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The interdependencies of leadership

The leader understands that pursuing any significant cause in the “real” world requires doing so in a complex web of interdependencies. The stand-alone hero who single-handedly achieves what appears to be impossible goals exists only in myth, in the movies, in the imaginations of lazy journalists, or in our dreams.

We all need someone who will make us do what we ought to do. If you have a powerful conscience, that will function as the “other.” Or, if you have the kinds of habits that make it necessary for you to do what you ought to do (your “duty”), those will also function to make it necessary. For the rest of us, what’s required is surrounding ourselves with the kind of people who will not let us default ourselves, who will make it necessary for us to do what we have to do in order to pursue our cause in life. Without an inner or outer context that absolutely makes it necessary, we will, more likely than not, fail by defaulting.

The leader is first of all interdependent with the historical moment. If the timing is right, he or she may become “the leader.” If the timing is not right, if there is not a compelling need sensed by potential constituents for that person’s leadership, that person will be unknown to history.

Second, “the leader” (of course we’re talking about the would- be leader) is totally interdependent with those people on whom the success or failure of his or her cause depends. You’ve all heard the sing-song-y thing about “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost/For want of a shoe the horse was lost …” and so on, until it is revealed that the battle was lost. That’s the kind of interdependence we’re talking about here. Patton understood that his success as a field general depended upon the competencies of the lowliest recruits.

That’s why he paid so much diligent attention to the development of the competencies they would need under adversity.

Third, “the leader” and the success of his or her cause will always be interdependent – inseparable – from the strategies and tactics put in play to make it happen. If they’re “right” for the historical moment, there will be success. But it will never be known whether or not those strategies were the “right” ones until the results are in. No guarantees. Just intricate and inescapable interdependences.

Fourth, any leader will remain over the course of the endeavor interdependent with whatever happens along the way. These may be happenstances. These may be a competitor’s counter-moves or strategies. These may result from the fact an alarm clock didn’t go off. Stuff happens. And the test of the leader is how nimble he or she is with respect to improvising and moving on, whether it is only oneself involved, or thousands of other people.

The fancy term for all this is systems.

  • What this concept enables us to understand is that everything that happens – certainly everything that happens in the human world – has to happen in the context of other things that are constantly happening.
  • Linear thinking won’t work for leadership. What’s required is thinking “systemically” – that is, understanding that everything is related to everything else. In some way.
  • The leader understands that everything is what it is because everything else in the system is what it is.
  • That may sound like gobbledygook to you. If you can’t make it fundamental to your way of thinking, you’ll never have the leader’s edge.
  • Not cause-and-effect. But interdependence, interrelatedness. You will never be more than those on whom you depend will enable you to be. And you will never accomplish more than the circumstances with which you are interdependent make possible.

You can’t change that. But you can equip yourself to pursue your cause in that world – for the leader, the “real” world.

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