How and why “workplace tribes” in almost any organization can develop the leaders needed at all levels and in all areas
When I first saw the title of this book before reading it, I immediately recalled great leaders throughout ancient history, including those whom Homer discusses in his two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as those featured in plays written by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. More than 2,000 years later, the tribal leaders that Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright discuss in this book are “natural leaders,” as were Achilles, Odysseus, Orestes, and Oedipus. However, they lead fellow workers rather than warriors to “victory” in the business world rather than on a battlefield. Moreover, what the co-authors mean by a “tribe” is a naturally occurring group of 20-150 people. Viewed this way, an organization becomes an interconnected series of these tribes. The key to changing an organization is to upgrade its tribes, one member at a time, through one stage at a time.
As I shall soon discuss in more detail, their view of stages is the key to getting an organization at least to the fourth of five stages of development. Their view is very practical: how to transform an organization. What they propose is based on a ten-year set of research studies that involved 24,000 people in two dozen organizations, with their members located around the world. The co-authors share what they learned from their research in this book.
For example, how to build and then sustain strong relationships between and among an organization’s tribal members. As they explain, “Every tribe has a dominant culture, which we can peg on a one-to-five scale, with Stage Five being most desirable. All things being equal, a Five culture will always outperform a Four culture, which will outperform a Three culture, and so on.” Paradoxically, the leadership challenge is to strengthen a tribe until it becomes a Four or Five culture while allowing it to function collaboratively within a federation with other tribes. In essence, the strength of a tribe is determined by the health of its culture.
In Chapter 3, Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright introduce and explain what they characterize as “the tribal leadership navigation system.” Its purpose is help leaders in the 75% of companies whose workplace tribes have a cultural Stage Three or below to locate the leverage points by which to nudge their company forward (i.e. higher) faster while emerging as a tribal leader. The co-authors suggest how to determine the current culture stage and then explain what is needed to reach the next stage.
One key point is that advancing a tribe is most efficiently achieved one member at a time. Aspiring leaders, therefore, must keep in mind that they have two eyes, two ears, but only one mouth. Therefore, they should spend at least 80% of their time observing what is (and isn’t) happening and listening to what is (and isn’t) said. Those whom Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright cite as effective tribal leaders (e.g. Griffin Hospital’s David Charmel, the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s Mike Eruzione, IDEO’s David Kelley, and the Moore Foundation’s Frank Jordan) have highly developed skills for “reading” a person’s tone of voice and body language.
Personal note: My own experience while working closely with several hundred companies is that one of the most revealing indicators is workers’ use of pronouns. Those who are actively and productively engaged use first-person plural pronouns almost exclusively. Those who are passively engaged or actively disengaged (i.e. dysfunctional) seldom do.
Credit Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright with making especially effective use of various reader-friendly devices. For example, Technical Notes, Key [Chapter] Points, Coaching Tips, Summaries, Leverage Points for a Person (per Stage), and Success Indicators. These devices facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review later.
Here in a single volume is about as much information, insights, and advice as a business leader needs to help her or his “tribe” (be it a department, division, or company) to develop and then sustain at least a Four culture. The success of those efforts, however, must be collaborative in nature and continuous at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.
Lawrence Dorfman’s The Snark Handbook: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring is among my Christmas gifts this year and immediately attracted my attention because of the wealth of quotations it provides from various sources. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the term, Dorfman provides this etymology:
“snark\snärk\n 1 biting wit 2 a : smartass remark b : slyly disparaging comment 3 : bastardization of ‘snide remark’ snarky — \snärke\ adj. : IRASCIBLE, SNAPPISH snark+ ier; – est”
Examples? How about these:
“The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech.” George Bernard Shaw
“This is not a novel to be taken lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Dorothy Parker
“”Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” Mark Twain
“From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend to read it.” Groucho Marx
“The covers of this book are too far apart.” Ambrose Bierce
“Truman Capote’s death was a good career move.” Gore Vidal
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” W. Somerset Maugham
“She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’” P.G. Wodehouse
“The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.” Marty Feldman
Peter Drucker; Warren Bennis; Tom Peters; Jim Collins; Malcolm Gladwell – Makers of the Business Universe
My blogging colleague, Bob Morris, is more able to tackle this post than I am — but here’s my try.
I was reading a couple of the speeches in the great William Safire compilation, Lend Me Your Ears. (I blogged about this before here and here, and Bob reviewed the compilation here). I read this toast: George Bernard Shaw: George Bernard Shaw Salutes His Friend Albert Einstein. It is a remarkable piece. Here is a key excerpt from the beginning of his toast:
Napoleon and other great men were makers of empires, but these eight men whom I am about to mention were makers of universes… I go back twenty-five hundred years, and how many can I count in that period? I can count them on the fingers of my two hands.
Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Kepler, Copernicus, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein – and I still have two fingers left vacant…
Newton made a universe which lasted for three hundred years. Einstein has made a universe, which I suppose you want me to say will never stop, but I don’t know how long it will last.
It was the phrase “makers of universes” that grabbed my imagination. I really don’t think that we can put the business luminaries listed above in the same category. (Well, maybe Drucker). But in a lesser sense, and certainly in a narrower arena, I think we can say that these business thinker/business book giants have created at least some small universes.
Here’s what I mean. When you think of “leadership,” you think of Bennis. When you think of studying successful companies, extracting their secrets, you think of Peters and Collins. Collins “hedgehog principle” has become part of our vocabulary. And Gladwell is the true master at introducing phrases that become part of our understanding and vital parts of our vocabularies, (even if he borrows the ideas from others): “tipping point,” “outliers,” the “10,000 hour rule.”
And, if you had only one you could read, you could make the case that Drucker is the one you would choose. Many have observed that in communication, Aristotle said it first, and everyone else simply provides commentary and updates illustrations. Well, in business, Drucker said it first, and everything else builds, in one way or another, on his work.
As I said earlier, Bob Morris is far more qualified to choose the names that could be called the “makers of the business universe.” But I like the quest – who are the voices, the minds, that have most shaped our usable understanding of business effort and success? Who has created our business universe?