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Book review: Leadership and Self-Deception

Nov. 24, 2017 | by Mike Bonem

I normally try to write book reviews as soon as I finish the book so that the content is still fresh in my mind. But I needed to allow some time to reflect on the lessons in The Arbinger Institute’s Leadership and Self-Deception. The authors contend that readers will “see their work lives and home situations in entirely new ways” and “discover practical and powerful solutions to problems they were sure were someone else’s.” As I’ve continued to think about the book, I believe they have a valid point.

Leadership and Self-Deception is written in a fable style to teach a simple but powerful model. I won’t try to describe the model, but I will quote the authors’ explanation from the preface: “Self-deception … 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.” 

As I read the book, I realized how quickly I blame others and justify my own actions, and how damaging this can be to relationships and to solving the real problem. I came away convicted of a need to change, just as promised. 

Even though Leadership and Self-Deception is thought-provoking and helpful, it does have a couple of weaknesses. At times, the model seemed too simplistic. Even though the authors try to address this, I wasn’t always convinced. I also was frustrated by the ending, where they hint at an organizational application (“accountability transformation system”) but offer no further explanation. 

Most importantly from my perspective, the concepts in the book would be strengthened greatly if they were explicitly anchored in Christian principles. The solution to self-deception involves humility, treating others as human beings, and applying the golden rule of “do unto others …” 

Without a Christian framework, the reason for doing this is a generic “we’ll be happier, and our organizations will be more productive.” In that respect, it’s like other leadership books that have “discovered” age-old biblical teachings.

Reading Leadership and Self-Deception will help you grow as a leader. Just do it with your Bible at your side.


Mike Bonem

Mike Bonem is an author, consultant, speaker, church leader, businessperson, husband and father. He loves to help ministries and their leaders reach their God-given potential through strategic planning, organizational design, and coaching. Mike’s books include Thriving in the Second Chair, In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership and Leading from the Second Chair. He has spoken across the country and internationally on topics related to ministry leadership and congregational effectiveness. Mike has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a breadth of experience in ministry and business, including 11 years as an executive pastor, consulting with Fortune 100 companies, and leading a start-up business. 



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