Tribal Leadership

"Remember that Tribal Leadership is not about changing ideas or gaining knowledge; it is about changing language and relationships. It’s not about intellectualizations; it’s about actions."

- Tribal Leadership, page 37

Tribal Leadership is one of the best books on leadership that I’ve read in a long time. Why? Because it addresses the current state of all tribes (a group of 20-150 people), along with practical, actionable guidance on how to (a) identify where your tribe currently stands and (b) how to elevate the abilities, mindset and accomplishments of your team, regardless of where you’re starting from.

Through extensive research, co-authors Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright have identified five stages of tribes. Every organization exists at one of these stages, and can be defined by their priorities and way of operating. Each stage even has its own defining language. (More on language in GEM #1.)

The Golden Egg

Golden Egg: The biggest takeaway from the book

Elevate or Die

"As the complexity of tasks and their technological requirements have soared, people have been pushed into Stage Four. Today, business schools believe their mission is to turn out team players – although the evidence suggests they are really turning out Stage Three people who can act like Stage Four individuals."
- Tribal Leadership, page 30

In a nutshell, the speed and complexity of today’s work world requires Stage Four

Tribes. Logan, King and Fischer-Wright define a Stage Four Tribe as having shared values, a noble cause (larger than the aspirations of the individuals), triadic relationships and a clear, shared strategy for making history. While all four of these attributes deserve individual attention (and receive it in the book), a concept that may be new to people is the idea of triadic relationships. The best way to understand the meaning of the term is to compare it to how most of us (48% of American professionals) currently operate… at Stage Three.

In a Stage Three Tribe, the individual team members are out for personal gain. There’s a sense of personal greatness – a feeling that is reinforced through the constant comparison to (and disregard for) other people. In a world where “knowledge is power” – one dominated by an “I’m the best” mentality – people tend to form one-to-one relationships, trading information and ensuring that they need to be called into every decision. (Think: typical front line employees who need to call their manager for every decision that steps beyond their training manual.)

Consumers don’t have the patience for this. Strong employees don’t have the patience for this. And, as we’ve seen with exceptional companies of the 21st century (Zappos, South West, Apple, etc.), companies can soar when their employees are empowered to make their own decisions within the structure of clear values and objectives. Triadic relationships are those that include three parties, all working to strengthen the relationship between the other two. Apple (the company) empowers their front line employees to make decisions in the best interest of the customer. That employee flourishes under the freedom, and Apple shines in a positive light to the customer. On a personal level, Triadic relationships allow strong networks to form; people aligned in values moving faster and accomplishing more than the traditional “hub and spoke model” (one-to-one relationships) based on fear and personal gain.

We need to elevate our companies to the rarified air of Stage Four if we want to stand a chance at competing. The following two GEMs should help get you started.

Gem #1

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Your Language Defines You

"At each cultural stage, there is a specific ‘fingerprint’ made up of language that people use and observable behaviour toward others in the tribe. These two almost always correlate perfectly."
- Tribal Leadership, page 21

As the authors of Tribal Leadership express very clearly, “Tribal Leadership is not about changing ideas or gaining knowledge; it is about changing language and relationships.” The language used by the people in your tribe becomes your anchor point for understanding where you’re currently operating. Here’s an overview of the language and mood that are commonly experienced at each stage:

Stage One: “Life sucks”
(Less than 2% of the population)

People stuck at Stage One understand that life is inherently cruel, and that all of us are destined to suffer. Staying at Stage One for too long can often lead to crime or even death.

Stage Two: “My life sucks”
(25% of workplace cultures)

People at Stage Two believe that life is good for some people, but not for them. They become despondent, typically doing the bare minimum and resisting change or growth, seeing it simply as “more work”.

Stage Three: “I’m great (and you’re not)”
(48% of workplace cultures)

This is how most of us operate. We vie for personal recognition and accolades, reassuring ourselves of our personal greatness by comparing ourselves to one another. Our education system trained us to think this way (bell curves and percentile rankings), and our workplaces (typically) reinforce it.

Stage Four: “We’re great (and they’re not)”
(25% of workplace cultures)

This is where greatness lives. At Stage Four, team members unite against a common enemy – another organization or a wrong that they’re trying to right. At Stage Four we see a reduced amount of politicking, and a speed of business that people at Stage Three can’t understand. Stage Four is also the launch page to Stage Five.

Stage Five: “Life is great”
(Just under 2% of workplace cultures)

Logan, King and Fischer-Wright have yet to see a company that sustains Stage Five status, but they’re optimistic that such a thing is possible. At Stage Five the “common enemy” so integral to Stage Four fades into the background. The mood at Stage Five is defined as “innocent wonderment”, with employees speaking in hushed, almost irreverent tones about the things they’re accomplishing together. Stage Five is where world changing breakthroughs occur.

Look at the language above. Which stage are you at?

Gem #2

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Hallmarks at Stage Four

"…the two most important aspects of owning Stage Four: identifying and leveraging core values, and aligning on a noble cause."
- Tribal Leadership, page 155

If you, like most of us, are working in a tribe that is living at Stage Three, there are a few things you can focus on that will help elevate your tribe to Stage Four.

The first is defining your tribe’s Core Values. Since Stage Four is defined by standing united against a common enemy, defining the core values needs to be a collaborative exercise. Too many organizations define their values in the executive boardroom, and then “share” them with the rest of the company. Your values don’t need to be created, they need to be uncovered and the best way to do that is to include as many people as possible in the process. A Stage Four Tribe is about We.

The second aspect of Stage Four is uniting under a Noble Cause. What’s the change you’re trying to create in the world? In the words of Simon Sinek, what’s your tribe’s Why?

Defining these two elements, collectively, will help bring your team a long way in aligning under the “We’re great” language.

Two thoughts as we wrap up here… First, only attempt to grow by one level at a time. It’s impossible to jump from Stage Two to Stage Four without first passing through Stage Three, so if you find yourself at a “My life sucks” stage, work with your people to help them realize their own personal greatness. Only after they’re saying “I’m great” can they become open to embracing “We’re great”. Secondly, remember that Stage Four, as great as it is, is only a platform for Stage Five bursts of creation and genius.

There’s genius in the pages of Tribal Leadership, far more than we could possibly cover in this summary. Certainly, if you lead a team you should read it, but I also encourage you to pick up a copy if you’re feeling stuck, or underwhelmed by your work. We all aspire to greatness in one way or another; I believe this book is an excellent map for getting there.

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Chris Taylor

ABOUT Chris Taylor

Founder of Actionable Books, Chris Taylor is a writer, entrepreneur and speaker. He spends his daylight hours helping consultants and employees alike find meaning in their work and discover rich team relationships through his company, Actionablebooks...
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