Independence or Interdependence: Change and Career Success

David Ivers is from Sydney, Australia. He is a qualified Primary and Secondary School Teacher. In total, he has served on school leadership teams for 16 years in senior leadership roles.
 A friend has reminded me that “in 1776, most of the 55 members of the Continental Congress signed the parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence.” If my understanding of History is correct, the draft of this Declaration of Independence had been prepared by Thomas Jefferson (and amended by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams). With this document adopted by the Congress, the United States of America was born.

Often in the world of work and in organizations generally, people see themselves as independent agents to the person they sit next to or work with each day or even the person they work for. Sure, they may be doing different aspects of the tasks you do but if they are on the same team as you, then you cannot and should not operate as an island, independent of each other.

There are a number of reasons as to why this silo effect occurs but often it is to do with either: A) Proving your capacity to be successful at the set tasks, so as to be entrusted with more complex tasks and thus one day a promotion B) Time constraints. You simply don’t have the luxury of time to do it over again, so its best that you do it and then you know it has been done properly C) A combination of the first two!

Whilst this might yield success, at least in the short term, you are not building the capacity of others, nor are you building your own capacity to build capacity in others. In short, independence is wonderful but interdependence is the better and more likely way to operate and be successful. You see that in the military alliances that the United States has with Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (to name a few members of the British Commonwealth).

World trade today is so globalized that a downturn on one stock market can affect markets around the world. The same happens with the markets in foreign currency exchange. The silo effect is simply not how the world at large works and it is most unlikely that it is how your organization works, at least if it’s a healthy organization.

We need to move from independence to interdependence to really unleash our potential.
Learning to work with people from disparate fields of endeavor can yield amazing results. Writing in the New Yorker, Jonah Lehrer (October 7, 2011) describes how Steve Jobs launched the personal computing revolution known as the iPad.

According to the article Steve Jobs said:

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

Jonah Lehrer then analyses this statement, concluding:

Such platitudes are common in Silicon Valley, where executives routinely introduce shiny gadgets with lofty language. But what set all of Jobs’ companies apart, from Pixar to NeXT to Apple, was, indeed, an insistence that computer scientists must work together with artists and designers—that the best ideas emerge from the intersection of technology and the humanities.”

See Jonah Lehrer (October 7, 2011). Steve Jobs: Technology Alone Is Not Enough

This notion is also foundational in the thinking of Stephen Covey in his famous book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”*

According to Covey, we must move from Dependence to Independence via the first three habits of “Private Victory”. These habits move you to a greater awareness of what you can be and moreover what you can contribute. The first three habits that lead to “Private Victory” are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First

These lead to a sense of inner freedom and independence. However, to stay at this point is limiting. It is not independence that we seek in the modern workplace or even in family life, nor is it dependence. We need to move from independence to interdependence to really unleash our potential. The three habits that lead to interdependence are:

  1. Think Win / Win
  2. Seek First to Understand…Then to be Understood
  3. Synergise

(Note: The notion that the collective is greater in what it can achieve than the sum of its parts)

From this, we then move to the Seventh Habit: “Sharpen the Saw”, which is the habit of constant renewal, personal and professional. You wouldn’t go to a surgeon that is still using techniques from the 1950s when there are more modern techniques available. Renewal is at the heart of our life, personal and professional.

Covey puts it this way.

“The net effect of opening the “gate of change” to the first three habits – the habits of Private Victory – will be significantly increased self-confidence. You will come to know yourself in a deeper, more meaningful way – your nature, your deepest values and your unique contribution capacity. As you live your values, your sense of identity, integrity, control, and inner-directedness will infuse you with both exhilaration and peace…As you open yourself to the next three habits – the habits of Public Victory – you will discover and unleash both the desire and the resources to heal and rebuild important relationships that have deteriorated, or even broken. Good relationships will improve – become deeper, more solid, more creative and more adventuresome. The seventh habit, if deeply internalized, will renew the first six and will make you truly independent and capable of effective interdependence.”

*Covey, S.R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. London, United Kingdom: Simon and Schuster. See pages 53 and 61

If Stephen Covey and Steve Jobs are both right in their thinking, this has massive implications for how we traditionally see work. Whilst working with some degree of autonomy is often the hallmark of a professional, it is nonetheless inevitable that we will be required, increasingly so, to work with others, some of whom come from very different fields of endeavor.

The other point of impact is where autonomy and accountability meet. From a Governance point of view, transparency of processes and lines of accountability are critical.

It also has the ability to make us rethink our notions of Leadership. The ‘Control and Command’ model often found in the military, have a very defined purpose. More creative and collegial models of decision making and leadership are perhaps still needed, even as we edge toward the end of the first quarter of the Twenty-First Century. There will no doubt be jobs created that do not exist today, possibly even leadership roles that do not exist yet. As these unfold, we need to understand how to be adaptable, especially in the face of change. A person who is sure of themselves because of a rich and vibrant ‘inner-life’ is more than likely going to be comfortable with change when it happens. Why? Simply, they are already comfortable with who they are and see their mission, at least in part, of empowering others to be the force and genius that they are also meant to be. To do that, of course, means focusing on the three Rs of Career Success: Relationship, Relationship, Relationship.

To return to the start of this article, the War of Independence in the United States of America was not won by a bunch of people acting in silos. It was won by a collective of like-minded people, working together, in a cohesive manner (think of the Boston Minutemen) to protect the right to free speech and association and the right to self-determination.  It should not be a surprise, that this notion of interdependence is captured in the Declaration of Independence and is perhaps a touchstone for working life in the twenty-first century.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

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