I have read hundreds of leadership books; I love Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Patrick Lencioni amongst others and all of their works have helped improve my understanding of leadership.  

But there is one book which made biggest improvement to my leadership; it had a profound impact on the way I see things. It's the one book I recommend to anyone seriously looking to improve their leadership, and that is Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute.

This is not an easy book to read; that's not because of the style it is written in, or the complexity of the concepts, no it's difficult because of what it reveals to us about ourselves, and our role in any problem relationship we have experienced or are experiencing.

The clue is in the title Leadership and Self-Deception.

It's one of those books that when you read it, you just can't put it down, and as soon as I finished it I went and apologized to my wife. She asked me what was wrong, and I just gave her a copy of the book and said, there are too many things I need to apologize for, here read the book you will understand.

The concept which hit me the hardest was how we look to blame others for any failings we may have, how we create a false perception of the situation, and then look to create a reality which reflects that perception.  That then affects how we see people, how we interact with them, and how we then refuse to give them a chance to redeem themselves or prove they were in the right because then we would have to admit we were wrong, or even worse it's all our fault.

It was especially poignant for me because at the time I was going through a very tough relationship with my boss.  He hated me; he was constantly criticizing me in front of others, which is never a good thing, and he seemed to be always looking for an excuse to put me down.

On finishing the book, my first thought was, ok so let's now assume he doesn't hate me, and that I am the cause of all the problems, I am to blame for everything.

Now let's review the past few interactions and see if there is anything that would support this new perception.

Sure enough, there were. I had started coming late to meetings. Punctuality was a pet peeve of his, and I was doing this so he would start the meeting by criticizing my lateness, which was true, but I was using this as evidence to myself that he hated me.

I would even point this out to others, enrolling them in my fantasy. 

I would also take any opportunity to subtly undermine him, or point out irrelevant issues or mistakes, anything to get him to react in a way that confirmed my misconception of him.

I decided to start with this relationship because I knew I was right about him, everyone agreed with me, and also because as he was the boss there was nothing I could do to fix the relationship.

However, when we transfer the blame to someone else for a bad relationship it makes us powerless to fix it. It's only when we accept our part, our accountability that we can have some control over the outcome. The only person we can truly change is ourselves, but when we blame others and deceive ourselves about our involvement, then we don't even have that as an option.

With my eyes now wide open to the truth, I stopped to turn up late to meetings or make comments on things that didn't matter just so that I could provoke him into a reaction and prove my point, to both myself and others.

When I did that, it completely changed our relationship; it improved it significantly. We didn't become bosom buddies, but the atmosphere changed from one of antagonism to one of cooperation and collaboration, and one which was much less stressful for both of us.

When I saw my guilt in a relationship where I believed, I was 100% blame free, and the improvements that could be made by accepting I was to blame, then I knew that this was just the tip of the iceberg. 

How often had I put people in a position to get them to react in a certain way just to prove to myself that I was blame free and everything was their fault.

As I said at the start, it's not an easy book to read, because it does open your eyes to your guilt, but once they are open, it's incredibly empowering.

This book helped change my leadership in three ways:

  1.  Leadership is all about relationships and it gave me the tools to improve any relationship.
  2. It got me to look at every failing situation, whether it was a relationship, projects or an underperforming department and ask myself, what's my role in this, what could I do better, which significantly improved my accountability, and also the outcome.
  3. When the leader looks first to themselves as to why things are not working, it sets the tone for the organization, it helps to make you humbler and sets a great example for the rest of the organization which they will follow.

Many of the leadership books I have read have given me great insights into motivation, team building, organization and planning, emotional intelligence, etc., etc., but this was the book that got me to look internally and to start every problem by asking myself what could have done differently, what could I have done better what's my role in this failure. It got me to look at improving me!

Nothing will improve your leadership as much as taking personal accountability, and that's what make this the one book that will help improve your leadership.

Not only do I recommend this book, but now, so does my wife.


Which one book do you recommend that has had the biggest impact on your leadership? I'd love to hear from you.