Tribal Leadership

By: Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright



What would your life be like if you could come to work every day and worked on something that lit a fire in your heart? What if everybody you worked with had the same desire and passion as you? What if the work you did, day in and day out, had an impact not only in your workplace, but left a proverbial dent in the universe?

Would you be willing to invest 10 minutes today and an hour this week to make this happen? Join me on this journey, and my promise to you is that you’ll be started down a path where you’ll feel more fulfilled, more inspired, and more alive than you ever felt before. And it will happen at work.

What’s a Tribe?

A tribe is nothing new - they are groups of people between 20 and 150 in size, and we’ve had them for thousands of years. If you saw me on the street and we knew each other well enough that we stopped and said “hi”, it’s likely that we are in a tribe together. There are 5 stages of tribes that we’ll become familiar with:

Stage 1 tribes, which account for 2% of the world’s corporate tribes, is a group of people who think that “life sucks”.

Stage 2 tribes, which account for 25% of the world’s corporate tribes, is a group of people who think that “my life sucks”, and in particular, because I have to be at work with you idiots.

Stage 3 tribes, which account for 49% of the world’s corporate tribes, is a group of people who walk around thinking - and sometimes saying - “I’m great”. These people and tribes have a lot of energy, but none of it being directed to a common goal.

Stage 4 tribes, which account 22% of the world’s corporate tribes, is a group of people united by the language like “We are great, and they are not”.

Lastly, stage 5 tribes, which account for 2% of the world’s corporate tribes, is a group of people united by a vision of changing the world, where there is no talk of competition, only of changing the world.

We’ll focus the majority of our energy on moving from Stage 2 to Stage 3, and from moving from Stage 3 to Stage 4.

The first step, as the authors note, is always to understand which stage your tribe is in, because their experience shows that you’ll only be successful by moving up the ladder one stage at a time. So as we work through from stage 2 to stage 4, make sure you are figuring out where you need to start from.

Let’s get started.

Moving from Stage 2 to Stage 3

If you’ve ever watched an episode of “The Office” or gone to get your driver’s license renewed, you’ve seen Stage 2 in action. Life for these people must really suck. If you look around you and don’t seen any signs of passion, initiative or accountability, your have found yourself in the middle of a Stage 2 disaster. But not to worry, because it’s time for an Extreme Tribe Makeover.

How do you recognise if you are in stage 2? The people in this stage believe that their destiny is not their own, and so they avoid accountability like the plague. If you hear “I’ll try” or “I can’t promise” a lot. If you see Dilbert cartoons on the walls or on the coffee machine, you are in a stage 2 tribe.

Here’s an important thing to understand - tribes are made up of people, which means that if you have a stage 2 tribe, you have a group of people acting in a certain way, in this case like being at work sucks the big one. It also means that not everybody is going to share equally in their disdain for your workplace.

So, your first step is to identify a few members of the tribe who seem to want things to be better. At this step of your evolution, you’ll be working with that person one-on-one. You’ll start by telling them - one at a time - that you see potential in them and that you value their contributions to the team.

Why? Because they are not born thinking and acting like a stage 2 tribe member, and deep down inside they truly just want to be valued. So give that to them. In line with that, give them an assignment that you know they can do well in a short period of time to reinforce their value to the tribe.

The second step you will take is to develop an interest in their lives. There’s a whole raft of reasons why you’d want to do this, but just make sure that it’s genuine. If you do this but aren’t genuinely interested, you should take a look in the mirror because YOU are the problem here.

Lastly, encourage that person to establish two-person relationships, which means developing a network where they are at the centre, rather than a triad relationship, which is a hallmark of a stage 4 tribe (remember, no jumping ahead).

How will you know that you are successful? You’ll start to hear those people say “I’m great” (the language of stage 3) rather than “my life sucks” (the language of stage 2). The person is going to start to gain confidence and will have an awakening of personal ambition as they want to reproduce those feelings of being valued.

You’ll have to be ready for some of the by-products of this stage as well. In Stage 3, you’ll probably start hearing them brag a lot about their accomplishments, and compare themselves to other co-workers in a disparaging manner. You’ll also probably start to hear people talk about values - personal values - using language like “what I’ve come to see” and “the principles I hold dear”.

The reason this is a step up in the world is that now you’ve got a group of people who are actually motivated and inspired to generate results. The results just happen to be their own, and not toward the common goal of the tribe. They are very much focussed on individual accomplishments. Doctors, professors, attorneys and salespeople are at this stage on their best days.

When you think about it, it’s not really that surprising that almost half of all workplaces are at this stage where individualism rules. Ever since we graduated kindergarten, we’ve been taught that knowing the answers to test questions and solving them on our own was the way to become a success. But we aren’t happy with this result, of course, and now we are going to make the leap from stage 3 to stage 4.

From Stage 3 to Stage 4

Congratulations! You made the leap from Stage 2 to a Stage 3. You’ve got a bunch of people who are working towards success, but they are: (1) trying create success for themselves and not the company, and (2) trying to do it all by themselves. Fortunately for you, these people become so good at it that it’s no longer a challenge to them. This is when you can start making the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4.

Just in case you need some motivation to make the leap, when you move from Stage 3 to Stage 4, here’s what you can expect:

  • People collaborating toward a noble cause.
  • Fear and stress reduced.
  • People want to work for you, and actually stay. Winning the war on talent, anyone?
  • Your entire organisation becomes a “learning organisation”.
  • People take less injury and sick days.
  • People are more alive and have more fun.

The first thing you can do to start the climb is to point out to these people that they can only accomplish so much on their own. Their effectiveness is severely limited by time, which despite all the efforts of the time-management industry, you can do nothing about. Even the most highly-optimised individual can do little compete with a highly motivated, Stage 4 tribe.

To bring the point home, make sure you point out the superior results that are produced by Stage 4 tribes - the authors have found a 30% increase in effectiveness when you make the leap from Stage 3 to Stage 4. This will be a compelling point because people in Stage 3 are very motivated by results.

The second thing you can do is get them to work on a project that is larger than what they can accomplish on their own. Through an exercise like this, somebody stuck in Stage 3 will realise that they truly haven’t been accomplishing as much as they thought.

Third, get them to build triadic relationships. Rather than two way relationships where you are building them mostly for your own benefit, triadic relationships look for the mutual benefit between 3 parties. As an example, somebody building triadic relationships at a networking event would spend their time bringing other people together and introducing them to each other because they know they have shared interests and values.

Another example would be a relationship between you, your client, and one of your vendors. Or it might be the relationship between you and two other employees. The real benefit of these relationships is that you are all standing up for the same shared values and working towards the same goal, so if there’s a spat or disagreement, there’s always somebody in the triad to bring the focus back to what’s important.

Fourth, if you are going to build triadic relationships based on shared values, you better have shared values. You can get to your shared values in one of two ways. Both require hard work and a lot of conversations - are you ready for the most important part of becoming a Stage 4 tribe?

First, you can tell a story about how you learned one of your shared values, after which you’ll invite the other person to share a story as well. Your job is to listen for what people say is important to them.

Second, you can ask them one simple question and follow it up with 3 to 5 open ended questions. A good first question is “What are you proud of?’. Most people, because they are still in Stage 3 will respond with things that they’ve put on their resume. But after you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that there’s an underlying value behind each of those accomplishments.

Your job, again, is to listen for what people in the tribe say is important to them, and then become an advocate for those values and make sure they are lived day in and day out. Exactly how you do that is up to you. For example, a company doing this that isn’t in the book is Zappos, who asked a similar question to each one of their employees. They took the answers, didn’t change anything except for a few typos, and then published it as as book.

You’ll know that you’ve got the values right when, as the authors say, a moment of alchemy happens. People will recognise themselves in those values and say “this is it!”.

Fifth, you are going to work towards your noble cause. A noble cause is the direction you are heading, and it captures your ultimate aspiration. The authors point out the distinction between values and noble cause “core values are what we “stand in” and a noble cause is what we “shoot for”. Ask you and your team this question over and over again: “in service of what?”

Eventually you’ll get to a statement like that of the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation in Toronto, whose noble mission is to “Conquer Cancer in Our Lifetime”, or Google’s now famous “to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” You’ll know that you’ve hit the nail on the head when agree that that’s why they come to work in the morning.