When I raise my level of consciousness I am a more heart-centric, effective leader. — Lisa Bradburn
If you seek to develop your leadership skills, possessing self-awareness is the most effective competency toward understanding how you are the instrument of change. What does this mean?
This article explores the concept of self as an instrument, accompanied by the influence of Gestalt theory. Next, we will look at how metaphors provide deep insight into our current way of being. By evaluating our present reactive state, we can create a unique metaphor that moves into the desired, new way. Throughout the article, I use my self-work examples to illustrate how the process becomes alive in transformational change, allowing me to grow my leadership capabilities. You, too, can leverage the same methods toward your leadership progression.
I am forever indebted to the outstanding Leadership organization called Trans4mation who delivered the first pioneer iCAgile Enterprise Coach Certification in 2020. Thank you, Michelle Madore, Phillip Cave, Michael Spayd, and, Brittany Tew, who brought forth this life-changing approach into my immediate field of awareness.
Warner Burke, Psychologist, Professor, and vital contributor to the field of organization development and change, helped coin the term “self as instrument.” In the research paper, The Self as an Instrument–A Cornerstone for the Future of OD, author Mee-Yan Cheung states:
Burke’s concept of instrumentality (1982) went beyond a collection of interpersonal skills, attributes and technical knowledge to encompass the use of self as an instrument in conducting interventions. This notion of instrumentality is akin to the emphasis of heightened self-awareness in a gestalt approach to organisation consulting.
Here, two key elements stand out.
- The notion of performing your intervention as a means to drive personal growth is an enticing endeavor.
- The integration of the Gestalt theory of cultivating self-awareness is integral in achieving the intervention. Otherwise, if you don’t see a need for personal change, why take the journey?
Given I am a Gestalt psychotherapy student, I practice self-awareness as the cornerstone of assessing personal behavior. However, anyone who embarks upon internal transformation is aware yes, humans do have the capability to be modified and reshaped. Still, it is essential to provoke the active self and the hardwired-ness unstuck. As we say in Gestalt, “it’s a process.”
How do we develop our instrumentality? Mee-Yan Cheung responds:
The answer lies in two concepts: owning and refining our instrumentality. Each of these ideas and their related practices is based upon a requisite perception of our self as a key asset requiring both proper management and investment. Owning our instrumentality relates to the development of our self-knowledge and expertise as consultants in the field. Refining our instrumentality implies regular maintenance work on self.
Now that we understand what self as an instrument means and how the integration of Gestalt theory supports the development of self-awareness, presence, and contact, it is time to delve into personal leadership work. We begin by discovering our current operational mode or “current way of being,” which informs how we want to construct our “new way of being,” utilizing the robust metaphor visualization process.
Personal Development Goals
Although there are other modules within the ICAgile Enterprise Coach program leading up to creating personal goals, let's begin here for the sake of time and simplicity. If you journal, meditate, and self-reflect, you may already be consciously aware of what you perceive to be your strengths, weaknesses, and belief systems.
In the fall and winter of 2019/2020, I paid a lot of attention to my behavior and reactive states within the agile corporate environment at the Royal Bank of Canada. Through journaling and self-awareness, I crafted the following personal development goals to work on:
- Regulate emotions at work, acknowledge who and what triggers me.
- Increase bodily awareness — especially in the trigger moments.
- Speak my truth and honor myself, regardless of the outcome.
- Have the ability to hold difficult conversations in a constructive, non-hurtful way with others.
- Focus on my breath when in conflict situations.
- Meditate to ensure the ability to remain grounded.
- Be spiritually connected in my professional life.
While my list is quite comprehensive, I acknowledge some personal development improvements are quick wins, and others may take a lifetime of practice. The process requires the ability to be patient and kind with the pace of progress. What helped me was the act of putting pen to paper to acknowledge lower maturity areas; some were more obvious than others. What became evident; the longer I observed my reactive behavior in action, I was able to define what about me — is holding me back more clearly!
The Power Of Metaphors In Personal Change
The use of metaphors is one of the most compelling ways to communicate a story — particularly an autobiographical rendering of an individual’s current way of being. The Framework Institute explains:
Metaphors are not only literary devices but also devices for thinking. They can put a picture in the mind where none existed before — and they can reshape and update our shared mental images. When we use them wisely in our change communications, we can amplify our impact.
What better way to tell the story of your personal development goals through the effective mechanism of metaphor?
Current Way Of Being Metaphor (C.W.O.B)
The purpose of the metaphor exercise is to visualize the image which best represents your current reactive state. Here, the goal is to incorporate self-development practices to address the gap between intent and their outcomes.
After sitting for some time observing myself in action, almost as if I was encountering an out-of-body experience, a picture of the Lone Wolf came to mind. My C.W.O.B has brought me to where I am today by serving a distinct purpose. As an only child, I grew up in an unstable environment, and my natural defense line was to “take charge” when parental structures were either non-existent or weak. I taught myself to be independent and to rely on one person — me.
The Limitations Of The Lone Wolf
Using the third person, I wrote the metaphor’s description:
The Lone Wolf faces obstacles by herself. She scales mountains only to meet more significant peaks ahead. She is a self-reliant person who lives on the edges of groups and, at times, feels a disconnection from others. The wolf is prone to spend excessive energy on her need to achieve. She tends to take a sole leadership role when the position is absent in the environment. This trait was formed in childhood and prevailed throughout adulthood; it is a form of survival in often volatile situations.
The next step in the leadership self as instrument assessment is to consider what behaviors you observed within yourself that you want to stop.
Here is my list:
- The belief system I am not enough without accomplishments.
- The belief I do not require the aid of others.
- Fill the void with endless activity.
- Fill the void with materialism.
- Wear a polished veneer despite cracks beneath the surface.
- Stop hiding in my uncomfortableness.
- Live in harsh judgment of myself.
- Unrealistic expectations on myself.
Again, recognizing how personal change takes time, old ingrained habits won’t simply fly off into the wind. However, continued self-awareness and self-observation must persist to course-correct and form new behaviors.
Once you understand and articulate your C.W.O.B, you may want to consider communicating your present way of being with a trustworthy peer; perhaps even an accountability partner. I was lucky to be a part of the Enterprise Program, where each individual underwent their path of self-discovery and shared insights with a group of like-minded people built inside a safe container.
New Way Of Being Metaphor (N.W.O.B)
With the current way of being established, the next step is to contemplate the new you's, the symbolic image, and aspiring attributes. Don’t rush or force the image. The picture will naturally fall into place when you hold the exercise lightly.
I love nature and, in particular, the fall season. One day, a flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, and I observed the formation's beautiful rhythmic line. Suddenly, the front goose became tired and fell back while another goose became the leader. There was no conflict, no ego, just pure collaboration in action. At that moment, my metaphor was born.
The Flock Of Geese Co-Creator
And from my moment in nature comes the new metaphor of the Flock of Geese Co-creator, again, written in the third person:
Each Canada Goose co-exists in an equal partnership. Within the V formation, the lead bird does not dictate to peers; instead, when the bird tires, it rotates back in the formation to take advantage of the other birds' lifting power in front. Leadership is shared. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest. Energy is conserved. Each goose flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. Through the process, the birds keep track of one another. Flying in formation improves communication and coordination within the group.
Can you imagine if humans behaved in the same manner as the Canada Geese?
Once again, the objective of crafting a list of new habits is to establish new behaviors and guidelines to live by.
- Be still and know I am enough at this moment.
- Establish a like-minded community of friends.
- Allow others to help me; provide freedom.
- Find comfort in meditation and silence.
- Be appreciative and grateful for what I have.
- Have confidence in knowing my voice matters.
- Live in fierce vulnerability.
- Communicate authentic feelings.
- Be kind to me.
- Understand everyone has their journey and does not operate at the same speed or frequency as I do.
When I printed out a copy of my C.W.O.B and N.W.O.B and placed it in front of my laptop every day, I remind myself where I came from, who I am today, and the direction I’m heading.
If we aspire to both the labels and the roles of helper, counselor, adviser, and supporter, using ourselves as key instruments, we must undertake a process of life-long discovery and of owning and refining our instrumentality — Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge
To develop the “self as instrument” mindset, we must embark on a self-awareness journey, one endorsed by Gestalt theory. When we combine the self as an instrument concept using metaphors to illustrate our current way of being and a new way of being, a powerful story illuminates how the inner transformation change unfolds right before our eyes. I hope my examples of the process inspire you to move forward on your path to becoming the leader you’ve always wanted to be and now dare to become.
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