Self-Serving Circular Reasoning In Business Leadership - XploreAgile

Self-Serving Circular Reasoning in Business Leadership

Self-serving circular reasoning is a type of thinking that allows people to justify their own actions, even when those actions are harmful or wrong

Business Transformations are challenging at best, a nightmare at worst. Once soaked in a blame culture, the challenge becomes gargantuan (I just love that word). This culture then perpetuates the fear of failure, preventing the kind of innovative thinking and shift left risk mindset that’s crucial for growth and transformation.

Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy in which the conclusion is based on premises that assume the conclusion to be true. It often involves making excuses, blaming others, or simply ignoring the facts and has become visible in the realm of Business Transformation programs. Often self-serving, this kind of reasoning runs the risk of leaders being blindsided by their own biases, thus creating barriers to genuine transformation.

When leaders engage in self-serving circular reasoning, they create a culture of blame. This culture can make it difficult to identify and address problems, leading to finger-pointing and scapegoating and only serves to deepen this cultural stranglehold, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of blame and stagnation. As a result, transformation efforts can become bogged down in bureaucracy and infighting.

 Agile principles, to clarify, not submissive Agile frameworks, that, when misapplied, are also self-serving, but the principles crafted out of the software development industry, that champion adaptability, continuous improvement, and a customer-centric approach can help to combat that. A shameless plug for the LeSS Principles, which I believe are great examples of Agile foundations even without requiring Scrum as a pre-requisite. These principles, which encourage learning from failure and prioritizing individuals and interactions over processes, can bring a fresh perspective to the unadventurous routines entrenched in some of our business leadership spheres.

 Agile principles can help to challenge self-serving circular reasoning and create a more constructive culture for transformation. Agile principles emphasize transparency, collaboration, and continuous improvement. These principles can help to create a culture where people feel safe to share their ideas and feedback, even if those ideas are critical of the status quo, the PMO, VRO etc. This can help to break down the barriers that prevent people from working together to solve problems. Offering a stark contrast to the blame culture, where mistakes are feared and hidden, preventing both individual and organizational growth.

Implementing Agile principles within a blame culture is tough, but not impossible. It requires a fundamental shift in thinking, starting from the top. Leaders must embrace vulnerability, accept their mistakes, and view them as opportunities for learning.


Reflecting on my martial arts training many years ago, I recall Sifu’s advice that martial artists will continuously encounter difficult and demanding situations because of their trade. He suggested that people generally respond to difficulty in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze.

I believe that the Agile principles also provide the same three levels of injection capabilities that can be used to impact that self-serving circular reasoning:

  • Fight: When leaders engage in self-serving circular reasoning, as agile practitioners, we can challenge their thinking by providing evidence that contradicts their claims; I call this the ‘Travelling Mirror’. This can be done respectfully and constructively, without resorting to personal attacks.
  • Flight: When leaders are unwilling or unable to change their minds, as agile practitioners, we can choose to disengage from the conversation. This does not mean giving up on the transformation effort, but it does mean that as agile practitioners, we should not be trying to convince someone unwilling to listen or embroil them into another potential bias.
  • Freeze: When leaders are actively hostile to change, as agile practitioners, we can choose to go into “freeze” mode. This means temporarily withdrawing from the conversation until the situation has cooled down.

By using these three levels of injection, agile practitioners can help to create a more constructive culture for transformation and challenge the self-serving circular reasoning that often prevents it from succeeding.


Here are some additional experiments worth running to challenge self-serving circular reasoning in the business leadership space:

  • Be respectful and constructive: When challenging someone’s thinking, it is important to be respectful and constructive. This means avoiding personal attacks and focusing on the facts.
  • Be persistent: It may take time to change someone’s mind, so it is important to be persistent. Keep providing evidence that contradicts their claims and ask them open-ended questions to help them see things from a different perspective.
  • Be patient: Change takes time, so it is important to be patient. Don’t expect someone to change their mind overnight.


My Q&A

How does a blame culture impede business transformation?
A blame culture creates an environment of fear where individuals are reluctant to take risks or innovate due to the fear of failure and subsequent blame. This hinders the creative thinking and risk-taking necessary for business transformation.

How can Agile principles be applied in a blame culture environment?
Implementing Agile principles in a blame culture involves a shift in mindset, starting from the top. Leaders must embrace vulnerability, promote transparency, and view mistakes as learning opportunities.

What does the fight, flight, or freeze response entail in an Agile context?
In an Agile context, these responses can be redirected to deal positively with challenges. ‘Fight’ can be used to confront issues, ‘flight’ to pivot and adapt, and ‘freeze’ as a time for reflection and learning.

How can a business leader start implementing Agile principles?
The first step is to understand and accept the Agile principles. Leaders then need to foster an open and communicative environment, where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning rather than as failures to be blamed on.

David Knight-Junaid

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Sushant Sharma
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Sushant Sharma

Over the last three months, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with David and test his Situational courses. It has been an exceptional experience with numerous practical lessons and enjoyable discussions. I strongly endorse his training techniques and the courses he provides.

Sushant Sharma

Sushant Sharma

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