Leaders, Are You Independent or Dependent?


July 29, 2010

“Independence means rebellion, risk, tenacity, innovation, and resistance to convention.”

I first heard this quote several months ago during a conversation with fellow blogger Steve Boese.  He was reading the book ‘Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture‘ and it struck him as a meaningful quote.  Since then, he has written about it on his blog and even had the author, Kaya Oakes, on the HR Happy Hour show to talk more about independent thinking and indie culture.  What’s interesting is that the quote keeps rolling around in my head and coming back to me.

Why?  Because as much as I like to think I’m independent, I believe that as humans, we gravitate to being dependent.  It’s our natural state of being.  Although, it seems as if admitting that you are dependent is equivalent to career suicide.  However, as long as I can be influential in a positive way while still feeling support, I’m content depending on other people.  If I can be persuasive and respected while collaborating and my voice is still heard, I’m ok with dependence.

Dependence CAN be a positive experience.

It’s that feeling of being cared for or knowing that someone has your back.  The best teams are built off this interdependence as a core value.  It’s the way I feel when you read this blog.  Regardless if you agree or disagree with something I write, I still feel your support and I am in a dependent relationship with you.

Dependence is ultimately what drives business.  It’s being able to work together to meet someone else’s needs.  It’s the backbone of the economy.  So, why is it so attractive to tell someone that you are independent? Here are a couple reasons:

  • It’s the “cool” thing to do- Who doesn’t want to claim that they are part of the indie culture in their industry.  There are times when we feel like breaking out on our own is the ultimate way to be cool.  We can do our own thing, make all our own decisions, take greater risks, and ultimately, not have to rely on anyone else to make things happen.
  • It feels fluid– Being able to be agile and go with the flow more quickly is an appealing model for many of us.  However, with that also comes great risk that a majority of businesses that we deal with have bureaucracy that prevents or hinders their agility, thus affecting ours to some degree if we are their vendor.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit- Like many of the founding forefathers in US history, being able to have the ability to be independent and start out on a new course, over uncharted ground, is exciting.  That spirit is appealing.

I argue that at the end of the day, even the most independent person is still predominantly reliant on others whether that be as customers, as those that provide financial funding, or those people in your circle that act as your advisory board.

What do you think?  Is it ever really possible to be independent?  Or, it is the spirit that initially drives certain people who then ultimately become dependent like the rest of us?  Weigh in over in the comments section.


  • Can you be independent in thought and Dependant in action?

    I think we all want to work as a team on getting things done but determining the best thing to do is more often the work of an independent thinker.

    We all know a camel is a horse designed by committee.

    Does dependence require compromise? Does independence require conflict?

    Things that make you go hmmmm…. like your post. Thanks.

  • I think we are ultimately interdependent on many things and working with other people is certainly in that category! Many of us spark of others and go on to be better ourselves and/or do better things as a result. I like the thoughts in your blog as we are all in some team somewhere as John Donne said so succinctly “no man is an island”

  • We are all dependent on something; even if you live on an island, you are dependent on the island to provide food and shelter. It all depends upon you to get the food and shelter.

    Independence is more of a state of mind. Those who don’t like to be micromanaged are of an independent mindset. But in the end, even the most independent thinker has to rely upon customers to keep their business afloat. An independently wealthy individual will not self-fund a business venture forever; if the business isn’t bringing in money, the plug will be pulled.

    I feel I am more self-reliant than independent. I depend on people to keep my business afloat; however, I am self-reliant in how I get things done in order to serve my customers.

  • Trish – great post – with some interesting thoughts. I think this is a key statement of yours – “If I can be persuasive and respected while collaborating and my voice is still heard, I’m ok with dependence.”

    Do people “outgrow” the desire for independence and become more dependent (or conformist?) with age? The allure of independence is often tempered by the hard-cold reality of life. The 19-year-old me was OK eating ramen noodles and living without A/C in a dark walk-up apartment; the older me… mwehhh..not so much.

    p.s. I read Kaya Oakes’ book too (after her HRHappyHour appearance) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • Trish – love the post and thanks for mentioning my take on this and Kaya’s appearance on the show. I think that the idea of independence is often much more attractive than the reality. As Robin suggests in her comment, the 19 year old version of her was possibly much more independent, but that came with a price. Staying true to your core beliefs, values, interests, etc. no matter what compromises life causes you to make is to me, still maintaining that rebelliousness, tenacity, and core that Kaya talks quite a bit about in the book. Great post and thanks again.

  • I’ve often been accused, both professionally and personally, of being independent to a fault. I’m ok doing my own thing but I need collaboration with my peers and my friends. I dont think it necessarily makes me dependent on them. Rather I think it comes down to what makes me strong, internally.

    Love this post Trish! I so need to read this book, I’m so far behind on my reading list it’s not funny.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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