February 18, 2009
Almost, but nothing like, a book review.
“Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box” by The Arbinger Institute, falls into the leadership/management book category of “philosophy lite”. It has been my experience that anyone who has had even casually exposure to some basic philosophical ideas is often amazed at how common those themes come up in business books. This is not, at all, surprising as leadership and management is often focused directly at understanding ourselves, understanding others, and understanding the relationships between the two. There are even a number of business authors who have effectively made a career out of simplifying and re-publishing the concepts of other notables like Kant, Heidegger, and Locke. “Leadership and Self Deception” barrows heavily from Martin Buber and with significant influence from Freud’s concept of resistance in its later chapters on “self-deception.”
Without getting into the book too much, let me just say that I really enjoyed it. It seems to me that a great number of “hard” philosophy types strongly reject these obvious attempts at watering it down; but the problem that in many cases it is the only they would ever get broad exposure.
People do not generally operate their daily lives from a position of depth. One may get such depth on specific subject matter that is of personal or professional interest; but most cannot do it for all subjects necessary to operate all aspects of life. This is even more true for subject material that is arguably second in complexity only to high-level math (just try reading “I and Thou” through the first time without saying, “huh??”). These simplified models can, therefore, provide value in spaces where they would otherwise not get used.
Additionally, this kind of leadership book is its usefulness at providing real-world examples of the more esoteric philosophical concepts. It is not unusual for philosophy to suffer the criticism that its theories are not directly applicable to real life. Yet, the fact is they are referenced (if not directly) for use in two of the most real-world fields available, business and leadership. I think it would behoove some professional intellectuals to view the applicability of their theories in places other than literature and the movies.
“Leadership and Self Deception” is a great book and possibly, for some previously unexposed, a life changing book. The ideas in it may not be ground breaking but they are worthy of modeling. It is because of all of these reasons that it is one of the few leadership books that I think should be on everyone’s book shelf.