Tribal Leadership – Dave Logan
Tribal leadership is one of those books that is recommended by and to everyone that needed at some point to improve their leadership skills. It’s one of those rare books that is based on actual research, rather than wishful thinking of what should happen but doesn’t.
The authors spent a lot of time doing research in plenty of organization and I’m not shy to say that even though their research is based on US companies, I’ve seen the same behavior in Europe where I’m from. I’d venture to say it’s definitely human nature to behave in the way the book talks about.
The word “tribe” in the title of the book paints a picture of a very rudimentary and archaic times, in a time when the choices we had to make were simpler but had more immediate effects. Tribes in most cultures are about hunter-gathers after all. It makes one think of alpha males and implicitly about leaders. Intuitively, you would assume that being the alpha male that leads the group is what one needs to become to be a leader. Good or bad, he is the leader nonetheless.
For those that spent some time working in a group, even a small one, you quickly discover the need for leadership – as the work most times is done disproportionately by the group members – some work more than others. Someone needs to assign work based on the value each member can bring to the whole. Sometimes if you have a special affinity to the project itself, you feel the need to shape it to your vision and you get quite invested. Even if other people work on it, sometimes it’s not exactly how you wanted and you re-do it to just to get it 0.1 degrees closer to the mental image you had. There, now it’s everything that you wanted.
That’s good, but it never scales. Companies or fortunes are not built with this strategy and for good reason. You simply can’t be a one-man team forever. There’s only 24h in a day and to accomplish bigger things you need more than that. You need a tribe to help you do it. You also need a tribe that gets your vision and puts everyone on the podium. It’s a team effort after all and this is one of the main take away of the book: the leader is as much part of the tribe as the tribe itself.
Tribes are groups of people that you know. A person can usually know 100-150 people at a point before you can’t possible connect on a regular basis with everyone and they fall out of your informal tribe. If the tribe gets bigger, then it splits in 2 tribes. These are the people in your phone or email list. People you would say hello walking down a street.
Dave Logan walks you through of what makes some teams better than others and one of the best things about this book is that it also tells you how to get there. I love step by step plans and this book is exactly that. On top of that, you can easily apply the principle in this book on a personal level to surround yourself with people that will inspire and empower you, rather than waste your time.
Tribes exist in 5 different stages, one more productive than the previous one. Dave Logan also gave a great Ted Talk based on his research, you can find the video at the end of this page. You can also find the free audiobook on the book’s official page.
Stage one tribe
It rarely happens in most organizations, it does exist in the real world in the form of street gangs. Its members are even violent.
People in this stage think they are the ones that really understand the world. For them everything is a hypocrisy, they believe they see the real world. What’s the point in pretending otherwise?
They drop out of school because the teachers don’t recognize their gifts. Their friends don’t recognize their uniqueness.
They come from a troubled background. Stage one leads to a stage one tribe, death or stage two.
People in this stage believe life sucks for everyone, they just don’t realize. In stage two people believe that only their life sucks.
Everyone can descend to stage one from time to time. For everyone life sucks at some point and everything is permissible.
Middle of the stage is abandonment by the tribe, when people feel that nobody understands them.
The first step to move people up one stage is for them to substitute “life sucks” to “my life sucks.” The transition is counter intuitive, as people go from the fire of despairing hostility (Stage One) to the passivity of being an apathetic victim (Stage Two). This is progress! They went from alienation to disconnection.
Stage two tribe
As long as people are in stage two, they believe their destiny is not their own. As a result they avoid accountability.
22% of employees in the US are in this stage. Sometimes you can go through your whole career with bosses in stage two and three (like Michael Scott in the office). They act in a way that has the effect of an earthquake. People scatter, then regroup to treat the wounded and reconfirm their believes in the tribe.
People in this stage say:
- I can’t do that
- I’ll try
- I can’t promise
- It’s against policy
- That’s not possible
- I can’t make other people do their job
Sometimes people get to stage three and become the bosses that they hated: “I’m great and you’re not.”
Early stage two is unstable and can get back to stage one. It is important to make clear rules on how to bring back somebody into the tribe, if they relapse and fall back to stage one. The tribe should be welcoming to when the person wants to come back, but don’t chase them and try to convince them.
Middle stage two is where people tend to cluster together and think like a stage four : “we’re great”.
However, they think someone is out to get them, a boss, the system, lack of education, parents not providing them with enough.
They give up because they think everything is stacked against them.
Usually it’s a boss, idiot bosses are built into the system: if a person would care about their employees, they would put the company second which isn’t profitable.
49% of companies in the US have this as a dominant culture. The theme is “I’m great and you’re not.”
Doctors, attorneys and professors operate at this level on their good days.
Knowledge is power for them and they hoard it, be it gossip about the company or client contacts. People at this stage have to win and for them winning is personal.
It breeds a culture of “lone warriors.”
The theme is “we’re great and they are not.” The tribe chooses it’s own competitor the bigger the better. U
sually it’s another department in the organization, depending on the size.
Stage five is normally temporary. It’s a burst that wins Olympic medals.
The step by step guide is extremely descriptive and easy to follow. The underlying message is that words can indeed change cultures. You can easily tell where a person is by the words that they use. You can then push (or pull I guess) the tribe into upper stages where they will perform better. Tribal leadership focuses on two things: the words people use and the relationships they form.
One of the things that would have been really interesting it would be to take a group of people from stage one and see if and how fast you can get them to 5. I think this is easier to be done with sports and I can think of plenty of examples when we had underdogs achieving amazing feats.
Most of the examples are of companies that succeeded in their own niche. However, there are more companies that succeed without using any of the techniques described here. When it also comes to market leaders, most of them have different interpretations of leadership and various methods created by them. It’s a good method if you are starting fresh or need an incentive to push your team, but in the fast changing world of today – managers won’t spend as much time building cultures like this. It’s definitely reliant on the company’s appetite for empowerment. Some industries are traditionally more rigid (banking, finance) and some professions are inherently trapped in Stage three (localized services like the author explained – doctors, architects and so on. When the entire value of the person is based on his skills, he will usually be a lone-wolf).
I would also like to mention that the book Give and Take talks about a similar thing, whereas Givers are the ones creating a culture that fosters productivity and brings the best in people. They are Leaders implicitly, but not explicitly – of their own choosing.