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Cornerstone: Lessons from Leadership and Self-Deception

I have written columns about topics ranging from strategic planning to change management, and embracing uncertainty in our personal lives. I have written on such a variety of subjects because I believe leadership requires a wide range of knowledge.

April 19, 2017
By Lyle Quan


I also believe reading books solely focused on leadership can create a narrow view of what is required of today’s fire-service leaders.

In the fire officer courses I facilitate at the Ontario Fire College, one of my goals is to convey that leadership is more than just the number of bars or stripes on a uniform: leadership is more about how you stand by your morals and your people. Leadership is also about owning up to mistakes and not blaming others for those mistakes. As such, fire-service leaders need to appreciate the tremendous value related to leading by example, understanding the art of people management, and acknowledging the importance of knowing themselves (and what they stand for).

Recently, I enjoyed a conversation with the fire chief of a mid-sized Canadian city. We discussed the fact that taking ownership of what we do is as important (or maybe even more important) than how we lead. Let me explain: many people want to be seen as leaders, but when they are being held accountable for a mistake, some are quick to blame others for what went wrong.

Based on this observation, I have chosen to focus on one book because it covers myriad leadership- and personal-management concepts: that book is Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.


The authors found that the book has been used for more than it was originally intended, which was to help leaders understand and escape the negative environment in which they may be living.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part one takes readers through the definition of self-deception and being “in the box.” Being in the box relates to not doing what is right. For example, if your baby is crying and you pretend to be asleep because you want your partner to get up and take care of the situation, this is, in fact, self-betrayal because you know what is right (to get up with the baby) but you choose to do the wrong thing. In this situation, you are trapped in the box because you are blaming others for not getting what you want – in this case, more sleep.

The second part of the book covers how we get into that box – by finding ways to blame others for the situations or “raw deals” that life gives us, instead of taking ownership of these situations and finding gratifying ways to get out of this negative environment and move forward (with everyone).

The final section focuses on how to get of the box. This entails a true attitudinal adjustment; it means that we open ourselves up to others and work together without trying to find blame – rather answers to how you and the team can move forward.

In identifying the value of the lessons taught in the book, the authors note that there are five broad categories for which readers have used its lessons:

  1. When hiring people – companies have prospective employees read the book and find out what they have learned and how would they apply the lessons.
  2. For leadership – managers have all employees or up-and-coming leaders read the book to understand how to focus on people and build teams.
  3. For conflict resolution – the book’s lessons allow readers to think outside the box.
  4. To build accountability – the book encourages readers to take ownership of their actions and ensure that people don’t blame others for their mistakes, in other words, to own up and move on by finding a more acceptable resolution for the project and the team.
  5. For personal growth and development – the authors have heard from many readers how the book has changed their outlook on life and, in turn, fostered personal growth and development.

The final section of the book includes a chapter on how to take full advantage of the teachings within.

I found this book an easy and interesting read and have already used it to evaluate how I have done some things in the past and consider how I will to change my approach in the future.

Leadership and Self-Deception can be obtained through Indigo/Chapters and Amazon.

Lyle Quan has more than 30 years’ experience in fire and emergency services. He consults, facilitates fire officer programs at the Ontario Fire College and instructs the bachelor of business in emergency services for Lakeland College. Contact Lyle at and follow him on Twitter at @LyleQuan

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