I’ve just finished “Leadership and self-deception”, and it was eye-opening. It’s a book about management and leadership, but more importantly, about managing relationships with people. I’ll go over some of the things I found most revealing, and hopefully without confusing anyone with too much of the book specific concepts and ideas.

Personally, I expect the message of the book to induce a change in how I behave and think about others.


The shit starts to roll downhill whenever people “betray themselves”. This would be a moment when they perceive certain actions as being favourable and “right”, but for any reason, act the opposite or not at all. From that moment on, people begin to think and generate reasons why they didn’t really need to act good on that particular instinct, and perhaps even why it was better this way. The situations of self-betrayal are many, ranging from insignificant to life-changing.

For example, people fail to stop and help others in public places, the effect of “diffusion of responsibility”. We’re too lazy to put the cup in the dishwasher, someone else will surely do it. I can’t be bothered to answer to that email now, I’d rather look what’s new at narf, hopefully someone took care of that in the meantime.


So when we fail to act on something we think we should have, we start to justify our actions. We fabricate reasons and inflate existing ones. We skew and twist the facts and begin to construct a distorted worldview of our own. When we do this enough and for various things, we can end up living in a fantasy of our own creation. We are in “the box”, as it is expressed in the book.

We look for errors in others, exaggerate them, and use them to justify our own. Once we do this, we can even hope for others to misbehave. When two or more people do this to each other, they can end up in a self reinforcing loop, slowly spiralling out of control. This is usually a kind of a perverse form of silent collusion.

 people are people

So what gives? As always, being aware of one’s own problems and behaviour is paramount. One should not concentrate on their own problems and justifications, but become accountable for the shared ones. Otherwise, it is way too easy to issue blame and responsibility.

In an organisation, people should concentrate on the well-being of the whole instead of themselves. That kind of goes without saying, but the aforementioned conduct prevents this cooperation from truly happening. The end goal is supposed to be be shared, after all.

The ideas about flat/teal organisations and systems thinking are pointing the way towards easier working environments. Office politics, hierarchy, uneven bonuses and carrot/stick motivation make it hard for really treating people as people.

 narrative storytelling

The book itself was an entertaining and certainly a different read. The ideas are brought forth by a fictional story consisting of a few people talking about their work and family life. Imagining people and their problems, whether real or not, helps with retaining details and causations.

The story and conversations are a little verbose and the whole thing tends to repeat itself. I suppose most books could be summarised to a much smaller length, but the repeats and even slightly changing viewpoints engage the reader to remember the details better. In the end, there’s enough redundancy in the message for the core concepts to stick.


Now read this

a yes is a no

Many of us have trouble not offering help to a friend apparently in need. Or trouble not participating in some mundane event. We become yes-men by default, and let others choose our activities for us. We develop a fear of missing out.... Continue →