Sometimes I question what I see in the mirror. Is the image distorted? Am I getting a clear picture? Or am I deceiving myself?

I think that’s an important question that wise leaders need to consider.

We’ve had some very public examples of world-class self-deception recently.   And Gael O’Brien did a brilliant job talking about them in her blog Self-Deceptions and Challenges for Leaders.


Bob Dudley, the CEO of BP, when he suggested that 2009 and 2010 were good years — other than that pesky oil spill.  HMMM.
• Former BP CEO,  Tony Hayward‘s self-centered remark, “I want my life back.”  REALLY?
• Or how about Angelo Mozilo the co-founder and former CEO of Countrywide Financial (who is often named as a major contributor to financial crisis) when he said that Countrywide is one of the greatest companies in Anerican history.  WOW!

Okay — these guys make it too easy.  So how about just “average” people?  Well, people like you and I can be self-deceptive too.


• The American Idol “want-to-be” that couldn’t carry a tune
• The balding, middle-aged, fat guy in sales that still thinks he’s a stud
• The bossy b!t$h in Human Resources that thinks everyone likes her

They — like Gael’s examples AND many of us — suffer from the malady called “confirmation bias.” We reject information that is not in alignment with what we want to believe about ourselves.

And therein lays the problem. Sometimes we consciously or unconsciously deny, justify or rationalize away opposing evidence and logical argument. We refuse to see – what we don’t want to see. And we fall for our own stories – hook, line and sinker.

So the issue is not about asking IF we are self-deceptive – the issue we need to address is how can we OVERCOME our self-deception. Here are some ideas:

Drew McLellan, CEO and Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group, suggests you solicit an outsider’s point of view. He says “You cannot accurately describe the outside of the bottle if you are on the inside.” A trusted advisor, mentor or coach can help you see what others see.

Stephen Palmer believes that when we study history and human behavior – we have the opportunity to glimpse our true selves and then consciously decide who we want to be.

The Arbinger Group, (Leadership and Self-Deception) proposes that our own behavior can be an indication of self-deception. If we notice when we begin to blame others and inflate other’s faults – we can identify areas where we are being self-deceptive.

And what would I suggest?  I’ve found that when you listen carefully — friends, family, co-workers and neighbors provide us with all kinds of clues. The messages are often subtle. We may have rejected them in the past. But…

  • If you’ve heard the same message more than once, and
  • Your gut begins to tingle, and
  • You’re geting uncomfortable

You just might find that the image in the mirror is getting a little bit sharper.

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