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 Avoid box of self-deception for good business

2015-04-10 00:00
Media vision on behalf of USB-ED

Willemien Law and Dr Kobus Serfontein

Outside the box thinking is a well-known recipe for businesses to innovation. There is, however, another kind of box for business leaders to be aware of – self-deception which is a major culprit in corporate failures.

This follows from USB Executive Development’s (USB-ED) regular We Read For You presentation in which the essence of internationally renowned Arbinger Institute’s book Leadership and Self-deception: Getting out of the Box were unpacked by Dr Kobus Serfontein, a senior lecturer and head of the Leadership module at the Stellenbosch Business School.

According to the Arbinger Institute, people who are self-deceived live and work as if trapped in a box. Blind to the reality around them, they undermine both their own performance and the performance of others. As they are unaware of what they are doing, their behaviour doesn’t change and neither do their results.

According to Dr Serfontein the book tells us that people tend to deceit themselves by thinking that they are OK in everything they do and that they are always right. The more they do it, the bigger the problem becomes.

This is also true of executives climbing the corporate ladder – the higher they climb, the less they can see they might have a problem with self-deception.
In this way their behaviour becomes as if they are inside a box seeing themselves and others in a distorted way. This is characterised by viewing others simply as objects, irrelevant, as obstacles and vehicles in achieving goals.
When inside the box a person tends to justify their behaviour and provoke others to also enter the box.
Being outside the box on the other hand, means that a person sees himself and others as “people” where interaction is characterised by responsiveness.
“The big challenge is how to change such a person and to help him or her to get out of the box. According to Arbinger the reality is that one cannot change someone else as efforts to do this will only be met with resistance
“The only way to change someone else is to change yourself.

“Many business executives will unfortunately resist behaviour change. It is usually felt that ‘I am the boss and it is subjects lower down in the organisations that need to change.’ Problems are then also blamed on poor communication in the organisation,” says Dr Serfontein.

If such a situation of self-deception by leadership persists, it leads to a breakdown of trust, accountability and the ultimate failure of the business.

One of the big questions is if one can change the behaviour of a “boss” that finds him or herself in the box? According to Arbinger that is not possible, but one can at least resist by not joining him or her in the box.

Success depends on leadership’s ability to create an environment for people to improve their performance and to better themselves. 

“All of us have a sense of what the right thing is to do. If one does not do it, it amounts to self-deception,” Dr Serfontein concluded.

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