Every once in a while you encounter an idea that acts like a new pair of glasses – suddenly you can see the world with clarity you didn’t have a moment before.
The subject of today’s book review holds that kind of concept. It is a refreshing and graceful addition to and departure from so much of what you find in the leadership section of your local book store.
The book is Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Logan, King & Fisher-Wright.
First, let’s clarify what the authors’ aren’t talking about.
When they use the word “tribe” or “tribal”, they are not referring to “tribalism” – the brutal state of people killing one another on the basis of perceived differences in heritage or culture.
Rather, they recast “tribe” as a verb with healthy overtones.
The authors contend (after ten years of studying 24,000 people) that people naturally form groups and that effective leaders pays special attention to the relationship between the leader and the tribe.
As with many insights, this might not seem transformational at first glance, but it really is a profound look at the way people organize themselves and how to be an effective leader.
The Tribal Journey
Tribal Leadership describes five levels of tribes through which people can progress. An interesting and extraordinarily helpful aspect of the authors’ work is that you can assess the level of a tribe by what people say.
Behaviors can be more difficult to examine; it is only a matter of listening well to hear what people say.
The levels and an abbreviated look at what people in that level tend to say:
Level 1 – “Life stinks.” (Think about a very rough prison where life is nasty and potentially short.)
Level 2 – “My life stinks.” (The person begins to realize not all of life stinks.)
Level 3 – “I’m great (others aren’t).”
Level 4 – “We’re great.”
Level 5 – “Life is great.”
There are several profound insights in Tribal Leadership. One of them is that people almost always go through these stages in sequence. In other words, don’t be frustrated and upset with people who are in stage two or three.
Rather, recognize where they are and help coach them and the tribe to the next level.
Stage 3 in particular, where many American business leaders find themselves, may not seem like a nice place to be. However, during the stage in life where you are building your expertise, it is natural.
The good news is you don’t have to stay there…
Effective leaders serve their people. They know where they are and they are skillfully able to help them navigate to the next level. Great leaders build great tribes.
The descriptions of tribes and how to identify yours are useful, but where Tribal Leadership really shines is in the “how to”.
At each level, the authors provide very practical advice on how a leader can make the step to the next level AND how they can help individuals and tribes make that transition.
I’m intentionally not including any examples of this material – get the book!
It’s engaging, upbeat, and very helpful. While the research was significant, you won’t struggle to wade through it – the research is contained in an appendix and the authors use effective story-telling, illustrations, and reflection questions to help you take the tribal leadership journey.
Did I Mention..?
I recommend this book for leaders at every level.
If you’re just beginning, you’ll find a fabulous road map that will shorten your learning curve.
If you’re a veteran, you’ll find confirmation of your experience along with practical help to more effective lead and serve your teams.
(Did I mention I really, really like this book?)
David M. Dye
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I share twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. I currently serve as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoy helping others discover and realize their own potential.