Leadership And Self-Deception And Social Media

Five years ago I read a book that changed my life:  Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute, an organization dedicated to helping people, organizations, and communities solve problems created by self-deception. It had such a powerful impact on the way I see myself and others that I have since purchased more than ten copies for employees and friends, and I recently gave it my third rereading. 

Although the book is about personal and organizational improvement and not marketing, a recent experience with my mobile provider made me appreciate how the lessons in “Leadership and Self-Deception” apply to social media.  One of the insights in this book is that behaviors are not as important as who we are. Organizations and people can do the same set of behaviors and get disparate outcomes; the difference isn’t how we do what we do, but who we are as we do it. Nowhere is this more true than in social media.

One way of being is to recognize people as people and the other is to see people as obstacles and objects. The first way of being encourages us to connect with people and do right by them, and the latter causes us to treat people as tasks that must be disposed of as efficiently as possible.  Because people primarily respond not to what we do but to how we’re being, the difference in these two approaches is the difference between an antagonistic relationship seeded with distrust and a collaborative relationship of mutual benefit.  Which type of relationship does your brand want with its customers?

The idea that who we are is more important than what we do resonates strongly in the era of social media.  Lots of brands have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, but are all brands seeing equal results?  Some are going through the motions while others earn trust, affinity, and advocacy.  What determines how a brand’s actions create or destroy rapport isn’t just what it does—there is no magic social media “to do” checklist—but who the brand is and what it stands for.  Consumers are more adept than ever at intuiting which brands and companies care about them and which care about selling stuff. 

A personal experience caused me to consider the stark disparity between the two ways of being and how brands are built in social media not by what they do but who they are.  Twice in the last two years I had problems with smartphones, and each time I tweeted about my issues and frustrations.  My experiences with my mobile provider were so vastly different that it is hard to believe I was dealing with the same company. 

Eighteen months ago I tweeted to no one in particular that my relatively new smartphone was functioning slowly.  My mobile provider was listening and reached out to me on Twitter.  They asked where they could reach me, and then tech support proactively called to walk me through new phone settings and fix the problems. My concerns were resolved within hours without me having to wait on hold, and as a result, I tweeted how thrilled I was at the service I received.

Last month I tweeted to the same mobile provider that the battery of my six-month-old smartphone, which used to last round the clock, was no longer making it even 10 hours.  I received no answer, so I tweeted twice more and still the brand was mute.  Turns out the brand cannot be troubled to respond via their primary account, so I tweeted their service account and received a reply suggesting I turn off my phone’s radio to preserve the battery. I expressed my dissatisfaction with this reply, so they sent me into a store where I waited for 35 minutes because they were short-staffed.  I walked out of the store with the same problem I had when I walked in, so I returned to Twitter and messaged that I was upset.  The company responded via Direct Message with an email address, but my first email message didn’t get a response.  I tried again, and the answer I finally received was to ask if I’d yet checked with RIM, the manufacturer of the phone. After weeks, many tweets, a trip to a store, and two email messages, I was angry and frustrated, so I gave up and paid for a BlackBerry app that extends battery life.

In both cases the brand listened and responded; in both cases I entered their system as a customer with a complaint; and in both cases I received customer support.  Identical sets of behaviors, but they were performed in two extraordinarily different ways.  In the first instance, the brand demonstrated they cared for me as a customer, while in the second I was “handled.”  Eighteen months ago I felt they wanted to help me and retain my business, and the second time I sensed they just wanted me to go away.  And when it comes time to renew my contract, that is exactly what I may do; my mobile provider turned me from an advocate into an unhappy customer.

One set of behaviors but two ways of being and two very different outcomes.  In social media, companies cannot hide whether they see customers as people or as objects.  If it is in a company’s DNA to view customers as objects, there is little social media will do to help (and may in fact hurt) their brands. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and communities cannot brighten the cold, dark shell of an uncaring company.   But for those companies who recognize their customers as living, breathing people with needs, desires, and emotions, social media will be a powerful tool for building lasting, valuable relationships. 


Answering a customer might not lead to satisfaction.

I agree 100% I think that Brands now are just jumping on the bandwagon to jump on the wagon. And once they realize that its not just about having the medium its actually providing the level of service needed, they aren't going to make much headway in social media. But I strongly feel if people speak up, like you, and talk to companies to tell them what to do with these mediums it might actually go somewhere.

I think a great example of customer service, sometimes overly used in examples, is ComcastCares on Twitter. Not only do they have 3-5 people working one handle they also are able to provide real solutions. Airlines and cell phone providers have a long way to go in the sense of providing supreme quality customer satisfaction. And that is what it is all about.

Great post, btw.



Thanks for the comments. I agree that some industries have been quicker to "get it" than others, and I wonder why that is. What is it about a particular industry that makes it more likely to furnish lower quality customer service? Is it that customer service doesn't matter in that industry? Are some industries immune to the damage that comes from providing mediocre service? Or are there industries that are just so price sensitive that consumers don't care about service versus low cost? It's puzzled me why industries (or the perception of industries) vary so much on this matter. What do you think?

Walk a mile in another man's shoes.

The third paragraph is an important message my parents hammered home to me at an early age. It's repeated so often in so many ways -- the Golden Rule, the adage about "walking a mile in another man's shoes," etc. -- and yet I still witness daily examples of people treating others as objects and obstacles instead of fellow human beings.

The world would be a lot better place if everyone -- customers, companies, passers-by -- put themselves in the other person's place for a moment before lashing out at them. It's not just a good idea for branding; it's a good idea for living.

You might love the book!


Given your comments, you might just enjoy reading "Leadership and Self-Deception." What's interesting to me is how they position the golden rule not just as the nice thing to do but as the productive and beneficial thing to do (but that's still not really the reason to do it.)

Appreciate the commnents.

I've already put it on my

I've already put it on my "to-read" list. Thanks for the tip! And for a great blog post!

One word of warning

I loved the book (obivously) but I'll warn you that some people to whom I recommended the book had a problem with the way the ideas are communicated. The structure of the book is that a fictional person in a fictional company learns about Self-Deception. At first I found this too "cutesy," but I quickly realized that I and the fictional character had many of the same reactions and questions, so this helped me to become familiar with the ideas conveyed. Some readers I've known have not been able to overcome their initial reaction to the fictionalization. Let me know what you think if and when you read it!

Thank you

Thank you for recommending the book to me ~2 years ago. I've "read" the audio book 3-4 times already, as well as the follow up book (Anatomy of Peace), and have recommended them to many friends.

It's amazing how such a simple concept makes so much sense, both personally and professionally (is there a difference?), yet is as uncommon as it is. I know I'm guilty, but at least now I feel a tinge of guilt when I "act" instead of "be".

Thank you so much, Scott!

You have no idea how much your comment means to me. I really appreciate that you found something valuable out the book recommendation! Like you, I reread "Leadership and Self-Decption" because it's too easy to slip into bad habits.

I hope life is treating you well back in Milwaukee. Any plans to come visit the Bay Area in the future?

Things are going pretty good,

Things are going pretty good, but it wouldn't be life if there wasn't some turmoil. ;)

Hoping for a trip in August. It's about 50% likely, but I'll keep you posted if that works out.

It's All About The People

Augie, this post resonated with me. I've been invited by one of my old professors to guest lecture at the university I recently graduated from. They want me to speak on social media (since few people in the educational system 'get it.') This post is exactly what I needed to help prep me for the lecture.

Nothing is more important in the social sphere than its humanity. When you treat people like humans instead of numbers (of followers, customers, friends etc.) you build real relationships, create real tribes and get real things done.

Thanks for writing this!

Glad to help


Good luck with your presentation to the class. I'm glad to have helped, at least a little. I appreciate the comments!

Great Application of a Timeless Principle!


Thanks so much for this post! I too read Leadership & Self Deception years ago and have shared it (as well as Anatomy of Peace) with many friends, colleagues and family members through the years. Great application to social media!

Applying it to Social Media

Thanks Sheryl, I suppose it should come as no surprise how applicable the book is to Social Media--after all, it is about building good, strong, productive relationships. Glad you found the application of "Leadership and Self-Deception" to social media relevant, and thanks for the input.

The differentiator

I like how you've separated companies into two camps based on how they view people. Whether its their customers or their employees, this is a great way for gauge how an organization will adopt to social media.

As business is becoming more socialized and human, the Golden Rule is becoming more important than ever. Lots of great stuff in this post.. I like where you're heading.

Thanks Sean

Funny how the things we learned in Kindergarten were the most important things in our lives, huh?

Awesome Tool! Awesome Blog!!

Enjoyed how you practically claimed the two ways with the application of twitter on smart phone to the batt issues you faced.. Indeed the applications sweeps across the board for customer satisfaction a import. tool for any organization whom wants to become acknowledged as value-added.

I believe the book- Leadership and Self-Deception goes far and wide... social media to therapy help and maybe politics as well... Arbinger has def established a name for brand worthiness!

Great blog thanks for sharing this.. & need to pass it on to my friends!