How important is character and purpose to driving results?

Dr. David Jamieson
Fellow since December 2020

Dr. Jamieson is President of the Jamieson Consulting Group, Inc. (providing consultation, leader coaching & speaking), an Executive Fellow, and retired Professor, Organization Development & Change at the University of St. Thomas. He is also a Distinguished Visiting Scholar in three other graduate OD programs. He has over 50 years of experience consulting to organizations on leadership, change, strategy, design, and human resource issues. He is a Past National President of the American Society for Training and Development (now ATD) and Past Chair of the Management Consultation Division and Practice Theme Committee of the Academy of Management (AOM).

He has been honored with The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organization Development Network (ODN), Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Career Achievement Award from AOM, Distinguished OD Educator from the OD & Change Division of the AOM, Sharing OD Knowledge Award from the ODN, a past-Chair of the Organization Development Education Association and will deliver the 51st Annual Lecture at Benedictine University in Spring 2021 on Use of Self for Leaders & Change Agents.

He received his Ph.D. in Management from UCLA, majoring in Organization Design & Development and a BS in Business Administration from Drexel University, with a Behavioral Science minor.

Dave is co-author of Managing Workforce 2000: Gaining the Diversity Advantage (Jossey-Bass, 1991), co-author of The Facilitator’s Fieldbook, 1st, 2nd, 3rd Edition (AMACOM, 2012), co-author of Consultation for Organizational Change (IAP, 2010), Consultation for Organizational Change, Revisited (IAP, 2016), co-author of Handbook for Strategic HR: Best Practices in Organization Development from the OD Network (AMACOM, 2012) and co-author of Enacting Values-Based Change: Organization Development in Action (2018). He has also published 17 chapters and dozens of articles in journals and newsletters. His current writing includes a practitioner book on Use of Self and a new book on Strategic Organization Design.

He recently became Editor, OD Review and Assoc. Editor, Journal of Management Inquiry and serves on 2 other editorial review boards: Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences and Journal of Organization Change Management.

Use of Self in Leadership: A Core Element in Driving Effectiveness with Character, Purpose, Behavior and Presence

The Use of Self

Use of Self has been passed down for decades within the organization development field (Luft and Ingham, 1955; Goffman, 1959; Culbert, 1967; Nevis, 1987; Shapiro, 1976; Cheung-Judge, 2001; Seashore, Shawver, Thompson, and Mattare, 2004; Tannenbaum and Eisen, 2005, Jamieson, Auron, and Shechtman, 2010, Jamieson and Davidson, 2019) and utilized in nursing, social work, counseling psychology, facilitation and other helping roles (Smith, 1990; Baldwin, 2000; Freshwater, 2002; Arnd-Cadigan and Pozzuto; 2008). However, little has been studied about UOS within the context of leadership. In my years of practice, I have used many aspects of UoS with leaders in coaching, advising on change endeavors and developing their cognitive, emotional and action capabilities.

Jamieson, Auron, and Shechtman (2010) defined UoS as “the conscious use of one’s whole being in the intentional execution of one’s role for effectiveness in whatever the situation is presenting,” (p. 5). Use of Self is the core element in how effective we are in successfully executing in alignment with our intentions/purpose. It is built on our awareness of who we are (character, values, shadows); clarity of our intentions; consciousness to the situation (presence, mindfulness), our choices and managing ourselves purposefully. Use of Self is a lifelong journey which requires constant practice, experimentation, reflection and feedback (Jamieson, Auron, and Shechtman, 2010).

Jamieson, Auron, and Shechtman (2010) developed a UoS framework to better understand the concept through the establishment of three competencies (seeing, knowing, doing), and three levels of effectiveness (functionality, efficacy, mastery) for each competency. The competency of “seeing” requires an individual to be aware of their surroundings and take in as much as possible by utilizing their six senses, without being too hindered by personal filters or blind spots. By organizing information and drawing inferences from the data, the individual is demonstrating “knowing”, or making sense of what’s presenting. Finally, the competency “doing” involves an individual’s capability to identify and execute a full range of actions available and make choices that will be of the greatest benefit to those involved, being served, or helped. Leaders should seek to master their presence, fully integrating what they see, know and do into their being and managing what they do, to positively impact their team’s level of engagement and commitment; and create a climate of well-being at work, which has a research-based, positive ripple effect for the organization and those it serves.

An extensive literature from anthropology, sociology, social psychology, psychotherapy, psychology, organization development, social work, includes a myriad of descriptions and concepts related to the self, the impact of self, and the Use of Self.  Its origins derive from both the field and theories of Gestalt psychology and Gestalt therapy. Both fields emerged from the 1800s as an effort to put psychology on the map of investigative science. This together with a well-intended departure by a group of philosophers, psychoanalysts, and scientists from the 19th century medical view of psychoanalysis, of which Freud was the main proponent, gave birth to most of the central tenants behind the formulation of the UoS concept. There are different spins on the role of the self, the evolution of the self, and how self can be supported to shift direction and self-regulate to fulfil its own effective functioning (see Cheung-Judge (2019) for extensive review). In the disciplines like OD, psychotherapy, coaching, and social work, the emphasis has been more focused in how the professional helpers can use themselves effectively to influence changes among those with whom they work.

Understanding self is at the core of UoS and means increasing one’s self-awareness, paying attention to the whole self, including one’s presenting personas, as well as ,their hidden, shadow sides (Jung and Storr, 1983). All of who we are, including how we are shaped by our experiences, conscious and unconscious beliefs and values drive our behavior and how we embody our Self (Strozzi-Heckler, 2014). This heightened self-understanding increases our awareness and recognition of our many choices in decision-making which allows us to effectively manage our behavior in day-to-day situations. As Strozzi-Heckler (2014) states, “choice follows awareness”; “the more aware we are the more choice we have”; “cultivating our awareness is the cornerstone for an awakened, robust life”. Focusing on developing self-awareness has become a critical leadership practice as perceptions are formed based on behaviors experienced by others, which may not always align with our intentions. Though without reflection and feedback it may be impossible to enhance one’s self-awareness (Luft and Ingham, 1955). Additionally, assessments, grounded feedback from others and coaching can provide a mirror. Non-judgmental observations and reflective questions are also critical in developing UoS because it takes two to see one!

As such, UoS also involves being mindful of how we show up, are perceived and behave in alignment with desired intentions. This includes enhancing our understanding of 1) what a situation is presenting to us (with minimal bias and filters); 2) clarity of our intentions/purpose; 3) consideration of available choices; and, 4) taking aligned action (self-managing behavior) with our intention. Each of these considerations requires choices and actions of UoS.

Use of Self in Leading

When leaders show up to work it is important that they bring out their best selves and bring out the best in those they lead to engage with customers, peers, team members and leaders. Every situation is another opportunity to act in alignment with our best selves. While technical, business acumen and professional experience are foundational to create sustainable, positive impact, UoS in leadership involves seeing more options, knowing one’s intentions and acting in alignment with them, with the understanding that the only person we can control is ourselves!

Today’s leaders can influence or alienate, attract people or repel them, evoke motivation or shut down energy and commitment of followers. UoS is grounded in the leadership literature that posits who leaders are, is how they lead. Who leaders are involves a continuum of characteristics, identities and values. How leaders optimize their own and their team’s strengths, balance their less developed areas and cultivate their level of resilience, impacts their leadership and team effectiveness. While leaders often become leaders by training extensively for knowledge and skills, or through experience in functional or technical roles, there remains a missing link (UoS) in why there are so many ineffective, reactive and toxic organizational leaders. Mastery of UoS can improve their awareness and execution to see more, know their own and other’s intentions and act in alignment with their values and purpose for sustainable positive outcomes and effective leadership.

Leaders need to be able to trust their own inner resources, making discerning judgment in the “here and now” moments, staying choiceful in deciding how to show up and behave, and what actions may work better in a particular context to achieve desired outcomes. This calls for a level of integration of who we are and what we have within–pulling ourselves together as a developed instrument in serving others.

Many of the ‘behaviors’ associated with various factors in different leadership competency models illustrate direct connections to the behaviors we discuss in UoS. For example, the Authentic Leadership theory explicitly calls out “self-awareness” as one of four key variables (George, 2003; Luthans and Avolio, 2003). Transformational Leadership (Bass, 1985; Bennis and Nanus, 1985; Kouzes and Posner, 2002) includes idealized influence (charisma), inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration to connect with followers and help actualize their development through listening, empathizing, caring and building trust. These actions take self-management, presence and intention.

Research Questions and Design

An earlier small sample pilot study suggested that leaders who exhibit strong UoS behaviors are more likely to have highly engaged, highly committed, and high-thriving workplace teams (Jamieson, Geiger, Zweig-Daly, 2018-working paper). Leaders from a Best Place to Work organization, with high outcome scores for their teams, were asked a series of questions focused on what they do, how they manage themselves and create good work climates. The qualitative results showed promise for further research on the topic. Categories and scores were created from the answers on UoS questions and correlated with their team outcomes metrics. The highest UoS leaders also had the highest outcome scores!

The 4 themes created from these leaders were: 1) Self-Understanding; 2) Intentional Leader Presence; 3) Mindful Decisions and Actions; 4) Reflective Practice for Learning. Additionally, we completed a major large sample global study of the UoS concepts and practices which produced many similar themes from the qualitative data and 5 factors from the extensive quantative data (Cheung-Judge and Jamieson, 2020). The factors clarify UoS from the perspective of the person engaging in the work (of change or leadership):

  • Using Cognitive and Emotional Skills with Courage to Serve Dynamic Systems
  • Attention to Relationship – Centric Values & Behaviors
  • Self-Management in Emerging Situations
  • Continuous Development of Self & Other Awareness
  • Experiences of Best UoS Impact

An Opportunity for the Next Study

With current understanding, the next stage of research can bring clarity to how leaders use themselves in leading, how this is interpreted and described, and insights for their development. We need to know how leaders interpret, think about, and use UoS concepts and practices in being a better leader? We also need to know more about how to measure, in leadership language, how leaders use themselves across the many tasks and situation-types leading entails?

For example, the survey used in the global research needs to be updated following the factor analysis and the language could be made more generic across populations? This could move quantative research forward. Additionally, the richness of qualitative data is still important in fleshing out how these concepts and practices show up and impact outcomes. The lived experiences of a larger number of leaders would help with this. Finally, we have good starts in mixed methods approaches and we can combine them in the next study, bringing UoS factor scoring together with more qualitative understanding of how some leader practices differentiate leaders UoS, as a variable in their effectiveness?


In this next study, I see this exploration as a pilot with a new population to strengthen the methodologies and gain insight into similarities and differences with this population and the previous one.

In this research, my guiding questions would be:

  • How do leaders use the core factors of UOS in their practice?
  • In what ways do they excel in using themselves?
  • In what ways are they challenged in using themselves?
  • How could leader development be enhanced with UoS?

Creating the instruments

First, re-designing the survey used in the 2018 global survey with less items and a review of language for applicability with broader populations. Second, a refreshed set of open-ended items in the survey and updated interview questions to go into more depth, with a sample of leaders.


A good sample with access to leaders across a wider array of organization-types would build credibility and help to bring some new thinking into leader development and effectiveness. We will use a targeted, representative, convenience sample of at least 100 leaders. This would provide an adequate sample for validity. I have a few colleagues (locally and globally) that I have worked with before, who can access leaders to help build this sample.

I would plan on partnering with a former student and co-researcher on UoS, Dr. Nicole Zweig-Daly, who is now Executive Director, Center for Ethics in Practice & Adjunct Professor, Ethics & Business Law Department at University of St Thomas. And we should have some support for research through the University (Qualtrics, statistical support, zoom, etc.).


This study will be set up with all participants taking the UoS for Leaders new survey instrument with some demographic categories collected to allow for sub populations being analyzed. However, I wish to capture data in this study as a group of leaders, in general. This means that the factor scoring, and other analysis will be most relevant across the whole sample, while there may be some differences by gender or type of industry. This data will result in descriptive statistics, factor scores and qualitatively analyzed, themed results from open-ended questions in survey.

A smaller sample, around 20, would be selected from volunteers, who note on their survey their willingness to be interviewed. These leaders would have one of our trained interviewers collect data from them that delves into what they do, how they do regular leader tasks, and what they feel personally challenges them.  This data will be qualitatively analyzed and themed. These could be in-person or thru zoom. A structured set of questions would be the basis of each interview with any additional data resulting from emerging topics or follow up questions.

Further analysis will explore any relationships across the quantitative and qualitative results.

Practical Applications

This area has been developing a long time for me and others around the world. I believe with more research and developing some credible spokespersons and partners in some organizations, we can:

  • Raise the usefulness and practicality of self-awareness in leadership discussions to something with more practical actions and outcomes
  • Provide various modules (and even integrated themes) on UoS to be used within leadership development, high-potential development and succession planning processes
  • Create frameworks to be used in leader/executive coaching which would bring “self” more centrally into how we help leaders grow, effect change and use their responsibility to create thriving, effective workplaces
  • Integrate more of the value derived from years of Organization Development learning about individual and systems change, social systems at work and ethical practices into the technical and skill-based work of leaders, by developing/building the whole self into the role

Because leaders have such significant impacts on people and organization results, any improvements in how they do their work, producing more engaged people and better financial and other outputs, will be of value across our whole society.


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