colleagues ata window - a sense of self underpins relationships

A Sense of Self

Self-awareness and a clear idea of what matters to us is key to building working relationships, particularly in leadership roles

At any stage in a career, relationships are important to success and happiness in the workplace. In forging those relationships, we strive to understand the actions and reactions of others. Getting to know colleagues and finding out what makes them tick is indeed essential. But to be able to build relationships we must also look to ourselves.

Those who operate most successfully at work tend to be those who have a good sense of ‘self’. They have a clear idea of what is important to them, what feels right and what does not, and most importantly what their expectations are – of themselves and others.


This all provides what I refer to as ‘anchorage’ – the self-awareness that helps us to stay grounded and confident as we interact with those around us. Developing a sense of self takes some introspection, reflection and consideration of how our own values and beliefs can be aligned with our role at work. If we know our own mind – our goals, what is essential for us, what is unacceptable – it frees us to look at how best to work with others to achieve common goals or to negotiate optimal solutions.

Being anchored is important at any point in your career but is becoming essential for those in leadership positions.

Recent years have seen something of a shift in perceptions of leadership. In fact today power is something of a dirty word. CEOs and MDs – less keen to be seen as remote dictators – are coming out from behind the boardroom table. Those leading our organisations are now expected to inspire rather than dictate and to discuss rather than pronounce.

Awareness of Others

This development tends to expose those leaders with a less developed sense of self and often I see managers who are struggling with their role, not because they are not up to the task, but because they have never taken the time to work out what is important for themselves before turning their attention to those around them.

One of the most important skills at any stage of a career is being able to listen, which means being aware of both what is said and how it’s said. It makes a difference to relationship with colleagues and with other stakeholders, giving clues as to what is most important to them, which in turn may shape the way you respond.

Being aware of their values, beliefs, aspirations and expectations builds trust and confidence and encourages open communications. Once the relationships are established it becomes easier to find the best way to motivate and develop others. It becomes easier to avoid conflict and also opens up opportunities to identify and then use the disparate talents and approaches of those around you to achieve your own objectives and those of colleagues and the organisation.

Jo Ouston