Tribes: Connectedness, Communication, and Leadership
Leadership Thoughts | Issue #79
Occasionally, I read a book that keeps humming in my brain, like that earworm song you can’t get out of your head. One of those books is Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, which I read back in 2008. Recently, I pulled it from the shelf and did a re-read, and I’m glad I did. The book provides a refreshing framework for discussions on how leaders can take their vision and link it with others to form a tribe that creates a movement that can result in transformational change. With this new definition of tribes and a pocket full of quotes, I affirm the importance of connectedness, communication, and leadership in transforming an organization.
“A tribe is a group of people, large or small, who are connected to a leader, to each other, and an idea.”
Connected to Each Other
“A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
Throughout the world, different groups are being formed. The people in these groups share a common interest, which makes them feel connected to each other. Think about why you're a member of specific organizations, professions, or political parties and not others. The members of the same organizations possess similar beliefs and are interested in similar activities. You are still wondering about the power of connectedness. When you meet someone for the first time and discover that you have something in common, like you went to the same school or college, belong to the same organizations, or grew up in the same community, you can feel the connection being established.
Although the word “tribe” carries a connotation of “group,” there is a difference between the two. A tribe is a group of people that says, “We’re all in this together!” Unlike a group, a tribe has leaders, connectedness, and communication channels that flow in all directions.
Connected to a Leader
“The very nature of leadership is that you’re not doing what has been done before. If you were, you’d be following, not leading.”
Connectedness is not enough to define a tribe; there must also be leaders within the tribe. Leadership is not about a fixed position or title. Leaders are generous and authentic and exist throughout an organization. They understand that leadership is about creating a culture that takes ownership of a change in which everyone believes. Then these owners of the vision are empowered to act.
Connected to an Idea
“Do you believe in what you do? Every day? It turns out that belief happens to be a brilliant strategy.”
A tribe is not just a collection of people. A tribe must also be connected by an idea that everyone embraces. A leader creates a culture whereby everyone (including the leader) takes ownership of a change they all believe in. Then, the owners of this vision are empowered to act.
“…organizations go out of their way to hire people who color inside the lines, who demonstrate consistency and compliance.”
In the book Tribes, Godin explains sleepwalking as the result of people raised to be obedient and instilled with enough fear to keep them in line. One example of sleepwalking discussed in the book is as follows. Despite all the well-meaning conversations about teaching critical reasoning and problem-solving skills in the classroom, education continues to produce compliant students who know how to “play school” by following directions rather than questioning or demanding more comprehensive or customized teaching methods. When asked how to be successful in school, the typical response from students is to do their homework, study for the test, not get in trouble and be friends with the teachers.
Looking for Heretics
“Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo get out in front of their tribes and create movements.”
During my formative years, I heard many of my Sunday sermons referring to "the heretics," but I was unclear on who they were and why they were dangerous. According to Godin, all significant change is created by heretics, who drive the disruptive innovations that threaten the status quo. Heretic leaders should expect to be criticized, challenged, and possibly even excommunicated (fired). Why? Because they are a danger to the status quo and the people who want to keep it the way it’s always been. Winners in a system want to keep the status quo so that it will continue to work for them. The system’s winners are the ones who value stability and security and not creating any disruptions. In reality, the organizational heretics (disrupters) make social movements that change the world for the better.
Leadership and Communication
“Great leaders don’t want the attention, but they use it. They use it to unite the tribe and to reinforce its sense of purpose.”
When leading a tribe, the goal is to create a movement. Tribal leaders do not tell people what to do. They inspire action by getting people to talk and be open with one another. Communication is the magic ingredient. Communication is most potent when people are empowered to communicate sideways, inside and outside the organization. When they feel comfortable communicating with the leaders in a downward and upward spiral, organizational success is on the horizon.
The following quote from Tribes is a moral imperative of leadership!
It’s Not an Opportunity
It’s an Obligation. Don’t Settle!
“To have all these advantages [relative to other countries],
… all these opportunities and then settle for mediocre
and then defend the status quo and then worry about
Corporate politics – what a waste of time.
I don’t think we have any choice. I believe we must change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game, and to play it better than anyone has any
right to think is possible.” p135
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