Fooling Oneself for a Sense of Control

People feel greater comfort when they surround themselves with like-minded persons and inter-social confrontation is at a minimum. This place of being is not always easy to find. If one cannot achieve this peace in reality, they could supplant it with delusions in their mind that falsely give them the desired sense of comfort they seek. Self-deception could be such a force to invent this reality. Self-deception is an adaptive process that can help someone adjust their identity to fit with an outside reality.[1] If the external reality is disturbing, self-deception can help someone create a hallucination to act as a placeholder.

Control Over Things of Limited Control

Many people seek some sense of control in work life and personal life, even if it’s illusionary. Control instills a sense of security and self-protection, and people seek this when they can.[2] When control seems beyond one’s reach, they will endeavor to regain control over a situation or social interaction or establish control where none existed.[3]

Control is essential in leadership. The lack of real control over a situation, a relationship, an organization, or other such commerce may motivate one to react to gain or establish control. If control is not possible, one may try to supplant actual control with a feeling of control. One way a person can create the illusion of control is by convincing themselves that what they are experiencing is not as chaotic as it seems. They can focus on the elements of the experience that they control, and disregard those elements that are out of their control. This is a more likely course of action when one perceives they have little control over something.[4] This is an example of self-deception, which can support one’s notion that they are in control.

A false sense of control is fleeting. Feeling in control and empowered is not a means to an end, and people do not strive to achieve this false sense of security for its own sake. People feel a real sense of control when they achieve actual control. Therefore, self-deception is a transitory safe-haven.[5] For peace of mind, there must be congruence between the feeling of control and actual control. Individuals may shape their identity to align with their surroundings to achieve congruency, so lying to oneself about their control over a situation or employee or department is a mechanism to achieve this comfort.[6]

Control as a Basic Human Need

The inability to control things, or at least the inability to feel in control of things, may prompt a primal reaction. Self-deception can serve as a defense mechanism and allay certain primal fears. Through self-deception, a leader can reassure themselves that they are in control and project that confidence through their public image.[7] Self-protection and self-enhancement are basic human needs, and a leader may go to great lengths to sustain a positive emotional state supported by an internal sense of control.[8]

Control is a need that people will strive to achieve. If unattainable, they may invent a sense of control over events, groups, or individuals through self-deception. One can see how a leader seeking control over their surroundings by fooling themselves into believing they are in control when they are not could damage an organization.


  • self-deception can help a leader adapt their self-identity to fit within an external reality

  • control, or the perception of control, is important to a leader

  • a false sense of control through self-deception is a fleeting safe haven

[1] Hewlin et al. (2015) [2] Bok (1989) [3] Von Hippel & Trivers (2011) [4] Kuntz & Dehlin (2019) [5] Von Hippel & Trivers (2011) [6] Humphrey et al. (2015) [7] Gray & Densten (2007) [8] Kuntz & Dehlin (2009)

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