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How Your Positive Intent Can have a Negative Impact

This week my Eagle Training colleague, AJ and I have been working with some great folks from Ferrero. One of them is a really nice guy who has a high S DISC profile. For the uninitiated, this means that he likes to help people and to cultivate an environment of harmony with as little conflict and change as possible.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

He is also very busy. Some of his busyness is a genuine requirement of the job in a food manufacturing environment. However, some of it is of his own making. As he was telling us about the last month it became apparent that in his bid to be helpful to others, he was piling the pressure on himself. As he was talking my internal thought process was reminding me of the maturity continuum that Dr Stephen Covey wrote about in his seminal work The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; one of the most widely read personal development books in history.

By definition, maturity is a process leading to growth and development, while continuum refers to the continuous incremental nature of growth and progression. As we grow-up from infant to adulthood our maturity (hopefully) increases in its level from being highly dependent to independent.

Dependence, Independence & Interdependence

However, being dependent and/or independent is limited to only certain areas of our life according to Dr Stephen Covey. Because there is a lot of things in life that we humans are actually interdependent. Thus, the highest level of maturity is interdependence.

Let’s explore the three levels in a bit more detail:


Dependence is needing others to get what you want. This is the lowest level where we all begin at birth. You and I each began our lives totally dependent on others.  We relied on our parents to take care of us. Without this care, we would not survive for long, would we?

As Dr Stephen Covey says:

“Dependent people need others to get what they want. If I were physically dependent – paralyzed or disabled or limited in some physical way, I would need you to help me. If I were emotionally dependent, my sense of worth would dome from your opinion of me. If I were intellectually dependent, I would count on you to do my thinking for me.” 

In the world of work, you can spot a dependent person through their language. It goes like this: “I’ve got a problem. What are YOU going to do about it” Theirs is the attitude of ‘you’.


Independence is relying on yourself to get what you want and need. Through the years, we should really become more and more independent – physically, mentally, emotionally and financially – until we can take care of ourselves, becoming inner-directed and self-reliant. When we reach the stage of independence, we can pretty much make it on our own. We have our own thoughts and can think creatively and analytically. We can express our thought in a way others can understand.

As Dr Stephen Covey says:

“Independence is not supreme! Independent people who do not have the maturity to think and act interdependently may be good individual producers, but they won’t be good leaders or team players.” 

In the world of work, you can spot an independent person through their language. It goes like this: “I’ve got a problem. I know I must deal with it” Theirs is the attitude of ‘I’.


Interdependence is relying upon the cooperation with others to get what you want and, crucially, help them to get what they want. Being interdependent is more mature.  Being interdependent you are more self-reliant and capable but also understand that working together can accomplish more than can be accomplished by yourself. It is the level of maturity that is required to achieve the outcome known as win-win; which, by the way, so few people really understand! It’s the level of maturity that is required in situations like the one pictured below.

As Dr Stephen Covey says:

“Human life is interdependent! We can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.

In the world of work, you can spot an interdependent person through their language. It goes like this: “We’ve got a problem. I know we must deal with it” Theirs is the attitude of ‘we’.

'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' about Dependence, Independence & Interdependence in Business

Moving from Independence to Interdependence

So, in summary:

Dependence: You need others to get what you want (attitude of you)

Independence: You get what you want through your own effort (attitude of I)

Interdependence: Cooperate together to accomplish what we want (attitude of we)

So interdependence is akin to being in a successful partnership or team, it’s not about I or you but rather is about we. But there is a catch and that is, if you and I are not independent than we cannot be interdependent. Why is it so? Because we cannot learn to cooperate with other people until we have learned self-mastery which is an integral part of being independent.

In case you are wondering where this is going, let me take you back to the young man at Ferrero (in case you had forgotten him!). Well, he really does want to help others. So, when they come to him saying “I’ve got a problem, what are you going to do about it?” he basically tells them to leave it with him. I told you he was a nice guy, didn’t I?

But, here’s the downside to doing this. While he has a positive intent to help these people, his willingness to do so creates two problems. Firstly, and more obviously, his to-do list has just been added to at a time when he is really busy anyway, adding more pressure on him.

But secondly, and not so obviously, his positive intent has a negative impact because, probably without realising it, he is exacerbating the other person’s dependence. As long as he takes responsibility for their problems he is not helping them to become independent. As parents, my wife and I were once advised that one of our key roles was to prepare our children for the big wide world and do all we could to help them become independent and resourceful; not to keep them dependent on us; which our children tell us we did. It should be noted that he is also depriving them of a chance to learn.

So, after reading this blog I hope you will stop and think about where you are on the maturity continuum and also what you do that might inadvertently hold others back.

With gratitude for your time.

Comments (1)

My wife and I (retired psychiatrist aged 90) live in a California retirement community. The GM is an energetic authoritative, but in my opinion, misguided and divisive “I” type. I am unable to help him see his lack of maturity and inability to see the “we.” He wants to describe this as an “independent living facility” but I see it as a potentially interdependent one if he can “see the light.” What can I do to effect a system change? Wait (I only have limited time!) or challenge his position?

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