Why Do Leaders Deceive Themselves?

  • 3 mins read

The secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes. ~ George Orwell
As much as we’d like to believe that we’re rational human beings, we can all too easily mislead ourselves. Self-deception is a process that encourages us to justify our false and invalid beliefs.
Individuals, organizations and communities experience self-deception – the root of most problems, according to the Arbinger Institute, a Utah-based consulting firm. It’s human nature to blame others, externalize causes and deny our role in organizational struggles. This tendency is so pervasive that few of us escape its reach, and self-deception intrudes into every aspect of our lives. Nowhere is it more destructive than at the top of the leadership food chain.
As someone responsible for influencing others, consider this: Self-deception blinds you to the true source of most conflicts. Once you’re caught in its trap, all of the “solutions” you propose will likely make matters worse. You’ll find that your self-deception:

  • Obscures the truth about yourself
  • Corrupts your view of others and your circumstances
  • Destroys your credibility and the trust others have in you
  • Inhibits your ability to persuade others
  • Thwarts wise decision-making

The extent of your self-deception determines how much your happiness and leadership efforts will be undermined. Without some form of intervention, your performance will suffer, and your subordinates will remain unengaged.
I see this problem frequently with the clients I work with corporate coaching. Like goldfish swimming in a bowl, oblivious to the fact they’re in water, it’s hard to know what others can plainly see.
Fortunately, recognizing this leadership trap can inoculate you against its consequences. If, however, you believe that guarding yourself against wishful thinking will prevent self-deception, you may be in for a bumpy ride. Ongoing vigilance is required to preserve immunity, note Arbinger’s experts in Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box. Awareness will:

  • Sharpen your vision
  • Reduce feelings of conflict
  • Enliven the desire for teamwork
  • Redouble accountability
  • Enhance your ability to achieve results
  • Boost job satisfaction and overall happiness

You can then leverage your leadership strengths, view yourself and others more positively, and resolve resistant personal and professional relationship problems.
It’s important to examine self-deception at all levels to improve teamwork, reduce conflict, boost engagement, and achieve remarkable results. But the self-discovery steps toward enlightenment are difficult without a trusted mentor or executive coach to guide you. If you have questions about this, give me a call.

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