Getting out of the Box

I recently finished The Arbinger Institute’s, Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box. Truth be told, it was more out of curiosity than pure interest that led me to indulge in this relevant book. A relationship between leadership and self-deception? Huh? The book claimed to be written for “every situation from leadership, accountability, human resources, and conflict resolution”. In my case, it became helpful in gaging our school’s readiness for change.

Leadership and Self-Deception tells an engaging story about executive Tom McCallum who, like most of us, is facing challenges on the job and in his family. And like many of us, Tom unconsciously sabotages relationships with both his family members and work colleagues. Throughout the story, Tom meets with various leaders of his new employer and learns about ‘being in the box’; how it poisons relationships, and no longer permits individuals to focus on people and results that are necessary for positive change.

The authors note that self-betrayal ‘is any act contrary to what I feel I should do for another’. But more importantly, when we betray ourselves we begin to see the world in a way that justifies our self-betrayal, and maintains the vicious circle. Ultimately, self-betrayal leads to self-deception (or being in the box). Naturally, once in the box one an individual often becomed fully focused on oneself and not on the results or on the people to whom we have to deliver the results (i.e. direct reports and those that we as leaders are responsible for).

Perhaps what I found most profound through the reading is this: that we all go into the box at various times throughout our day, month, year. And we are in the box with different people and in different situations on a regularly recurring frequency.

The key to getting out of the box, argue recognizing when you’re in the box in the first place; self-betrayal leads to self-deception. And while this sounds intuitive (think duh!) most us of struggle with a steady mindfulness around our leadership practices. Ultimately, having a mindset or being aware of your mindset is part of the process.

So, where I am in this ‘in the box’ or ‘outward mindset’ of which Arbinger speaks about?

Enter the Arbinger Leadership Assessment which “measures both your performance and your effectiveness as a leader.” Your performance as a leader is quantified in your Leadership Practices Score. The effectiveness or impact of your leadership on your direct reports is quantified in your Leadership Impact Score. Each score is on a scale from 1 to 10. The higher the score, the more positive the level of your performance and impact.”

My scores?

Leadership Practices Score: 7.3

Leadership Impact Score: 5.4

The Leadership Practices Score indicates the degree to which you implement ‘out-of- the-box’ outward-mindset practices in your leadership. (It’s also a good idea to read Arbinger’s The Outward Mindset for explanations, too.)

The Leadership Impact Score indicates the degree to which your team members implement “out-of- the-box” outward-mindset practices in their work. This means that the Leadership Impact Score measures the degree to which you are growing other leaders and helping your team members to work in productive and helpful ways.

No doubt, I have much work to do to continue to develop my leadership capacity, strengthen relationships, and support changes in our schools, staff, and students.


Our school continues to evolve and we have made transformations around assessment and reporting, student-led conferences, eportfolios, and teaching and pedagogical shifts. As a school leader, I was keen to see where our school mindset is currently located (again, we can’t know where to go, if you don’t know where you are). 

Enter Arbinger’s free Mindset Audit tool available on their website.

The result…

4 - Significantly Inward
A ‘significantly inward’ mindset indicates that “although employees may believe the organization could have a positive future, they are somewhat frustrated with its current state.” As well, our staff is in a crisis of sorts as “[m]any employees may be hardworking, but there is a sense that people have their heads down working on their own things, and that they don’t really reach across the organization to help each other. Partly because of this, people feel overworked and under-appreciated, and organizational results are less than expected given current levels of effort.”

In our case, indeed much of our “[c]ollaboration is impeded by an underlying internal competitiveness.” 

But change is possible “[w]ith a few well-conceived changes, your organization will be able to make significant improvements in mindset and performance.” 

And if we continue along this present heading?

The organization “risks a growing pessimism that will increase the predominance of the Inward Mindset and threaten the organization’s future.”

At least we have a starting point (of sorts). 

And while an organization’s (and individual’s) mindset is only one metric that could be used to measure its readiness for change, we are poised at exploring significant changes to our timetable and way of thinking around what it schooling, learning, and teacher means in the new pedagogy.

Interesting times, indeed.

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