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The Blog

Leadership, Independence and How We Get It Wrong

When looking at the world of leadership, one of the things that’s apparent is the value of independence. Truly remarkable leaders have an independent streak about them.

They think independently.
They’re not afraid to break away from the crowd.
They’re certainly not followers.

As a result, the story we tell ourselves is that leadership and independence go hand-in-hand.

Perhaps they do.

Where it goes wonky, however, is in the practical application of what it means to be independent. Too often, we take the term “independent” and use it to mean “isolation”. As in standing alone. Flying solo. Away from the masses.

Here’s the thing folks: independence and isolation are not the same thing.

When we are independent – working independently, thinking independently – it means that we are in a space of freedom, liberation, and autonomy. We don’t RELY on others – however it does not mean that we don’t have others around us.

Instead, great leaders are those who actually do have a team around them. They are able to hold their own ideals, visions, thoughts and actions, for sure. All of this is done, however, while having folks around them to lean into (as opposed to lean on), bounce ideas off of, and engage with.

In order for leadership to be effective, you must have others around you. Instead of working in isolation, great leaders immerse themselves in community, surround themselves with alliances, and work to establish connection, even while they maintain their sense of autonomous vision.

One of the things that can lead to isolation is a sense of responsibility. When you as a leader get things wrong, or when you want things to go right, there’s a way that you pull back, pull away and try to go it alone. There’s a sense of not wanting to “drag others into the problematic mix”. One might consider this noble; it’s not.

Another slippery slope can be the desire to own the glory. When you’re on to something great, it can be tempting to work on a project or idea by yourself – to ride the wave of excitement solo – so that you can be heralded as the hero, the rescuer, the genius behind the solution. Let’s be honest – there’s nothing admirable about this approach.

Bottom-line: leadership requires autonomy, for sure  – a freedom from the shackles of convention and group-think. That being said, effective leaders cannot operate in isolation. If you’re isolating yourself – for whatever reason, with whatever motivation – you cannot lead effectively. You WILL NOT lead effectively. So build your community, create your alliances, establish connection – and let your leadership shine.

Tracy Harvie