In his timeless classic, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey introduces a model called the Maturity Continuum. The model describes the three Habits necessary to achieve what Covey calls the Private Victory, which is the shift from dependence to independence, and three Habits which comprise the Public Victory, which is the elevation of a person beyond independence into interdependence.
This is just one of the many groundbreaking concepts found in Dr. Covey’s book, which, I should say, is one of my most highly recommended books for anyone serious about laying a strong foundation for successful personal or professional leadership development. Although Dr. Covey’s teachings represent a wealth of wisdom for anyone interested in improving their effectiveness, at work and at home, I would like to highlight and explore one idea in particular: the distinction and relationship between independence and interdependence.
The simple, yet profound, notion that one must first achieve independence before he/she can become truly interdependent has far-reaching implications in just about every aspect of one’s life. Whether one accepts or rejects this truth, it profoundly influences how effective one can be at leading on both a personal or professional level.
The most basic example of the progressive nature of moving from dependence to independence and eventually to interdependence is the process of a baby growing up to become an adult. At the early stages of life, we are all completely dependent on others to care for us and meet our most basic needs. As adolescents, we strive to become independent and to take care of ourselves. Eventually, at some point in adulthood, we realize that we need others and they need us – that we are interdependent beings – and that the world does not work unless we all take care of each other. Ideally, we use our initial insight into our interdependent nature to cultivate a deeper understanding of, appreciation for, and engagement with our fellow humans, but this is by no means the automatic, default outcome.
The same is true when we start our careers and find ourselves dependent on others “showing us the ropes” and teaching us what we need to know. At some point, after relying on the graciousness of our mentors, we learn and experience enough to become self-sufficient and productive on our own. As we continue to mature professionally, we begin to establish mutually beneficial and supportive relationships with others, and synergize with them to create outcomes greater than the sum of what each of us could accomplish on our own.
In both of these examples we can see the truth of the relationship between independence and interdependence. Namely, that while achieving independence represents a necessary stage of growth and progress when compared to dependence, this achievement is merely a stepping stone toward integrating oneself into a more complete and more effective state of being: interdependence.
Transformative Leaders embody this spirit of interdependence. They acquire the skills and develop the habits and characteristics necessary to achieve the Private Victory and secure their independence, thus actualizing the meaning of the phrase, “I am The One.” However, also striving to embody the idea behind, “And it’s not about me,” Transformative Leaders achieve none of this merely for their own satisfaction. Rather, they understand that to be of the greatest contribution to others, one cannot be at the mercy of others; that it is only by achieving the Private Victory that it becomes possible to pursue the Public Victory, to the ultimate benefit of their organizations and communities. Recognizing the power of synergy, wherein the whole is worth far more than the sum of its parts, they embrace the fact that, in order to create a transformation, they need others and others need them. Seeing that the value of their independence is that it allows them to be depended upon—to collaborate with others and do together that which no one can do alone—Transformative Leaders go beyond independence to victoriously embrace interdependence.
The Journey to Independence:
Transformative Leaders realize that they must first transform themselves in order to effectively cause a transformation in the results and fulfillment of those in their organizations. Covey’s first three Habits are all about recognizing that we are the programmers of our lives—whether we acknowledge this or not—and about taking responsibility for the way each of our individual programs are written and executed. Without this realization and the concomitant intentionality to achieve the Private Victory, we will remain forever dependent on others to determine how successful or fulfilled we are, regardless of our complaints or objections to the contrary. This not only has implications on our ability to lead, but it also affects how well we are able to follow those who are willing to accept the responsibility to lead.
The necessary leadership characteristics to achieve the Private Victory are listed below:
- Personal accountability – The willingness and propensity to accept responsibility for the current circumstances without looking to place blame on someone else, and the accountability to change those things about our circumstances that we consider to be unacceptable rather than waiting for someone else to do it for us.
- Vision/dream – Having a vision of a future that inspires us and naturally guides our steps in the direction of creating that designed future, rather than going with the flow toward the default future that we feel is inevitable.
- Strategic planning – Using the best knowledge about the journey available to us at the time to develop, execute, and revise as necessary, a plan to create the desired future, rather than getting bogged down with things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
The following elements aid us in developing these characteristics:
- Self-awareness – The journey to independence must start with an understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses and where we might be sabotaging our own progress, rather than constantly focusing on external factors to explain why things are not working out. You will never be able to govern
- The courage to make bold declarations – Without practicing our ability and expanding our willingness to make bold moves, independence cannot be achieved. The tendency to avoid breakdowns and failure at all cost is what keeps us from ever achieving breakthroughs, personally or professionally. We will remain dependent on those who are bold enough to face breakdowns until we become bold enough to do the same.
- The competence to plan and execute – Developing the basic level of competence and consistency as an individual contributor in the area in which we wish to become independent is essential. One cannot become independent if one cannot depend on oneself.
- 100% commitment to stay the course - One's ability to remain committed regardless of other people's level of commitment is a critical element of not only becoming an effective leader, but also being a strong individual contributor. If one’s level of commitment is tied to that of others, then one remains dependently and conditionally committed, and the chain of commitment is only as strong as its weakest link.
The Journey to Interdependence:
While independence is a necessary step in fully expressing one’s leadership abilities, it makes for a terrible resting place as it breeds arrogance and mediocrity. At best, independent people who choose not to progress to the next level of maturity will be valuable individual contributors, and at worst, they will contribute to the counterproductive creation and maintenance of silos that prevent effective collaboration. In either case, however, independent leaders will never live up their full potential and will never be able to successfully cause transformation in their organizations. Transformative Leaders embrace the sentiment of the next three Habits, namely that they must synergize with others to create win-win solutions and outcomes. They seek to understand others and endeavor to create opportunities that yield extraordinary results and fulfillment for all stakeholders.
The necessary leadership characteristics to achieve the Public Victory are listed below:
- Abundance mentality – The realization that success and fulfillment is not a zero-sum game and that partnering with others and supporting them results in the kind of results that would not be possible from everyone operating as independent entities.
- Empathy and understanding – The recognition that all effective partnerships and relationships must start with a genuine desire to listen and understand the other person’s situation and points of view.
- A servant’s heart – The propensity to discover and meet the needs of other team members and peers, genuinely based on the desire to serve, not with the expectation to get something in return.
The following elements aid us in developing these characteristics:
- Listening mindset – The willingness to “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” and the practice of getting into the other person’s world and seeing the world through their eyes.
- Emotional intelligence – The skill of understanding and accepting one’s emotions, putting them to work wisely for one’s own benefit and the benefit of others, while simultaneously not being enslaved or beholden to them when they are not helpful. This also involves awareness of one’s emotional impact on others, and the ability to adjust one’s communication style and approach to various situations as necessary, so that a win-win solution is produced.
- Humility – The acknowledgment that your independence is not independent, that it does not come from you; it comes solely from those upon whom you depended in the past. The realization that whatever you have achieved was ultimately made possible by others—including your very ability to achieve—who selflessly used their independence to help you gain yours. This also includes the recognition that whatever transformation you hope to achieve in the future will only be possible through collaboration and synergy with others.
The Bottom Line:
Transformative Leaders must have the tenacity to lead, as they were once led, and the humility to serve, as they were once served. Dr. Covey’s first three Habits comprise the Private Victory represented by, “I am the One,” and signal the necessary movement from dependence to independence. Dr. Covey’s next three Habits comprise the Public Victory represented by, “And it’s not about me,” and describe the movement beyond independence into interdependence. Achieving independence is more or less automatic, but achieving interdependence requires intentionality and insight, courage and humility; independence may produce change, but only interdependence can give birth to transformation. Transformative Leaders make transformation possible through embracing, cultivating, and deepening the spirit of interdependence. They do so by remembering that, just as their independence comes from having depended on others, others now depend on their independence to help them do together what none of them can do alone: cause a transformation. Transformative Leaders understand that there are no self-made leaders, only those who think they are and those who know they aren’t; they know that no one becomes a leader without having been led, and no one is a leader without others who choose to be led by them.
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