#SessionConfessions: How Much Are You Your Own Worst Enemy, Self-Deceiving Yourself?

Leadership Lesson: In coaching sessions, it becomes apparent that no one should seek out new tools, resources, and ideas for their leadership development without first considering what is currently within their control but which they’re not…controlling.

You’re a very sneaky person — and you don’t even know it.

Typically, when things aren’t working out for us, for the most part, we look to the outside, to the external forces that could be holding us back. But really, there’s nothing out there that can hold you back and undermine you as powerfully as you can yourself.

Yes, you’re sneaky…with yourself!

And like I said, most times, you don’t even realize how much it (or you) works against you.

So, before planning for and tackling those external forces and big changes, there are these other changes you can make that are much more manageable.

And before I jump into some daily examples, let’s take a look at this topic at a more general level — in the form of your strengths and weaknesses.

How might you be holding yourself back from your strengths based on how you address (or don’t) your weaknesses?

Getting stronger in performance typically is about taking on new skills or empowering current ones, right? It’s about building off the tools available to us. Expanding and enhancing the positive and productive — the skills, abilities, and unique attributes we can bring to the table — is par for the course when improving and empowering ourselves up.

But nothing positive, nothing great, can be built as effectively as possible without addressing those weaknesses which actually hold us back.

Related: Cut Ties To Get Away From The Negative Sooner Rather Than Later

(Some may suggest that you forget your weaknesses. That you don’t have to resolve weaknesses as long as you build up your strengths. So, sure, if you find strengths and weaknesses that exist in different areas, where they’re unrelated and don’t overlap with or impact each other, then yes, by all means focus on the strengths first. But strengths and weaknesses aren’t always mutually exclusive. Some weaknesses will impact areas of strength, so they can’t be ignored. Or, they can — but you’re the one who suffers the consequences as they take energy and focus away from the areas of strength.)

So, it doesn’t matter how much you’re learning and refining, if you have something holding you back and holding you down, you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re putting in great effort, but thre desired fruit won’t follow from the labor you’ve put in, and it won’t get you as far as you would’ve hoped.

And the same happens when it comes to your sneakiness and self-deception: You can’t move forward and get better at the big stuff without acknowledging the little things you may unknowingly be doing that are holding you back.

Two Things That Hold You Back

And when it comes to those things that hold you back, there are those things you know about and see, and others you really don’t pay attention to.

The ones you know about and see are those where you know what they are and what they can get you if resolved. You think about them methodically. You come up with a plan to tackle them. (You may get a coach to help you with them.) You know if you make this adjustment over here, you’ll likely see the improvement over there.

Then there are the things we don’t pay attention to but which could turn things around for us if addressed. Through the ripple effect of the attention we pay them, they can change the atmosphere. They can change the vibe. They can change relationships and others’ perceptions of us.

So clients may come in thinking they need to focus on the former, but I find in their sessions that work is needed on the latter as well because they’re not focusing on the little things that fly under their radar. They try to change the big things without considering the little things that they can either do (or stop doing) that will set the stage for other, bigger improvements if addressed.

And that’s where you’re sneaky, acting against your own self-interests. There’s that self-deception. It’s in the little things we should know about — or that we should know better about — but don’t address.

A great book that breaks this down is Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out Of The Box by The Arbinger Institute. The book covers this exact point. We should pay attention to the little things we do, that we tend to overlook and ignore, especially in situations where we should know better. (Yes, where “we should know better.” It sounds juvenile, but we often know what we should [need to] do, but we do the opposite anyway. We work against common sense, in the end working against ourselves.)

One simple example given in the book of this self-deception is that of a husband and wife trying to sleep late at night as their infant cries. At one point, the husband, hearing the baby cry but mad at his wife about something else, decides to just go back to sleep and let his wife handle soothing the baby.


Related …In The Books Podcast – Episode 10
Leadership & Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

By The Arbinger Institute


That seemingly harmless decision made in a moment of emotion only escalated the situation. It may have felt good to the husband to do that to his wife at the time, but in the end, it only complicated things, prompting feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment from his wife. It felt good in the moment, but that satisfaction would be short-lived.

Was turning away from what he should’ve done worth it in the end? No.

He deceived himself.

And no, that example doesn’t have anything to do with leadership or professional development, but it paints a picture of how things can escalate when we don’t pay attention to and consider the repercussions of our smaller, everyday actions — or sometimes we do consider them and know better, but honestly don’t care.

Examples of Everyday Self-Deception

Below are some everyday examples of this self-deception. They may sound ridiculous to consider for leadership development, but they demonstrate how small decisions can lead to bigger issues. And those bigger issues can be avoided by just making the right decision at that fork in the road, in the moment, and not taking the easy road out.

These examples are broken down into situations where we impact others, impact ourselves, and impact both others and ourselves.

Impacts Others

Knowing something irks someone else but letting it happen anyway. This one is the easiest to avoid completely if you know specifically what someone does not like. Think about what doing that thing, or letting it happen, does to the rest of the working or personal relationship. It may seem small to you, but a continued, incessant barrage of small actions will tip the scale toward the worst of outcomes, like Chinese Water Torture.

Having advice you could provide to someone to help them but keeping it to yourself anyway. It’s amazing how often people have insights they could provide to another person to either help them avoid a setback or get better, but they choose instead to remain silent for any number of reasons.

Impacts You

Putting off to tomorrow what could get done today. Always consider how much you’re putting into your plans and goals. Sometimes, it may seem easier to give up for the day, when just a bit more can get you further. Sometimes, we take the easier route when we know we should stay the course and do the right thing for ourselves.

A significant other letting dishes pile up in the sink. This one is the epitome of self-deception, and it’s similar to the baby story above. We know we should do the dishes as we walk by the sink and see the dishes practically tipping over the edge of the sink. We know it’s our responsibility just as much as our significant other’s, and that if we see the state of the sink as is, we should do something about it. But, we choose instead not to. That won’t go over well, if we’re always shirking shared responsibilities.

Impacts You Along With Others

When people say “That’s not my job,” or “That’s above my pay grade.” It’s always amazing when people take this easier route, when the result of their inaction is likely going to impact their environment and organization. If you turn your back on any detail of your mission, it will come back to haunt and bite you in one way or another, whether it’s through additional effort, time, or resources required later.

Noting a mistake or opportunity in a report, presentation, procedure, or perception, and keeping quiet about it. These are the cases when someone, possibly a subordinate, sees either an error to rectify or an opportunity that can be taken, which if shared could help the mission or goals of the group overall. Instead, they stay silent, believing they shouldn’t be the one to bring it to anyone’s attention or that it’s not their place to speak up. But, the same goes here as for the previous example — everyone will pay later in some form, costing precious resources which could have been used somewhere else.


Granted, like anything else, these pieces of advice aren’t cookie-cutter. There are circumstances and details about your situation that I have no way of knowing. But, hopefully, in reading this, you learn to take a step back in the moment (like with emotional intelligence) to gauge the situation and determine what the best course of action is for all involved.

Related: Emotional Intelligence: This Is What It’s Like To Break The 4th Wall

Keep these little things in mind before or at the same time you decide to tackle bigger approaches. Tweaking the everyday moments in, and approaches to, life and work might help you get on a firmer path to stronger personal, professional, and leadership development.

Before seeking out major changes, consider the small steps you can immediately take toward improvement.

Always be mindful of when you choose easy over effective.


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