Dependence, Independence, Interdependence

When it comes to leadership, which is best?

Interdependence and its cousins, dependence and independence, are often misunderstood in the workplace. Let’s take a look at the differences.

Arrow labeled dependence.

What is Dependence?  According to Google, the definition of dependence is “the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else.” It is actually needing someone or something else to survive, to think, or to take action. As an infant, dependence on another is how we survive; however, as we mature, our goal is not to stay dependent on others. Unhealthy dependence shows up in the workplace as fear, insecurity, unhealthy relationships, feeling overwhelmed, blaming others, making excuses, and ultimately team breakdown. A dependent person functions from the mindset of “I need you.”

Arrow labeled Independence

What is Independence?  According to Google, the definition of independence is “the freedom from outside control or support.” Independent people are typically very self-driven and self-motivated. How do you tell if someone is independent? Some typical behaviors are:

  • Taking all the blame and all the credit! 
  • Tending to be isolated, and not accepting of others’ ideas. 
  • Not functioning well in teams, which limits their effectiveness. 
  • Seemingly unapproachable and unwelcoming of interruption.
  • Often overwhelmed because they don’t ask for help.

An independent person functions from the mindset of “I am responsible for myself.”

Arrow labeled interdependence

What is Interdependence?  According to Google, the definition of interdependence is “the dependence of two or more people or things on each other; mutually reliant on each other.” This is a broader mindset – it comes from a place of Win-Win! This is where collaboration takes place, and teams can course correct because of the increased communication and ownership thinking mindset. An organization or team that is interdependent is high functioning, because there is a high level of trust and accountability. This is where leadership at all levels occurs. 

The Leadership Growth Process to Interdependence

Growth to interdependence flow arrow.

The goal of leaders is to move their direct reports from wherever that individual may be (dependent or independent) to interdependence.

Stephen Covey quote already in text.

Guiding someone from wherever they are to interdependence occurs through a process of natural growth. Stephen Covey says, “Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.”

Creating an interdependent team takes great leadership skills that include:

360 Degree Listening

A leader utilizing 360-degree listening focuses not only on what is being said, but how it is being said and what is not being said.

Powerful Communication:

A leader with powerful communication skills can motivate their team members with positive acknowledgment. They know how to have crucial conversations with care and clarity to hold staff members accountable to the expectations of their position and the culture. 

Emotional Intelligence:

A leader with high emotional intelligence can recognize and understand their own emotions. They are skilled at using this awareness to manage themselves and their relationships with others successfully. 

Professional Development:

A leader who values professional development is not only a lifelong continuous learner themselves, they also truly care for the welfare of their people and create a healthy culture of learning for their staff members. 

Interdependence in the Workplace

Dalai Lama quote in text

Creating an Interdependent Culture is not easy and does not occur overnight. The interdependent mindset takes consistent coaching and training for staff members and an attention to a mindset of accountability and connectedness among all team members. 

The Dalai Lama says, “Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature.  Even tiny insects survive by cooperating with each other.  Our own survival is so dependent on the help of others, that a need for love lies at the very core of our existence.  This is why we need to cultivate a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.” 

Leadership Challenge Question:

How do you define these different “ways of being” as a leader?  Where and how do they show up in your workplace?  How can you inspire your team members to create an Interdependent Culture?    What would that look like – how can you define/describe an Interdependent Culture?

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