Lately, I’ve been reading Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box a short well written book about the self-deception we create in our lives. One point that has really stuck out for me is how we setup others to fail even when they have a successful track record or sometimes no record of failure.

We create a picture of someone in our mind, such as they are lazy or arrogant or uninformed, then when we interact with the person in any way, we subconsciously find actions and behaviors that justify our thoughts of them; even if these thoughts are untrue.

For example: Mrs. Bossy might have an employee do a task or project she doesn’t really want him to do. He is excited about it and Mrs. Bossy is already over scheduled so she reluctantly hands over the project. Before he even starts the project, Mrs. Bossy sets in her mind that he will fail because he is lazy. In the end, she believes she will have to redo it. Mrs. Bossy gives the employee a deadline and with parting words says “. . .And don’t mess it up.”

When the employee turns in the project the day of the deadline, Mrs. Bossy may even say “Cutting it a bit close. . .”  The project was done just as well as she would have done it, if not better, but she makes a point to find even the smallest issues instead of being happy he finished the project well-done, on time, and gave her more time to do higher level work. She may even throw the project back to the employee, saying ” . . . fix it. And it better be done right this time.”

But why? The boss entered into self-deception because she believed the employee would fail even before the project started. This is the syndrome revealed by managers, bosses and parents with the words “I can do it better myself” and any small thing can justify the predetermined belief that the employee was lazy. It’s a vicious cycle that happens often in the work place and at home, too.

To stop this cycle from happening, there are a few things you can do.

  • Get rid of your expectation – both negative and positive.
  • Create clear desired outcomes for tasks and projects – think “what is the result needed?”.
  • Instead of looking for flaws and issues, recognize the achievements.
  • If someone is excited about doing a project, encourage them. Be excited that they are excited.
  • Ask yourself, “What can I do to help this person succeed at this project?” 

This book makes a lot of other good points and goes into much deeper detail about self-deception. So far it is a good read and if you have time, I recommend checking it out.