Leadership and Self-Deception is one of the most unusual business books I’ve ever read. It’s a parable or fictional story, but that’s not what made it different. A number of business books have taken that approach in recent years.
What surprised me was that I found nothing in this book about strategy, tactics, mission statements, creativity, disintermediation, Hedgehogs, BHAGs or getting the right people on the bus. It didn’t talk about innovation or being customer focused or how we live in a totally new normal.
about relationships. About people. About honesty, forgiveness and, yes, in so many words, about love.
One of the core concepts of the book is self-betrayal. When you think that your values call for you to act in a certain way toward someone else, but you don’t–that is self-betrayal. When you recognize in a given situation that you ought to thank someone or help someone or apologize–and you don’t, you are betraying your own standards.
I could hardly believe what I was reading. As Bud says, “In acting contrary to my sense of what was appropriate, I betrayed my own sense of how I should be toward another person” (p. 67). This sounded eerily like what the apostle Paul said in Romans 7: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Later in the book one of the main characters tells about being completely at odds with his son who has had major run-ins with the law. Yet after others helped him to see his son as a person and not as a thing, not as a problem, he completely changed. When they met the next time, “Out I darted to meet my son. He reached me in an instant and leaped into my arms, tears streaming down his face. Through the sobs I heard, ‘I’ll never let you down again, Dad.'” (p. 176). Was I actually reading an updated version of the Prodigal Son?
Yes, the fictional device in the book was a bit lame and contrived, but it was remarkable to read a business book that said the key to everything was to treat people as people. In ways the book was simple, maybe overly simple–yet in other ways it was deep, profound and true.