We recently celebrated our Nation’s independence last week on the 4th of July. It was a glorious celebration that should remind even the unpatriotic of how fortunate we are to enjoy the freedoms that we do. I took the opportunity to re-read the document that was ratified on the same date 248 years ago, the Declaration of Independence. Clearly, it is masterfully written and we do know that it was collaboratively penned by several passionate leaders from the 13 colonies. Though not explicitly stated, it’s difficult not to see that the signatories had four primary purposes in writing the document:

  1. Communicate Congress’ position on the purpose of human government
  2. Explain to reluctant colonists that loyalty to Britain was a lost cause
  3. Legitimize their actions by listing the colonists’ grievances against King George III
  4. Encourage foreign nations to help them

History tells us that all four of these intentions were realized, though the specific contribution toward those ends of this particular document is not clear. Being a fan of well-articulated visions and seeing great power in the same, I personally believe that the declaration inspired a great deal of action and contributed greatly to the cause. That said, I have seen beautiful words ring hollow as leaders failed to personally and visibly commit to the cause they carefully crafted in words.

Another read gave me the reason to wonder if the document might have been more aptly named the “Declaration of Interdependence.” No, I’m not channeling Karl Marx, but there is clearly a little Stephen Covey in my logic, as his Seven Habits book has influenced me a great deal. Amongst many lessons in that book, he describes the process if maturing as an evolution from dependence to independence to interdependence. At this stage in our history, we had already outgrown our dependence. We were simultaneously declaring our independence from England AND our interdependence on our teammates from the 13 colonies. I believe that the latter is overlooked by many, not only in this instance but also in the maturation process as a whole. We view independence as strength and interdependence as a path toward dependence.

No matter the context, we all start out (as humans, organizations, nations) completely dependent on another to take care of us. We are weak…we are powerless. As we mature, we do so with the goal of being independent, not needing anyone else to provide us with the means to survive. The problem is that most stop there (if we are fortunate enough to mature to that level). Covey teaches that “the greatest human achievements come from people working at the third level, interdependence. This is when people work together to achieve a common goal, and is the level of maturity of many people in a mature society or organization. This is how mankind has achieved things together that no single person could do alone. Interdependence is the state of human development of greatest maturity and power.”

In America, we pride ourselves in celebrating strength, independence, and sovereignty. As I drive by large houses with well-manicured yards on my way to the public park, I am reminded of how important “having mine” is to so many. As I see organizations celebrate the accomplishments within their team and the self-sufficiency they “enjoy”, I am reminded of the many missed opportunities that result from an unwillingness to create interdependencies.

I most certainly celebrated my and our independence last week (and do so most days), but I also celebrated the interdependencies I enjoy in my personal and professional life. I work hard to ensure I can depend on another and I work equally hard to give others reason to see value in an interdependent relationship with me, my family, and my work team.

I think it’s time that more of us are willing to make a Declaration of Interdependence!

  • On whom do you depend?
  • Who depends on you?
  • Is your objective really self-sufficient independence or is that a milestone on your path to a life of interdependence?