times had I had the instinct to reach out to a colleague who could’ve use an extra pair of hands or a little brain power to complete a project? And how many times did I betray the instinct and instead began to tally the reasons why I shouldn’t? I have my own deadlines! If they were more organized they wouldn’t be falling behind!
Self-deception as an obstacle to leadership or improved relationships in any setting might seem tough to grasp and or to implement because it requires self-awareness. And people move in and out of the box every day multiple times per day. The goal is to work toward minimizing the self-deception so that you can become a better listener, strengthen the fabric of trust, break down silos, breathe life into the creative process, and strengthen shared purpose. Our organizations would be the better for it. The case studies provided on the Arbinger website are stunning in their revelations for how this work has changed organizations.