The next three posts present my findings and recommendations. These sections are based on my thoughts and analysis of my research into strategic leader self-awareness and self-deception. After an extensive literature review of the subject, data collection, analysis of the data, and a compilation of my observations, I have composed five strategic-level findings about self-aware leaders and self-deceptive ones. These findings are the principal outcomes and revelations from my research.
Self-Aware Leaders are Better Prepared to be Ethical Leaders
People in general, leaders included, have difficulty seeing the personal biases they bring to bear when making decisions with ethical implications. A self-aware leader, however, is better equipped to acknowledge and understand their biases. Thus, they are less prone to corrupt and unethical behavior that is detrimental to an organization. Self-aware leaders are more confident in their morality. Self-awareness leads to greater confidence in one’s abilities as a leader and in one’s ethical foundation. Followers benefit from engagement with such a leader.
Self-Aware Leaders Have a More Accurate View of Reality
A self-aware leader’s perception of reality better matches the truth within the organization and the operating environment within which it operates. A leader who practices self-deception creates a barrier between their perception of reality and their understanding of how their behaviors affect the world around them. Self-deceptive leaders are less capable of accurately understanding how their actions affect others as they are less connected to reality. Self-aware leaders are more likely to enhance their understanding of the environment they work in and the people they interact with, even if the input does not match their previously held notions.
Self-Deceptive Leaders Tamper with Incoming Information
Self-deceptive leaders tamper with incoming information and feedback to hide the truth from themselves. They do this in a number of ways. These leaders mentally compartmentalize information to avoid dealing with unwanted data. They ignore, discard, distort, misremember, or misrepresent information to deal with discomforting or distracting information. In addition to manipulating the data, they may manipulate their input and recall processes to filter out what they don’t want to accept.
Information that challenges a leader’s existing beliefs may be seen as a threat to that person’s view of themselves. It is vital that leaders not tamper with challenging information or their information-processing mechanisms. Leaders must have access to all data when needed to inform a decision. If they choose to neglect some data out of convenience or self-serving fulfillment, they fragment their mental system used to process information. Cognitive biases may help a leader favor information that supports their desired views and outcomes.
Self-Deception is Destructive to the Practitioner and the Organization
Self-awareness should be a goal for a leader because it is healthier than destructive self-deception. There are times when lying to oneself about reality provides temporary relief of decision-making stress, but this comfort is a fleeting safe haven. Seeking this temporary relief from stress could lead the leader down the path to greater comfort with lying.
A main detriment of self-deception as a practice is the influence it has on one’s decision-making abilities. Self-deception impacts a leader’s performance as it can lead to a more biased approach to decision-making. When leaders narrow their focus to information supporting already-held beliefs, they are more prone to irrational thought. In deceiving themselves by intentionally corrupting incoming information to match already-held ideas, leaders limit themselves when they must recall information to aid in decision-making.
The organization suffers as well when their leaders practice self-deception. When leaders lie to themselves and others to project a more positive image of themselves, they ultimately harm the organization. Leaders may lie to manipulate others into believing that their selfish intentions are for the greater good. They may lie to achieve social approval of their self-serving actions. If followers buy into this deception and follow this leader, this group of like-minded individuals could move in the same direction of unethical behavior. The organization suffers when individuals engage in deception within the group.
Organizational and Environmental Stressors Inhibit Self-Awareness
Strategic leaders regularly face demanding schedules, complicated situations, and complex relationships with their organization that adds stress to that leader. The amount of stimulation they receive may be mentally overwhelming. Self-deception may have emerged as a method to help humans deal with such difficulties. But choosing to self-deceive only confounds this stress. When leaders choose self-deception over self-awareness, they may weaken their will to act ethically and their ability to work competently.
Sometimes organizations formally or informally foster an atmosphere of deception and corruption when organizational goals are being met despite these unethical practices. Acquiescence to such an atmosphere only encourages leaders to focus inwardly and prioritize self-preservation and personal advancement over the good of the organization. The resulting environment is one where followers hesitate to provide honest feedback to leaders out of fear of repercussions. Leaders spend more time protecting themselves from political dangers and less time striving to achieve performance goals.