I know most of us probably have our minds on the celebration of our country’s independence, but this year my mind keeps turning to the parallel idea of personal independence – what it is and how it plays into ideas of freedom and success.

When I think about natural leaders, independent is a word that readily comes to mind.  Consider the two examples from the post two week’s ago – the dancing guy and the standing man are people who followed their vision, independent of what others were doing or were likely to think about them and their actions.  There does seem to be great freedom in what they did, and they did have great success – both individuals cultivated quite a following (not to mention created an internet sensation).

The tricky part is that there is a big difference between being independent and acting independent.  In an effort to appear independent, leaders may act as if they exist in an ivory tower, failing to solicit and consider others’ perspectives as they formulate vision and strategy.  They key to authenticity, however, lies not in shutting others out, but in having a firm set of core values through which behavior and decisions are reflected. It is actually these values that, held closely, the leader holds independent of others’ views.  As leaders are intrinsically leaders of people, I believe that these core values must include consideration for others. So while authentic leaders are paradoxically “free” of the opinions of others, their success is actually dependent upon their ability to exercise this freedom and autonomy while remaining aligned with internalized values.  The greatest leaders are simultaneously independent and also have their success intimately connected to others’ success.

I recently shared a LinkedIn post about mission and vision statements which questioned why they are often so awful and useless.  I think it is a case of the cart getting ahead of the horse.  People put a machine into motion and then tack on a list of core values and so forth as an after-thought, to add some gloss and shine.  But core values are like the hub of a wheel.  With a steady hub, the wheel will turn freely and take you where you want to go.  Freedom and independence have to be rooted in something to create success.  I think that is as true for individuals and organizations as it is for our country.