How to grow your instrumentality

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Our 'self' is a key asset requiring proper discovery, management and investment

In part one of this series we talked about the deliberate and intentional deployment of self to create the impact the system requires. But how do we grow that sense of instrumentality? The following simple framework from Gestalt will give us this perspective.

Is self a structure or a process? Gestalt theory views a person’s sense of self as both – with boundary and yet continuously evolving rather than staying rigid and pre-determined by their past narrative. When the 'self' interacts with others we are being affected as well as affecting others. Our environment (with its norms, rituals and practices) not only shapes ours and others’ behaviour but also gives us a yardstick to calibrate whether our 'self' is doing OK or not as we compare ourselves with others.

Cooley (1983) described this dynamic phenomenon as the 'looking-glass self' – self through the lenses of others. On top of that our social roles and how strongly we identify with those, together with the reaction others have towards us, gives us data for our sense of worth, esteem and image of ourselves. It is in this arena of constant interaction between self, others and the environment that our instrumentality matters as HR professionals.

During a work week the things we do may include some of the following: spending time helping people to get on better, supporting leaders to lead with clarity, encouraging collaboration at all levels, dealing with disputes, trouble-shooting tricky situations, and encouraging people to do their best for the organisation. In all those situations HR and OD practitioners are instrumental in shifting behavioural patterns, to serve as a glueing agent, and provide growth points for others.

To use ourselves with impact Carl Rogers (1958) suggests five key characteristics:

Congruence – helpers are open in their attitudes and feelings.

Empathy – possessing an understanding of people and communicating that to others.

Positive regards – a warm positive acceptance of the system. It respects the other and is not demanding.

Unconditional positive regards – total acceptance without reservation, evaluation or judgement.

Genuineness – the helpers are perceived as genuine, real and sensitive to others.

So how do we attain these and other characteristics to sharpen our instrumentality?

This notion of instrumentality is akin to an emphasis on heightened self-awareness of how we show up at work, what facilitates and derails our effectiveness, and what impact we have on others and vice versa. This level of awareness requires us to do two things: own and refine who we are.

In practice, owning our self means devoting time and energy to learning about who we are – how family history, significant events, romantic partners, our gender, race and sexuality affect the image we hold of ourselves and our self-worth. It also means exploring the values by which we live our lives, discovering our 'positive core' and using it to achieve our dreams.

In practice refining our instrumentality means dedicating time to the ongoing maintenance of both self-knowledge and our professional expertise – always finding ways to develop our intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacity.

The following is a partial list of activities we can try:

  • Build emotional and intuitive self-awareness. Through reflective practices (with help from third parties) we get to know our fears, blind spots and emotional habits, particularly in managing anxiety.
  • Work through unresolved issues in our lives. This requires us to be able to name what these issues are. This can be done by observing our own default reaction towards certain situations, or when we have a disproportionate reaction to events and people. By being willing to revisit the past we can unleash the power of these issues, which tend to stick to us stubbornly.
  • Develop lifelong learning habits. Do whatever activities will expand our knowledge of the field, get deeper into our understanding of applied behaviour science, learn to be a confident intervenor. This may require you to take responsible risk to stretch your professional proficiency.
  • Commit to a self-care package. Our job requires regular refuelling, recharging and reflection. So organise your calendar to ensure your emotional and relational energy is being sustained.

The above is not an exhaustive list, but something to start with. I believe that none of us can ever achieve perfect instrumentality. But by taking the journey we affirm that our self is a key asset requiring proper discovery, management and investment.

Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge is founder of Quality and Equality, author of several books on OD, a senior visiting fellow of Roffey Park Institute in the UK and at the Singapore Civil Service College, a distinguished-scholar-practitioner guest faculty at St Thomas University in the US, and ranks second on HR magazine's Most Influential Thinker's list 2019

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