We live in a world designed for interdependence, yet most of us, at least in the US have been impressed with the idea that independence is something to strive for as proving our strength, our competence and grit. If we look to nature for inspiration on what naturally works and allows the most of us to thrive, we see examples everywhere of interdependence:
- We require oxygen to breathe, and we give off carbon dioxide while plants produce an oxygen-rich environment and take in carbon dioxide. We require each other to thrive.
- Blossoming plants produce pollen, which bees use to make honey, and as they gather the pollen, they provide pollination thus perpetuating the life of the plant.
- In our own emotional realm, we depend on each other to love and be loved, to share our experiences. This is so built in to our makeup that we experience love most when we give it to someone else.
In exploring the idea of interdependence, it is evident that this is the state which allows each of us to own our strengths – and yet be OK with the areas where we are not strong, seeing those as a place to invite collaboration. None of us is good at everything for a reason…so that we may work/play together, knowing that we only have to show up and do what we do best. This is easy to imagine for a sports team, where one person is an excellent shooter, one has speed and one is a great guard, and one holds the bigger view of where everyone is and leads.
Yet many of the people I’ve worked with over the years have thought that to be “entrepreneurial” meant they had to be good at all of it and became overwhelmed and exhausted trying to be equally good at all their tasks. Some have burned out trying to improve in areas that hold no interest or energy for them, but would make them “well rounded.”
When we own our strengths—and know which areas energize us most and we collaborate with others to use their differing strengths to cover those areas we aren’t energized by or skilled at, everyone wins. You get to do what you do best and I get to do what I do best and we all benefit from that kind of synergy, mastery and work/life balance.
Imagine a diamond with interdependence* at the top – this is what we strive for in our environment, in our families, in relationships of all kinds and in our work. The theme here is “We serve each other so that we’re of maximum benefit to the whole.” This is the place where the magic of collaboration takes place. To live at this place most of the time, we not only know what our strengths are, we know what their needs are to be at their best, and we know where we want to bring others in with strengths we don’t have.
At the bottom of the diamond is co-dependence. The theme is “I serve you, so you serve me.” We are all familiar with how this sometimes shows up, for example: Dave stays in a position he hates because he makes a lot of money there, and the company keeps Dave on because no one else knows what he knows so they keep repeating this pattern of using each other to get what they want.
On the left point of the diamond is dependence. The theme here is “I’m waiting for you to serve me because I am unable to serve myself.” We see this played out in adults afraid to go out on their own, in coworkers who don’t take ownership of their own outcomes. When people are unaware their strengths have needs that are not being met they can get trapped here. Empowerment happens when we learn what our areas of talent are and how to support them. When we also understand the strengths and needs of our partners, families and teams, a synergistic magic begins to happen.
On the right point of this model, is independence. This is the one that has been my go to when not at my best. The theme is “I serve me.” (When we think, “I’m tired of waiting for you to catch up; It’s just easier to go off and do this myself.”) I get tripped into this zone when I don’t feel heard (a need of my communication strength) or others go off on a tangent and lose focus (a need for my strategic and maximizer and focus strengths). And I’m learning how much I miss out on by isolating myself in independence. My entrepreneurial clients may land here a lot.
Here’s a challenge you may want to try in order to take a step in the direction of greater interdependence: find someone who has a strength in an area you don’t and ask them for an exchange – something you do well, that isn’t a strength for them. The more we get comfortable in collaboration, the healthier we become and there is greater benefit for all. Connection is good!
*based on the Strategic Interdependence Model by Strength Strategy and DeAnna Murphy