Sitting next to my daughter on a long plane flight yesterday, I borrowed one of her school books containing 50 short essays from a variety of authors. One of the essays was The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. I was really only familiar with the first few sentences of the first two paragraphs, so I made an effort to read the entire thing for the first time that I can remember.
The last 30 words of the last (long) sentence really struck me:
…for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
I see a strong and clear leadership message in those words that applies to both our individual and collective behavior in organizations.
There can be no independence without interdependence. The individual rights we have are the fruit of the tree of interdependence. Any harvest of independence we are able to reap is entirely dependent upon the depth, strength, and continued healthy growth of our roots of responsible interdependence.
Leaders should realize that independence and autonomy hold powerful value for most employees. There is a lot of credible evidence to back that up. But autonomy is not a gift, its a privilege and a shared responsibility. Leaders should never constrain or obstruct employee autonomy by denying folks the ladder of meaningful responsibility. Doing so not only limits what you and your people can achieve, it also just might earn you a revolt.
A management consultant posted a message on Twitter last week that read something like this: “I believe in individualism, not collectivism. #leadership”
I can’t speak for Thomas Jefferson, but my reply to that is “bullshit.”