Tribal Approach to Leadership

Tribal Approach to Leadership

Many books have been written about leadership in the abstract—theories that should help your organization move from one place to another and how to distinguish yourselves among your competition.  Often times though, there is no path to follow.  That’s why I enjoyed Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright.  It breaks organizations into five levels and identifies different ways to determine where you are with some tools to move to the next level.  So let’s run through the five stages:

Stage 1—you don’t want to be here.  The theme is “life sucks” and it represents a small percentage of people. You meet these folks every day. These people and organizations live in a “below the line” mentality of blame, excuses and denial about their world and what they cannot control.

Stage 2—you don’t want to be here either as the theme is “my life sucks”.  It is significant growth to move from “all life sucks” to “my life sucks” as you are taking a bit of ownership and attempting to be “above the line”.  Unfortunately, a decent amount of organizations are here.  Think of an apathetic group—something like the DMV.

Stage 3—now we hit where many organizations are.  The theme at this stage is “I’m great” which also implies that you are not.  This level is characterized by a focus on personal success over group success, two person relationships and the belief that knowledge is power and therefore hoarded.  There is friendly internal competition with a zero sum game mentality.  Also known as most of the places you have worked. I remember quite clearly a business I worked for here where some folks higher in the organization even gave underlings the wrong information in order to make themselves more relevant.

Stage 4—characterized by the notion that “we are great”.  An organization that shares a set of core values, a noble purpose and is united against competition.  People in this tribe view themselves as part of something bigger and live it through their people.

Stage 5—characterized by “life is great”.  Few companies make it here—at least so far.  Their purpose is so well defined that it’s easy to understand and can be discerned by a 5th grader. There are some similarities to a company’s Mission and Vision but much simpler. A company’s purpose should be able to address why we are here and what difference do we make.

So what stage is your team at and how will you move to the next? Ask. Ask every one. Ask the people who work for you, ask the vendors who sell to you, and ask the folks who buy from you. What difference does our product or service make in their lives? What does our product or service do for you that you can’t get anywhere else? When would you or wouldn’t you buy from our competition? What do we do that is better than anyone else in the world?  What would you do if we ceased to exist? How do we make them feel?
Go ahead, try it. Take Action today on learning where your tribe exists in the landscape of growing your business and develop a purpose that your whole organization easily understands and generates excitement about coming to work.


Tony Marder is a Gastonia resident and President of ASM Ventures Corporation. He is a certified business coach and a specialist in preparing strategic business plans.  You can reach him for questions or comments at tonymarder@att.net

Comments are closed.