Here in the United States we’ve just completed our annual celebration of the signing of The Declaration of Independence – on July 4th, 1776, the day our founders declared themselves an independent country. We then fought a long, bloody, and bitter war to separate ourselves from Great Britain.
Yet today the United Kingdom and the United States are mutually supportive allies with many close personal and institutional connections.
In spite of that awful war the two countries obviously have common cultural traditions, common ancestors, common values, and strikingly similar – though not identical – laws and governance structures. Our leaders today understand that we also have common interests, and that, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
In short, the United States may have declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, but in reality the two countries remain deeply interdependent. And the same is true for our relationships with many other countries.
In fact, I think it’s fair to say that every relationship, at every level, includes strains of both independence and interdependence.
I was reminded of this simple reality on several separate occasions this past weekend.
While my wife and I were driving home from a few days in the mountains we listened on the car radio to an episode of “American Voices,” an intriguing series of conversations hosted by former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. One of his guests this weekend was Camille Seaman, an amazing professional photographer and storm chaser.
The most intriguing part of the conversation for me focused on Camille’s childhood memories of her grandfather, who drilled into her that we are all connected, not only to each other but to nature and all living things. Camille’s grandfather used to take her into the woods and introduce her to individual trees. He also pointed to clouds in the sky and told her their moisture had come from her sweat.
In other words, everything in nature is connected to, and affected by, everything else. All living things are related.
As we struggle today with global climate change, and with natural disasters like heat waves, droughts, and fires in Africa and in the western United States this summer, that is an insight well worth remembering.
I also came across a short video produced by Conservation International and narrated by American actress Julia Roberts. It’s called “Nature is Speaking” and has a simple message: Mother Nature has existed for billions of years and will evolve and live on for millions of years after humankind perishes: “Nature doesn’t need people; people need nature.”
It’s only two minutes long:
That’s a powerful perspective. And while it suggests that nature has a certain independence from human beings, it certainly highlights that we are in fact deeply dependent on nature. Perhaps that connection isn’t quite as interdependent as we’d like to think. Certainly human beings cannot survive independently of nature.
So as we reflect on the fact that while the United States declared itself an independent, sovereign nation 239 years ago, it is well worth remembering that we are also part of a global, deeply interconnected economy. We could not survive today without access to resources from, and trade with, China, Japan, India, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and even Greece and Mexico, to name just a few of the other sovereign states we interact with every day.
I could be making the same point about relationships between and among corporations, and between the public and private sectors. And, of course, interdependence is also central to relationships among individual human beings.
Most of us remember this poem by John Donne (b. 1572 – d. 1731):
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Isn’t it time to accept our deep interdependence? And to relish the idea that together we are wiser, stronger, and more creative than we are as individuals? As I suggested a few weeks ago, there is “Strength in Numbers. ” Organizations exist, after all, to accomplish things we cannot do on our own.
And the work of organizational leaders is to harvest and leverage that strength in order to create value for customers, shareholders, organizational members, and society as a whole.
That’s not an easy task, but it is a noble one.
Contact me for a free consultation about how you can design organizational environments that create shared leadership and interdependent success.