Reviewing “Tribal Leadership”

A while back I posted the link to a free audio copy of Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright’s book, Tribal Leadership.  They describe the book as:

Every company, indeed, every organization, is a tribe, or if it’s large enough, a network of tribes—groups of twenty to 150 people in which everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows of everyone else. Tribes are more powerful than teams, companies, or even CEOs, and yet their key leverage points have not been mapped—until now. In Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright show leaders how to assess their organization’s tribal culture on a scale from one to five and then implement specific tools to elevate the stage to the next. The result is unprecedented success.

I enjoyed listening to the book quite a bit because I’ve worked with teams at all of the tribal stages.

  • Stage 1 = People say, “Life sucks.”
  • Stage 2 = People say, “My life sucks.”
  • Stage 3 = People say, “I’m great (and you’re not).”
  • Stage 4 = People say, “We’re great (and they’re not).”
  • Stage 5 = People say, “Life is great.”

The authors claim less than two percent of the organization they studied ever had a tribe at Stage 5.   In early February, listening to the description of a Stage 5 tribe, I thought, “I’m lucky to work with a Guiding Coalition team that lives at Stage 5.”

Now, I’ll admit to thinking back then that maybe I was overstating the case.  Could we really be in the top two percent?  Then Professor Kotter visited in March and he put our Guiding Coalition in the top one percent of organizations embracing change. After that, I felt much more confident in my “tribal assessment skills,” such as they are.

For me, the fascinating part of Stage 5 is that a personified competitor drops away.  At Stage 5 you’re not battling anyone anymore; the fight is larger.  According to the authors, when Amgen, a drug company, was at Stage 5, they weren’t a drug company battling not another drug company but instead they saw themselves pitched in battle against inflammatory disease and cancer.

For our Guiding Coalition teams at Stage 5, the teams aren’t competing against someone else’s rate of change, but are instead pushing themselves to see how much new progress they can make with each passing day; they’re battling time.  Pulling the future into the present is their noble cause, and they are working at it with passion and joy.  It’s quite a thing to witness.  I feel lucky to see it.

But, I can remember working on and with teams at Stages 1 through 4, and I don’t kid myself into thinking that today everyone is at Stage 5 with us.  Often surrounded by tribes embedded at the lower tribal stages, I take to heart the author’s caution: only talk a tribe to one level above where they are.  Why? Because someone who believes that life is unfair, or “sucks,” will not be able to move from that state of mind to believing they can challenge the passing of time and win.  It’s too big of a leap; too big all at once at least.  To reach them you’ll have to provide them opportunities to step up into the next stage.  It might not be quick, but I’m grateful the authors have given me a path to reach the other tribes.

I’m guessing, since you’re reading this blog (and this already long post) that you’re not living in a  Stage 1 “Life sucks” or even Stage 2 “My life sucks” tribe.  You aren’t at Stages 1 or 2 because if you believed such things you wouldn’t be interested in driving change.

So I’m guessing many of you live in some form of Stage 3 “I’m great and you’re not” tribe.  Maybe you’re the great one, frequently discussing how if only “they” (the dreaded “they”) would figure out how to change then all would be well.  Or maybe your boss is the I in “I’m great” and you can’t get to a Stage 4 “we’re great,” without him.  Or maybe you can.

If you’ve personally given up on Stage 3 (regardless of the tribe around you) and have willfully moved yourself on to Stage 4 “We’re great” you’re probably quite happy driving change.  By freely allowing others to select your change for themselves (refusing to resort to threats or enticements), you’re allowing them to become a “we” with you as they accept the change you’ve created and ask to go with you on your journey.  At Stage 4 you’ll have achieved with these new tribal members what Seth Godin calls, “permission marketing,” (i.e., when others allow you to speak directly to them and they choose to listen).  Speaking from experience, Stage 4 is fun.

But, the authors of Tribal Leadership claim Stage 4 is often fleeting.  The “we” in “we’re great” can quickly disintegrate into competing “I” statements without a strong tribal leader.  And, you can never get to Stage 5 (the really fun part) without holding on to Stage 4.  If you’re looking for a tribal leader to keep you at Stage 4, consider the authors’ three types of tribal leader. [Bonus question: Try to guest which one my friend claims I am.]

Tribal Leader Type 1: Starts with a group of Stage 4 people (content to be a “we” not an “I”) then forms a tribal seed with them.  Gives them a noble cause and helps them rally around it.  The most recent example of this in my small world would be a local Engineers Without Borders chapter.  From my observations, it seems it formed from Stage 4 people committed to the seed of providing clean drinking water to a small Guatemalan town (Chelsea can correct me if I got the town or story slightly wrong).

Tribal Leader Type 2: [I call this type the Tribal Sheriff, or the Chelsea]  This tribal leader looks for people eager to play by different rules.  She collects and nurtures them.  They are a tribe based on values and aspirations.  They quickly become unusually successful and though others try to mimic their success, they other groups usually fail.  The leader speaks of collaboration and the untapped potential available to them if they work together.  And, the leader is quite happy to kick out of town anyone who violates the tribal values.  It’s fun to watch.  My favorite examples are a few teams my friend Chelsea has helped start: a Professional Women’s Networking Group and a Green Team.  Both are filled with people eager to play by different rules and rallying around their common cause to generate the biggest and best changes they can.  And, they’re doing phenomenal work!

Tribal Leader Type 3: Ignores organizational boundaries and forges out on her own.  She seems to have tribal antennae, an intuitive ability to identify people who can contribute to the global success.  They value her help and she values them.  From the outside, the authors claim this looks like networking gone wild.  The tribal leader is constantly reaching out to more and more people.  Some people say she needs to learn to focus; but she is focused. She’s acting in a systematic fashion, shopping always for tribal members.  As she finds people who fit, she networks them into the group and can often rapidly change the tribe.  I like this lady, whomever she is.

With a firm core of people at Stage 4 and a strong tribal leader, the authors claim some groups pop through to Stage 5.  I claim I’ve been living at Stage 5 with a small tribe for about six months.  I don’t know how long Stage 5 will last, but it’s amazing right now.  Watching from the inside, but armed with the tools (Tribal Leaderhip‘s framework) to observe from the outside, I’m enjoying every minute of the journey.  Why else would I spend all day working on this stuff only to come home and write detailed blog posts about how excited I am to be having this much fun?

If you haven’t listened to Tribal Leadership, maybe this post has encouraged you to check it out.

If you haven’t been part of a Stage 4 or Stage 5 (or even a Stage 3) tribe before, maybe this post has encouraged you to find one or make one of your own.   Speaking from my own experience and drawing on the stories of those around me, I’d say it is worth it to try to grow through Stage 4 to Stage 5, even just to say you’ve been there.  The change you’ll drive will be amazing.

Let me know if you need anyone to go with you.

Now keep driving.  <wind blowing in hair as she departs the blog.>

1 thought on “Reviewing “Tribal Leadership””

  1. One of my favorite Seth Godin quotes is, “Most organizations spend their time marketing to the crowd. Smart organizations assemble the tribe.”

    Stages 3 and 4 seem like marketers to me… Stage 5 teams don’t have to market. The end result is so clear and so compelling that they don’t have the time or energy to waste on horn blowing.

    Great post April! BTW, you’re a 3.

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