Helena Clayton | Getting to know my jack-in-the-box


Getting to know my jack-in-the-box

07 Jul 2016, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog

‘Try as I might, I am unable to obscure, marginalise or shadow myself … like an annoying jack-in-the-box gone wrong, I do not disappear from sight, even momentarily’ .

This wonderful quote from Venitha Pillay is often with me as I coach,  facilitate and consult with clients.  No matter how focused on my client I am, there’s always part of me that’s trying to get my attention.  Maybe it’s the fact that this client triggers me somehow and I’m trying to work out who she reminds me of.  Or maybe it’s my body, giving me warning signs of fatigue or of low blood sugar.  Then again, maybe a mood that I can’t seem to shift today.

Always, the various parts of my self wave at me, never letting me forget that they are there. That annoying jack-in-the box.

So how does our self show up when we’re working?

As coaches, consultants and facilitators – and also as leaders – we have come to know that who we are matters as much as what we do.  That our tools and techniques are only as good as the mindset with which we use them.  That the way we show up in our work and to our clients is first filtered through the prism of our self.  After all,  we see the world not as it is but as who we are’.

It’s often the case that much of our awareness of our self is hidden from view, is often unconscious and beneath the surface.  Yet what goes on beneath the surface has a direct and indirect impact on what we notice and pay attention to, the sense we make of it and the interventions we choose to make with clients, the decisions we make as leaders.

So then, maybe the question becomes how can we develop greater awareness of what’s going on behind the scenes?  And in raising our awareness, how can we then develop a more conscious and intentional use of self so that it supports and strengthens our work with clients, our leadership presence.  It’s there all the time, after all, so how might it serve us?  Less appreciatively, how might my self be inhibiting me and my work – even getting in the way of me being more skilful  and effective?

As Warner Burke puts it, how could  the ‘use of oneself be an instrument of facilitation, feedback and change’?

At a recent workshop I ran for OD practitioners on ‘self as instrument’, these are some of the questions that they found useful to explore – through self reflection, discussion and activity, both serious and playful:

•  How has my personal social history shaped me to become the practitioner I am today?  Maybe in what my parents were like, for example, or my experiences of school.   How does what I learned then – and still carry with me today –  both enable and inhibit me in the way that I work to develop people or organisations?  How does this show up in my practice? How is the past still present?

•  What goes on for me at an intellectual and emotional level when I work?  What is the relationship with my Intellect, my thinking self … and my Emotions , my feeling self?  And what about the relationship between my Intellect and my Emotional Self?   Which one takes the lead and with what effect?  Which do I pay more attention to?  With what impact for my work?

 •  Our body is inextricably linked to all of the rest of us.  How does ‘the rest of me’ show up in my body? In what ways is my body able to provide me with valuable data with which to work with clients?  What of my history am I carrying in my body? How is our body a metaphor for who we are? And what somatic practices might I develop to embody the presence I want to have with clients?

 •  What are the aspects of my Self that I repress, hide or deny – and how might my practice be strengthened by bringing these into conscious awareness?  What do I project onto others that really belongs to me? And if I understand my own Shadow, how might this help me work with my clients’ shadow?

•  And then, of course, how do I develop my capacity to watch myself in the moment, to be aware of what’s arising in me as I work…so that I can make more conscious choices.

I know from exploring these questions myself that I’m much better able to pay attention to that waving self while also not letting it get in the way of what I’m doing.  I’m less hijacked and shamed by my shadow.  I’m more likely to let my childhood stuff find points of helpful connection with a client. I trust the wisdom of my body more.  I let myself feel and use that to help me work out what might be going for a client. And I have developed some helpful self talk to counter the strong voice of my intellect.  And my jack-in-the-box has become marginally less annoying.

What might exploring these sorts of questions offer you?

The term ‘self as an instrument for change’ originates in the work of Warner Burke who says ‘the OD consultant should be a finely tuned instrument and consider the degree of personal use of oneself as an instrument of facilitation, feedback and change.

And, if you’re interested in these sorts of questions and want to know more about self-as-instrument, please do drop me a line and I’ll be happy to share some books and other resources.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might fancy subscribing so you can get them regularly.  If so, you can do that here.  And please do share with anyone else you think might enjoy this post.


  • Stephen Burt

    Hi Helena – really enjoyed your. Open and thought-provoking. I’m intrigued by the tension in what shapes each of us – it gives us both our signature presence (and therefore our authentic self) and our filters, blinkers and baggage. We try to embrace the first and let go of the second. Tricky but what top coaches do?Stephen

    • Helena Clayton

      Hi Stephen, pleased you enjoyed the post. And yes, I hope that’s what good coaches do! I know that I feel a lot of responsibility to my clients and that doing the best job possible for them means making sure that I ‘work on my own stuff’. In 12-Step programmes they sometimes talk about ‘keeping your side of the street clean’ which always feels very good advice.


Post a comment

Leading from Love

Newsletter Sign Up

Thank you for your interest and I’d be delighted to share my thoughts, ramblings and rants with you each month and they include:

• Two blog pieces.

• A book recommendation or similar.

• Upcoming events, talks, podcasts and interviews.

• Invitations for you to participate in.

There is so much more that I’d like to tell you and will, so join me each month in Leading from Love. I’d love to share what I’m learning with you and hopefully spark curiosity, new thinking and new connections.

Helena x

And don’t worry, I hate spam too! You can unsubscribe at anytime and I never share details with 3rd parties.
By clicking Subscribe you agree to being contacted with the details you supply.