Beyond Superman: Accountable Leadership Is Interdependent Leadership

One of the traps we sometimes fall into as leaders is imagining that we are not dependent on anyone else. We convince ourselves that we alone are capable of securing the outcomes that lead to whatever we define as “success.” We may even convince ourselves that we as individuals are more indispensable than anyone else on the team…and that we, therefore, matter more than the team matters. In reality, the team comes first! All human beings depend on other human beings to achieve their full potential and to attain any meaningful goal. This reality is reflected in the accountability commitment I call “It’s all of us.” When accountable leaders make this commitment, they are saying, “We succeed together. We fail together. We are all on the journey together.” They are not pretending to be Superman. They are putting the team first.

Real leadership, accountable leadership, knows we are all on this journey of life together. Accountable leadership is not about proving how great you are as an individual, or how powerful or smart you are, or how much you can achieve on your own. It is about building and sustaining relationships, because, in the final analysis, a team focus is essential to any meaningful victory! We really do need each other. At no point is this truth clearer than when you come face-to-face with a major physical challenge, as I did recently.

I woke up one morning and found I was experiencing some back pain. At first, I thought I could wait it out, though it would go away on its own. After all (I told myself) that’s usually what happens when we feel a twinge or a pain. It recedes. But this one didn’t recede. Day by day, it got steadily worse. Before long I had to admit to myself that what I was going through was the recurrence of a disc problem I had been treated for a few years earlier.

To make a long story short, I quickly realized I was in a serious situation. This was not going away. There was going to be no playing Superman here. I could not tough it out. I needed help.

My main doctor was on vacation. We could not find any back doctors who were available. Everyone seemed to be out of town. On a hunch, my wife Renee called a friend, who had the contact information for an orthopaedist we had crossed paths with several times socially: Dr. Rob Kramer. We were lucky enough to reach Dr. Kramer by phone. Over the next few days, he proceeded to give me a powerful lesson in accountable leadership.

To understand this particular lesson, you need to understand the following things. First and foremost, I was not Dr. Kramer’s patient, nor were we close friends. We knew each other well enough through mutual friends to say hello to each other. That was it. Second, this was the weekend. He was not on duty. Third, Dr. Kramer was headed out of town, getting ready to go to a funeral. Fourth, he did not even specialize in back problems. He specialized in hips. He was not ever going to be the guy who solved this problem.

Despite all of that, he stepped up.

Even though he was traveling, Dr. Kramer set up a plan that would help me to get the care I needed quickly. Renee could drive me into his office when he returned on Tuesday, and he could look me over and set up a referral that pointed me toward the best back doctor in St. Louis. As it happened, he was booked solid on Tuesday, but he agreed to skip his lunch hour so that he could examine me and get me the referral I needed. We were very grateful for the help, and we said so. We booked the appointment.

Then things got interesting. I took a major turn for the worse. I won’t sugar coat it: I was in agony. We called Dr. Kramer again, and again he stepped up. After he heard what I was going through, he said, “Here’s what you need to do. Go to the emergency room. Admit yourself. Explain what’s going on. Insist that they give you an MRI. That’s what a back specialist is going to need to see when you do finally get one, and at this point, you don’t want to have to wait any longer to get that MRI started than you absolutely have to. I’ll make some calls and see who I can point in your direction.”

We followed his instructions to the letter. Thanks to Dr. Kramer, I got the MRI, the referral, and the treatment I needed. I am now on the mend because he chose to step up. Again: I was not his patient…he was out of town…and he hardly knew me!

Dr. Kramer knew, and acted on, what all truly great leaders know and act on: We must step up for each other.  We are all interconnected and interdependent. We are all in this together. He came across someone who needed help, and his very first instinct was to serve, though he could have found plenty of reasons not to do that. By treating my emergency as his own, he chose the path of accountability, the path of “it’s all of us.” And I want to thank him here, for all the world to see, for choosing that path.

What if all of us were looking to be of service like that? What if we decided our “team” was the entire human family? What if we looked for what was most urgently needed in any given situation, with any and every human being, and asked ourselves how we could help to fill that need? What if each and every one of us started from the premise of “it’s all of us”? What if we stopped playing Superman, and started recognizing that accountable leadership is leadership that recognizes, acknowledges, and celebrates our interdependence on each other? What kind of world would we live in?

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