Interdependence vs independence; the argument for cooperative working

In today’s workplace I hear a lot of verbalisation on giving employees ‘independence’ in their jobs to promote greater productivity. Is independence the right route to follow?  I believe not. I would argue that interdependence is the way forward.

Independence isolates, interdependence brings together

Independence is the ability to live your life without being helped or influenced by other people. This sounds good on the face of it however, if taken in the work sense, it suggests working on tasks without support or assistance which does not promote a team environment nor a sense of ‘us’ which is where productivity stems from.


Although employee independence is bandied around by employers as being a reality in their organisations I was reading with interest a recent FT article which seems to contradict this;

“It was found that the proportion of people who have a lot of discretion over how they do their jobs has declined, from 62 per cent in 1992 to 44 per cent in 2012 and to 38 per cent in 2017. There is a strong correlation between people having control over their work and enjoying their jobs.”

(the findings come from the 2017 Skills and Employment Survey, a government-funded study of about 3,300 people conducted every five years).

So it would appear that independence is not actively promoted as much as is claimed and the old command and control mechanism is alive, well and being invoked.  This is a tactic of the scared.  Things are changing so fast that it appears upper management are defaulting back to archetype because they don’t know what else to do and, as history has shown, command and control structures will ultimately fail.

What they should be looking at is an Interdependence structure.

Interdependence is where two or more things are dependent on each other.  A subtle differential however it makes a massive difference and surely makes sense?

If employers and employees recognise that they are dependent on each other (without both the other fails) then combined business strategies automatically follow.  Allowing for both sides of the equation means everyone is invested in the same goals and, just like an equation, aiming for exactly the same result beyond the = sign.

interdependence and AI

AI has its role to play but in what way makes a huge difference too. In the command and control structure its main focus is to watch and monitor employees illustrating the heightened lack of trust that change seems to have created in management.  In an interdependent culture AI’s focus switches to becoming one of the team, something employee and employer can both use for productive outcomes without the ‘big brother’ attitude.

Interdependence allows for autonomy but when structured correctly provides support, advice, and feedback when and where required.  It brings both parties closer into alignment with each other which, in the very few companies I have witnessed it, provides a far more enjoyable and harmonious workplace.

Share Your Vision

Part of my job now is to sit in on business leaders’ meetings with their teams to observe how they come across and interact with their colleagues.  I am not there to criticise or to nit-pick, I am there as an impartial observer who can then pass on my tips as a speaker as to how they can improve their presenting style to get their teams motivated and buying into the company vision or goal.

One of the most common omissions I keep seeing made again and again is the failure of properly sharing a vision, the goal, the target being aimed for. This then makes it much harder for others to aspire to the vision and put their full effort into making it happen.

As the great Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Do you have a properly defined vision?


vision puzzle

You may have a great, huge, wonderful vision of what you want to strive for but if you cannot share and articulate it properly no-one else is going to buy into it.  Or, as I suspect may be the case for the majority, you may not have clearly defined what your vision is apart from knowing that you need to do more of something to get more of something else which is simply too vague for anyone to get on board with.

It’s the basis of every talk and workshop that I do.  I paint a picture as to what I am going to be sharing and that provides a clear end result as to what I am trying to achieve with that particular engagement.  Everything else, the rest of the content, the steps, the tasks all fall into place from this one vision.  The result is that my audience buys into the overall vision from the start, they are inspired and motivated to act to achieve what it is I have set out as the ultimate goal.

Always start with your vision

When you think about it it’s the same for writing an article such as this.  Without having a clear vision as to the point you are trying to make and get across, the rest will be extremely hard work, confusing and may completely miss the target.

define your vision

Every business meeting, brainstorming session, discussion or general planning chit chat should always start with the vision.  The vision must be something that you have sat down and thought about prior and then be able to clearly see it in your mind’s eye.  You should write down exactly what that vision looks like, feels like, even sounds and smells like.  Don’t worry about how it is going to be achieved just define it precisely and then share it with your team/colleagues in such a way that they too can clearly see it.

In this way you build enthusiasm towards achievement and have a team that it pulling with and for you rather than fragmenting or pulling against you.

The Importance of Influencers – Why You Should Aspire to Other Leaders

being an influencer

I think one of the fundamental steps towards trying to become a great leader is to think of who inspires you, great influencers you would most want to be like.  Perhaps it is part of the human psyche to search for someone worthy of our respect, attention and desire to emulate and for each of us they will be different people that we consider tick these boxes for ourselves.

great influencers

Great influencers impact your life

It doesn’t matter if you refer to them as mentors, teachers, hero’s or influencers.  Call them what you will, for you they are leaders as they have been before you and carved a path that you want to follow.  They have had a profound effect on your life and may well have moulded some of the beliefs or attitudes that you hold dear. However, remember, as with any human being they are not perfect.

Great influencers can be ordinary people

Of course, there is an almost inexhaustible list stretching back over the years of time of leaders that most people would look at and agree that they were pretty amazing, even if they personally do not hold them as one of their influencers.  However, don’t forget the smaller, quieter ones.  The primary or secondary school teachers who paid specific attention to you and encouraged your development.  Your parents who may have provided the opportunities for you to explore and test yourself. The colleague, boss, co-worker, who took you under their wing when you were starting out.  We travel such a varied path from babyhood to death that inspiring leaders and influencers will crop up all of the time and they won’t always be a big name and may even be younger than you.

However, again remember that even the most saintly of leaders will have bad bits to them, rotten ideas and questionable views or actions.  They’ve all had 2 arms, 2 legs, a head and torso which they’ve had to feed and expel from (how polite am I!) just as we do and that’s why I love the ones I look up to.  We should take heart that they are quite ordinary when boiled down as that is what makes their greatness, for us, achievable.

Choose aspects of influencers that match your own values

Picking the best bits from each one that truly resonates with you and your psyche is the way to be.  You can then seek to improve and expand on those traits that are good whilst also seeking to discard or eradicate the ones that are not.  And always leave room for expansion as more appear on your path.

If I can term it pictorially consider yourself as an abacus, you’ve seen a quantum computer and you sooo want to evolve and develop into that quantum computer.  As the abacus you won’t have a clue how you get there but there will be leaders in their fields who will have the knowledge and insight they can share with you to turn you into that super computer. From this state you will, yourself, be able to turn back and help other abacus become quantum computers or even go on to surpass you.  Now isn’t that the sort of great leader and influencer you’d want to be?

As a Leader, If You Aspire Towards Greatness Maybe, One Day, You Will Become One

Great leader

Being a great leader is not your decision…

‘How to be a great leader’ or derivatives around this title are often used by self-help books, courses and trainers but you aren’t the one who is going to decide whether you are great or not. Others, your colleagues, results, what you achieve in your lifetime and eventually history will. Therefore I’d concentrate instead on being a thoughtful, efficient and effective leader (though that doesn’t tick the ‘sexy’ box does it?) and perhaps, if you’re lucky, greatness will follow and some will believe you to be a great leader.

Also, while I’m at it, greatness will change (ie, what is and isn’t a great leader) as should your leadership style. If you develop a style and then stick with it for the rest of your working life you are going to get stuck in it, will not develop and grow and, in all likelihood neither will your team(s).

Great leaders understand the importance of change

If all of this is confusing you I’ll give you a personal example of what I mean:

Before the train crash, pre-crash Pam (as I term myself) was an owner of a financial services company responsible for 15 staff. It was an extremely male dominated industry (mind you, still seems to be even today which I find surprising) and I thought I had to develop a leadership style that mimicked theirs.

I decided to lead by example – tough but fair. I was in early, worked late, came in at weekends when necessary, turned over enormous volumes of work and expected my staff and colleagues to do the same. I was tough with my goal setting, tough with my expectations and woe-betide anyone who didn’t keep pace or live up to my expectations of them.

It worked in the sense that we made money. It worked in the sense that targets were hit. It worked in the sense that the company expanded rapidly in only a few years. However, looking back, I don’t think any of us were having fun and I now wouldn’t term my leadership as ‘great’.  I was not a great leader.

Then the train crash happened and that life was trashed.

great leader and leadership styles

A great leader adapts

Post-crash Pam (as I view myself now) suddenly became in charge of a totally new type of team – the Paddington Survivors Group. There were 81 of us and it didn’t take a genius to work out that if I ran the group as I had my company it wouldn’t take long before all those survivors would run away! I needed them if we were going to change the rail industry.

And that’s when I went through a crash course (excuse the pun) with my own leadership style. I had to develop ways of cajoling, being supportive, persuading, managing, developing, listening and being diplomatic with everyone – survivors, industry and government. Luckily it worked – we survivors stuck together for over 5 years and were able to substantially influence sweeping changes within the rail industry nationally.

It was exhausting changing such learned behaviour from before but, oh my, was it liberating. And you know what? Since that time it is these new skills that keep opening doors and opportunities for me and most of my old pre-crash Pam leadership style has evaporated.

Does this make me a great leader? Only history will ever know as I doubt I ever will. All I can do is continue to strive towards being the best leader I possibly can.  I still lead by example but now I rate compassion, co-operation, communication and self-improvement above anything else.

So the question is how will history be able to judge you as a leader?  What do you believe to be the necessary attributes of a great leader? I would love your feedback – do comment below

other attributes of a great leader

Lifelong Learning & Leadership – Do you really think you know it all?

lifelong learning is for all

This week I have been running several leadership workshops, some full day some half.  At one company there was a gathering of 13 leaders responsible for over 265 people between them.  The age range spanned from 30’s to 60’s and were a mixture of men and women.  (It was almost a 50/50 split between the genders which made a pleasant change).

Lifelong learning often starts with reflection

At this particular company, they had only booked me for a half day training session but specifically wanted my future-proofing leaders programme.  As this normally takes at least 2 days to deliver the entire programme I had to focus in (with their agreement) on the first, and most important aspect, which was getting the leaders to have a good, long, honest, hard look at themselves and their own styles of managing teams and people. This to me is a crucial aspect of lifelong learning- the ability to reflect and avoid the, “We’ve always done it this way” mentality.

lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is for all of us

What I found interesting was the difference in how the different leaders responded and what they took on board across the age range.

The ‘younger’ members were open and seemed willing to take on what was being imparted taking part enthusiastically with the activities.  It wasn’t that they had to learn, they had after all already achieved their rank and were actively managing their teams.  They just seemed to be more open to new ideas, thoughts and suggested tweaks to their management style.  They seemed to appreciate that you never finish learning, however high up you might ascend, and longevity for a leader is to keep evolving and embracing the new.  They embraced the notion of lifelong learning. This was borne out by their remarks on the feedback forms afterwards where they all stated they had enjoyed the course and had picked up some pointers that they had not thought of before.

The ‘older’ members appeared more reticent.  I got that they had been in their roles longer and had probably been on more courses then most of the rest of us, however their attitude was more jaded.  They did not willingly participate, there was a bit of grumbling and ideas that the younger members grasped quickly they were struggling with.  One gentleman specifically fed back that he didn’t personally feel a need to change but would get his team members to use the tools!  I am not sure how you get a team to follow your lead if you don’t set the example yourself. Lifelong learning is not just the province of your juniors, it should be something you model yourself.

lifelong learning leadership

In my opinion you never stop learning.  Granted, along the way, you may hear or see things that you have heard before put differently, but that doesn’t mean they are not right.  If any of us, including those at the very top, truly believe that they have nothing more to learn and are perfect in every way then I tremble for the future of those companies and hope that their tenure at the firm will come to a natural conclusion, in the not too distant future.

Weakness when confronted can become strengths

Weakness to strength

Are you willing to acknowledge your weaknesses?


This week I attended a leadership day where 12 leaders from large UK organisations were gathered. (Interestingly only 1 of the 12 was a woman which I made a note of in light of my previous article.)


I had been invited by the organisers as they are keen for me to become involved with their programme so my capacity this time was as an observer rather than a presenter.


The format of the day was different from the usual leadership days I have been on. Although it was obviously well structured I liked the more informal approach they were adopting. The activities they had planned were different, engaging and certainly got the points across.


At first the people gathered around the table appeared to be a little taken aback if not puzzled by the informal, interactive style of the day. However, this quickly turned into pleasure and enthusiasm and, bearing in mind most there were from different companies, an openness I have not witnessed before in such a room of august individuals.


Weaknesses define our humanity

weakness becomes strength

I know that many leaders at the top of their companies find the role very lonely and the old way of doing things promotes the idea that being lonely at the top is a given. However, on this day, some of the revelations that came out were quite personal and gave a great insight into the human being that was behind that leader.


We all have strengths and weaknesses and sometimes it is hard to admit, own or appreciate your weaknesses. What tends to stop people is fear.  Fear of admitting you have a weakness or fear of asking for the help you need to tackle your weakness.  There is also a fear of acknowledging your own weakness in front of peers or colleagues because you will ‘lose face’ or authority.


And yet, as I always propound, identifying and admitting your weaknesses is the first step in finding the courage to change it.  Knowing what you are not good at or are lacking can be transformed into a strength. The key to doing so is always to be honest about them with yourself, others and then taking the actions needed to find the knowledge or information that will precipitate the transformation.


Here is one of mine: I am comfortable in admitting to myself, my colleagues, friends and family that I am too much of a perfectionist.  Striving for this perfection in everything I do is exhausting and consciously I know unattainable (there is no such thing as perfection).  Having acknowledged this major weakness I am working on lowering my expectations in this regard by getting those close to me to point out when I am exhibiting my perfectionist trait, taking advice from other people and encouraging constructive criticism from varied avenues.  It’s a work in progress however I am encouraged by the reduction in stress I am already experiencing. I feel almost ready to consider tackling another of my weaknesses.

Weakness overcome with help

Turn your weaknesses into strengths

Try it for yourself.  Think of just one weakness you have (don’t make a list as that would be too soul destroying) that hinders you enjoying what you do or is slowing your progress, and be brutally honest.  Think of the opposite trait that you would consider a strength and then work out what actions you need to take to move you from where you are now towards your desired strength.  Open up and tell other people about all of this and your plans, asking them for their feedback as you progress.

You are now committed so make a start!