Moving from Independence to Interdependence


Every July, our country celebrates the important declaration of independence made by the 13 U.S. colonies from British rule in 1776. It was a crucial step in our country’s development, necessary for shaping our unique identity as a nation.

As I think about this formative event, it brings to mind the steps we take in developing as individuals. At some point in our lives, we all make a declaration of independence – from parents, teachers, stereotypes, expectations, or from previous ways of thinking. As with our burgeoning nation in 1776, a declaration of independence is crucial in defining who we are and what we stand for. By separating from what we’re not, we define what we really are.

From my perspective, the emphasis on independence has become a central theme of American life and culture. It’s often deeply embedded within how we see and understand the concepts of success, progress, leadership and heroism. We default to thinking that a leader is always up front and out front, or that the successful person has done it all by themselves, against all odds. And herein lies an issue, as independence has its limits.

Like any part of a broader developmental process, independence is only one step. It’s not a destination.   The American educator and businessman Steven Covey’s beloved book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” telegraphs the journey to effectiveness as moving from dependence, to independence, to interdependence.

Interdependence is a paradigm of we, not I. It’s about multiple people being mutually dependent on one another. Thus, it goes beyond the realm of the individual and speaks to the dynamics of team, organization, community and society. This is the world we live in. It is, by its nature, all about the interplay between individuals in community. You could even say that our ultimate survival is largely dependent on our ability to be interdependent – to solve problems and succeed at challenges much greater than we would be able to conquer alone.

In my opinion, becoming better at interdependence is even more crucial today than ever before. Massive changes – in technology, communications, and business – are creating new problems and opportunities unprecedented in scope and potential. These problems and opportunities will require even more of our best collective efforts.

Whether it’s within your family, business, team, or community, I invite you to lean into these characteristics of interdependence:

  • Do More than Hearing: There’s a difference between “hearing” and “listening.” True listening involves a real focus on what someone is saying, as opposed to dividing your attention between your own inner monologue and the other person. Taken even farther, listening becomes active when you internalize the deeper meaning and implications behind someone’s message, and when you ask clarifying questions from a genuine place of curiosity.
  • Be Open to What You DKDK: To enable new and collaborative thinking, you’ve got to take the blinders off and be open to what you’re not currently seeing – what you “Don’t Know You Don’t Know” (DKDK). Blindspots can be one of the biggest hindrances to a connected and interdependent team. If you find yourself thinking “I already know this,” or “I’ve tried that and it didn’t work,” it’s time to set aside your previous knowledge and experience in order to be open to what you could still learn.
  • Try On Other Shoes: In order to work in a synergistic and complementary way with others, you have to seek an understanding of their perspectives and unique abilities. This involves empathy – putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and feeling into their experience. By doing this, you get a sense of the wisdom behind their viewpoints, grasp how each person can authentically add value to the collective effort, and form deeper connections.
  • Be Vulnerable & Build Trust: These two concepts go hand and hand, and they represent the core enablers of interdependence. Being mutually dependent requires that people are vulnerable enough to allow others to control or co-own some aspect of their success. Individuals give up a piece of control over an outcome for the sake of what’s possible through group effort. This type of vulnerability has no chance of showing up without a foundation of trust, which is built through creating connections, finding commonalities, and showing a willingness to sacrifice for others.
  • Embrace Healthy Conflict: Being interdependent will inevitably lead to some amount of conflict. This is because we all have different perspectives and ideas about how things could be done or problems could be solved. As long as conflict revolves around tasks, concepts or processes, it’s a healthy part of group dynamics. It will ultimately produce better solutions, ones that incorporate more diversity of thought. However, if conflict becomes personal or territorial, that’s when it hurts effective interdependence, as it damages trust.
  • Create Solutions of Mutuality: Whether it’s compromise or a more beneficial win-win outcome, being interdependent relies on individuals to creatively brainstorm and devise joint solutions that can’t be thought of individually. Each person has to get out of the mindset of achieving only what they want, and understand what is motivating and valuable to another. With deeper understanding and recognition of where value exists for others involved, interdependent teams can come up with new and innovative solutions of mutual value.