Tribal Leadership : Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organisation

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Tribal Leadership : Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organisation

Within organisations, tribes form naturally. Wherever people congregate to live and work, groups of 20 to 150 people form - similar to villages inside nations - and advance through five stages of development. Culture consultants David Logan and John King, in collaboration with physician Halee Fischer-Wright, explain how tribes and competent tribal leadership may help you work and play effectively with others while also advancing your career. The author conducted a considerable study on corporate tribes and interviewed numerous business leaders about the five stages of tribal evolution within their firms.

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 of your tribe's people becomes your essential foundation for comprehending where you're currently working. Here's a breakdown of the common language and moods experienced at each stage:

People in this stage believe that "life sucks." They are alienated from others and resentful of the unfair society in which they live. They may engage in physical or verbal abuse, vandalism, or theft, and/or form gangs. People in this stage speak as if life has been unfair to them and that they can do whatever they need to live. Common phrases include “not fair” or “do what I must to survive”.

People in this stage believe that "my life sucks" and that they do not belong. They perceive that others have power and good things in life that they do not, and they are silently furious and disappointed. However, they blame others for their lack of control and convince themselves that they have no choice but to suck it up. Common phrases include: “this can’t be helped”, “no promises”, “it’s against policy”, or “we’re being screwed”. Sadly, most of them eventually move to Stage 3, and become the exact type of manager that they used to hate.

People at this stage believe they are great, while others are not as dedicated or capable. They are engaged, dynamic, and dedicated to achieving goals. However, it's all about personal accomplishments; people act like lone soldiers, frustrated by a lack of time and cooperation. The language centres around “I”, “me”, and “my”, with phrases like, “few people can match my skills”, or “if they try harder, they’ll succeed”.

This stage focuses on teams with shared values and a common goal. People are now ready for genuine cooperation after experiencing personal accomplishment in Stage 3. People are extremely proud of their tribe, believe “we’re great”, and the leader is pulled along by the tribe. The language is focused on “we”. Decisions are guided by values, information flows freely and partnerships are formed to address desired outcomes.

Stage 5 tribes look beyond defeating competitors and increasing market share to broaden their strong impact. Their language is about boundless possibilities and making history. While persons in Stage 5 are typically viewed as heroes, they do not want the spotlight. They concentrate on universal or resonating ideals that transcend the individual or the organisation. For example, IDEO values “collaboration”, Apple values “elegant design”, and Amgen values “being ethical”. Stage 5 tribes can collaborate with any other values-driven tribes, not just tribes that share their values.

The authors believe that Stage 5 tribes are the future of business, but most organisations are unable to remain in Stage 5 for long periods of time—they may return to Stage 4 if they become sidetracked by new market opportunities and/or competition developments. It is feasible, however, to settle at Stage 4 and then continually go to Stage 5 for breakthrough results.

Tribal leadership is essential for any organisation's success. When a leader comes to see their coworkers or employees as tribe members, they can begin to nurture each connection separately in order to advance through the tribal stages. Higher-level tribal cultures are more efficient, innovative, and collaborative. It is the tribal leader's responsibility to guide the tribe through the stages by encouraging specific actions such as changing language and developing new alliances and partnerships. Ultimately, when an organisation has a great tribal leader, its tribe members will progress to the next level, finally reaching the ideal Stage 4 culture or perhaps the magical Stage 5, where innovation thrives and benefits society or changes the world.

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