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Self-Assessment and Self-Deception: What We Tell Ourselves the Truth Is

Accurate self-assessment and damaging self-deception are two sides to the same coin. Accurate self-assessment by leaders can lead to healthy leadership practices, wholesome relationships with peers and followers, and a productive work environment. On the other hand, self-deception can influence a leader to make unethical and immoral decisions affecting their relationships with others and damage to the organization.


To achieve leadership greatness, a developing leader must have a good sense, a realistic sense, of where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and have the moral fortitude to work towards that greatness they desire. Excellent leadership development, therefore, begins with self-awareness.[1] In an article for the Journal of Applied Psychology, Allan Church defined self-awareness as it is applied to the workplace as the “ability to reflect on and accurately assess one’s own behaviors and skills as they are manifested in workplace interactions.”[2]

Evidence that self-awareness leads to better leadership is presented in the argument that accurate self-awareness is a path to happiness and fulfillment. The basic human desire to survive and excel, to pursue satisfaction in one’s work and personal life, is supported by the natural human instinct to lead a wholesome and productive life.[3] People feel a sense of duty to themselves to grow and achieve self-awareness and self-efficacy. There is a natural human instinct, one that people place great value in, to lead good and productive lives.[4] The alternative is the unnatural course towards self-deception and, ultimately, self-destruction.[5]

Self-aware persons, those enlightened to the realization that ethical courage plays a vital role in life and work, have realized a fundamental truth about the world in which we live. They have discovered that improving the environment within which they operate is possible, as is making their part of the world a better place. Researchers Jane Qui and David Rooney developed a four-stage mindfulness development model drawn from a Buddhist perspective. They likened the courage to change the world as essential to creating sustainable businesses and social innovations. As a result, self-aware, enlightened individuals are better equipped to demonstrate higher creativity, initiative, and leadership levels.[6]

In a yet to be published article about the theory of unconscious responses, Elizabeth Diane and Debra Dean postulated that the human desire to live autonomously through purposeful and willful actions is what truly sustains life. They argued that one’s identity is forged through both unconsciously and consciously performed solitary initiatives. A person performs these initiatives to help them attach meaning to everyday experiences. As one navigates through their personal and professional lives, their identity is revealed through distinctive traits that ultimately form their identity.[7] If the initiatives one performs are performed with motives other than self-improvement, because they are deceiving themselves, then it makes sense that their identity is created under false pretenses.


Self-deception takes on many forms, but at its basest, it involves someone trying to hide something from themselves. Sissela Bok, a Swedish-born, Swiss-, French-, and American-educated philosopher, has authored books on lying and secrecy. She noted the core of secrecy as the separation between insider and outsider both in the pursuit of some knowledge. This is the beginning of the conflict between awareness and deception, as the insider wishes to conceal knowledge, and the outsider wants to discover it.[8]

There are degrees to lies and deception. What makes lies so damaging to those being lied to is that the lie may be part of an intention to deceive to gain some benefit to the deceiver, to the detriment of the deceived. The deceiver could be seeking to protect their reputation, protect themselves or someone else, or avoid the consequences of a wrongful act.[9] That’s when one lies to someone else. The one who self-deceives lies to themselves.

Self-awareness and self-deception in a leader are two concepts that orbit the description of one’s behavior. A leader is self-aware when they understand and acknowledge their strengths, weaknesses, and the effects their actions have on others and their organization. The self-deceptive leader eschews this in favor of satisfying the image of themselves they wish to be true. To achieve self-awareness, a strategic leader must be open to the truths they may not wish to see.


  • self-awareness leads to excellent, ethical leadership

  • self-deception is the attempt to hide some truth from oneself to achieve a benefit

[1] Conger & Toegel (2002) [2] Church (1997) [3] Diane & Dean (2020) [4] Caldwell & Hayes (2016) [5] Diane & Dean (2020) [6] Qui & Rooney (2019) [7] Diane & Dean (2020) [8] Bok (1999) [9] Williams, Hernandes, & Petrosky (2009)

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