Dependence, independence and interdependence in leadership -By Seni Adetu

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Seni Adetu

How many times have I said various leaders express their leadership in different ways, and that no one is perfect? I have, for example, witnessed leaders manifest leadership by dependence, some by independence and others by inter-dependence; or in some cases a hybrid of two or all three. I wish to share my thoughts on these styles today. However, before that, please let me play your minds back to last week’s article where I mentioned that I was beyond capacity in terms of ability to accommodate new mentees in the face of overwhelming requests by readers. It is my pleasure to mention that following that article, I got a call from the doyen of business leadership in Nigeria, Sir Dr. Michael Omolayole; an avid reader of this column, and 1st Nigerian MD/CEO of Lever Brothers (now Unilever). He offered to support by mentoring such willing (potential) mentees. WOW! How nice? Thank you sir (as I am 100 per cent sure you are reading this). Now to today’s topic, there are some business leaders who almost entirely depend on others to make things happen in their organisations; others play “solo” and some others create relationships that support good performance.

Let me explain: (1) Dependence: In business leadership context, this is the state of relying on someone for the effective delivery of your commercial objectives. In my mind, this dependence can point up or down. Pointing up is when you have to wait on your boss to prepare a “to-do list” for you and run your agenda to the minutest detail; and pointing down is when you almost entirely depend on your team. In fairness, in the case of the latter, some do have a structured governance process for checking back that the tasks assigned to their direct reports are implemented to brief, while others just “hope” that this is the case. For those who practise this leadership style, their team generally grows fast as they thrive in the confidence and trust you have in them. However, in relation to depending on your boss for instance, the downsides are significant. Firstly, your ability to think on your own and reflect “on the ground” nuances and flavour in your decision-making is compromised. Secondly, you’re faced with the risk of being made redundant at some point, if your boss perceives you are overly dependent on him for key business interventions. All my career, I have always critically evaluated every decision point to know if it is one I can adequately deal with versus one that needs to be escalated. Escalating “everything” turns you into an “executive dispatch rider” that picks issues from subordinates, packages nicely, and carries the “parcel” to the boss. You are paid to add value; and you must do so to justify your pay. At one time in Diageo, I had a boss who was fantastic at “pushing you” away from being overly dependent on him. For practically every matter you took to him for guidance, he would lead you to determining the solution yourself. He was a master at asking “what do you think” when in fact you were the one that approached him for help in the first place. The point is, you must not be too dependent on your subordinates or indeed your boss for your performance deliverables. You must know where to draw the line.

(2) Independence: This is often described as freedom from control or influence. It depicts the ability to stand alone without the influence of “external or extraneous” variables, in causing a desired result. In my career, I have come across some leaders who almost always act independently of their team. Without being judgmental, I see such leaders as being unduly opinionated and sometimes coming short on building relationships across the organisation. Independent leaders tend to keep so much to their chests. They either do not trust their subordinates or can’t be bothered to seek their opinions. I accept there are some sensitive issues leaders must act decidedly on, without calling a congregation of opinion providers for, to avoid being a victim of the common phrase of “in every 12 disciples, there is always a Judas.”

By the way, I was once a victim of that in Ghana. I was trying to relocate the Guinness Ghana head office from Kumasi to Accra against the political wish of some highly-placed stakeholders in the community. I made the “mistake” of calling an exco meeting of my team where I tabled the plan and sought their opinion and alignment. No sooner had we finished the meeting than I started receiving calls from “external” people advising me, “don’t try it.” This was over 10 years ago but as I said in this column previously, I would never know who on earth divulged that information. That said, my strong view is that a leader must know when to depend on his team and his superiors for certain things and when to run the rule on some others, independent of anyone else.

(3) Interdependence: This is my favourite in leadership terms. It speaks to the ability to create connections with other parties in a manner that they input into one’s work and as a consequence of that, enrich the output. An interdependent leader is always in control of his destiny business-wise, draws up his agenda very clearly and determines what he can “chew” without recourse to anyone, as well as what he must seek help on. He is sound at managing relationships upward, downward and laterally. He delegates to his subordinates without unduly micro-managing them and has routine ca

tch-up sessions with them. Furthermore, he not only proactively engages his boss periodically on key interventions that require the boss’ interdependences, but explores similar thought-partnership opportunities with his peer. I have said this before, the best way to successfully birth innovation is to create a cross-functional team where everyone is allowed to be fully expressed, leaving nothing unsaid. If a finance employee for instance has a point of view in a marketing conversation, he must feel safe and unhindered to express the same. Even if he is not 100 per cent correct in his offering, he may have left something very tangible on the table for others to build on in creating a legacy.

Enjoy your week.