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.
The question is this: what is your business today – what is your current business? Not what was your business yesterday, but today?
Here’s Seth Godin’s quote (part of a 10 minute “casual presentation” video by Seth Godin – watch it here):
“What you did well isn’t important anymore.
That’s the key shift. Now you have to do something else really well.
The industrial complex is falling apart.
I can get it (your product, that product you sold yesterday) cheaper.”
So – what are you doing well today? Not yesterday, but today?
In a recent blog post, Seth Godin observes:
“Like a dream come true”
Choose your dreams carefully.
Everyone is entitled to a dream. It gives us hope, focuses our energy, makes us human.
Sometimes, though, we get sold a dream instead of creating our own.
Is it really every girl’s dream to become a princess, to be chosen by someone of royal birth and to have a $34 million wedding? Or is that the Disney-industrial complex betraying you, selling you short?
I just read that the folks who brought us the Mall of America are going to redo the troubled Xanadu shopping complex in New Jersey and rename it The American Dream. Is this the best we can do? Shop?
Dreams are too important to sell cheap, to give over to some organization trying to make a buck.
* * *
To me, dreams are visions of what could be. We realize that they haven’t happened yet but some dreams are so powerful that they inspire us to make them come true. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offers the best example of such a compelling vision when he concluded his speech on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial.
As for fantasies, they resemble dreams but can cause all manner of serious problems if we delude ourselves to think that what we envision has already happened.
In anticipation of winning a state lottery, many people spend money they don’t have, to buy what they don’t need, using credit cards because they have no cash. Their fantasy is delusional.
All great human achievements began with a bold, compelling dream.
Fantasies are essentially harmless unless perceived to be realities.
The damage they can then do is incalculable. Beware.
I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog and welcome each new post. Here is one I think is especially valuable because it addresses issues that are directly relevant to almost everyone…in a school, college, or university or embarked on a career.
Although I probably shouldn’t be, I continue to be amazed by how ingenious people can be when offering alibis, self-justifications, denials, evasions, etc. when attempting to excuse failures of character and behavior.
All of Thomas Edison’s so-called “failures” occurred despite great effort. He thought they were worthwhile and so does Godin.
* * *
There are some significant misunderstandings about failure. A common one, similar to one we seem to have about death, is that if you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen.
All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else.
Two habits that don’t help:
Getting good at avoiding blame and casting doubt
Not signing up for visible and important projects
While it may seem like these two choices increase your chances for survival or even promotion, in fact they merely insulate you from worthwhile failures.
I think it’s worth noting that my definition of failure does not include being unlucky enough to be involved in a project where random external events kept you from succeeding. That’s the cost of showing up, not the definition of failure.
Identifying these random events, of course, is part of the art of doing ever better. Many of the things we’d like to blame as being out of our control are in fact avoidable or can be planned around.
Here are six random ideas that will help you fail better, more often and with an inevitably positive upside:
1. Whenever possible, take on specific projects.
2. Make detailed promises about what success looks like and when it will occur.
3. Engage others in your projects. If you fail, they should be involved and know that they will fail with you.
4. Be really clear about what the true risks are. Ignore the vivid, unlikely and ultimately non-fatal risks that take so much of our focus away.
5. Concentrate your energy and will on the elements of the project that you have influence on, ignore external events that you can’t avoid or change.
6. When you fail (and you will) be clear about it, call it by name and outline specifically what you learned so you won’t make the same mistake twice. People who blame others for failure will never be good at failing, because they’ve never done it.
If that list frightens you, you might be getting to the nub of the matter.
If that list feels like the sort of thing you’d like your freelancers, employees or even bosses to adopt, then perhaps it’s resonating as a plan going forward for you.
* * *
Why not sign up for a free subscription to Godin’s blog?
All you have to do is click here.
After having read and reviewed so many business books, I now share brief comments about what I consider to be the 25 most valuable business insights and the books in which they are either introduced or (one man’s opinion) best explained. Here are the third five:
11. Leadership: In essence, leaders attract followers so that together they can achieve shared objectives, guided and informed by shared values based on mutual trust and respect. History’s greatest leaders are remembered for a heritage, usually based on great achievements that had an enduring impact. Alexander and then Julius Caesar for establishing or extending a great empire and Lincoln for preserving union despite a civil war.
The same is true of great business leaders such as Albert Sloan, Thomas Watson Sr. and Jr., and Steve Jobs. They could not have succeeded, had they not attracted sufficient followers who embraced both a dream and great challenges. Today, no organization can survive – much less thrive – without effective leadership at all levels and in all areas. Seth Godin said it well: “Initiative is taken, not given.”
Best Sources: Warren Bennis’ On Becoming a Leader, James O’Toole’s The Executive’s Compass: Business and the Good Society, Bill George’s True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership co-authored with Peter Sims, and William C. Taylor’s Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself
12. Management: In essence, managers organize and then complete tasks and among their most important tasks is supervising others. The most efficient managers do that most efficiently, with highly-developed emotional intelligence. I’ve always believed that managers help keep the promises that leaders make. With all due respect to compelling visions, someone has to take out the garbage, milk the cows, and turn off the lights. I agree with Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Best Sources: Henry Mintzberg’s Management? It Isn’t What You Think!, Peter F. Drucker’s The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, and Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done co-authored by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
13. Marketing: Create or increase demand for a customer-focused, multi-sensory experience that pro0mises a unique, enjoyable, and fulfilling experience. Initially, a “market” was a specific location; later, it was viewed as a specific segment of sellers/buyers (e.g. housing) and then as a cluster of demographics (e.g. males ages 29-45); later, marketing was defined as a brand, then a promise, and now an experience that creates “customer evangelists.”
Best Sources: Theodore Levitt’s The Marketing Imagination and Philip Kotler’s Kotler on Marketing.
14. Mergers & Acquisitions: Mergers are (usually) blended consolidations of two previously independent entities whereas acquisitions (usually) involve one entity being absorbed and then controlled by another. A majority of M&As fail or fall far short of expectations and the reasons vary but usually include irreconcilable cultural differences (e.g. values, silos, and turf issues).
Best Sources: Steve Steinhilber’s Strategic Alliances: Three Ways to Make Them Work (Memo to the CEO) and The Complete Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions: Process Tools to Support M&A Integration at Every Level co-authored by Timothy J. Galpin Mark Herndon
15. “Open” Mindset: This mindset is well-named because those who develop it are literally “open” (i.e. receptive to and respectful of) whatever possibilities they may encounter. They constantly ask “Why?” and “Why not?” They consider, compare/contrast, and integrate sometimes contradictory information but also opinions, assertions, theories, etc. The metaphor I use to describe this mindset is that it opens doors and windows and sheds light on whatever has possible relevance and value. The singe most significant, indeed defining characteristic of an open mindset is insatiable curiosity.
Best Sources: Henry Chesbrough’s Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape, Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating And Profiting from Technology, and Open Services Innovation: Rethinking Your Business to Grow and Compete in a New Era as well as Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind: Winning Trough Integratuve Thinking, and Morten T. Hansen’s Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results
Seth Godin said it and I agree with him.
Over a two-year period (1908-1910), on an assignment for Andrew Carnegie, Napoleon Hill interviewed the most successful people in the world to learn what they shared in common. What was it?
The most successful people go “the extra mile.”
Think about that.
• They didn’t wait to be asked.
• They didn’t ask for permission.
• No one made them do it.
• Something needed to be done and done right.
• And they did it as best they could.
• They didn’t expect praise or recognition…and usually didn’t get it.
Almost always, they “went the extra mile” for someone else.
Out there, somewhere, someone needs your help now.
What are you waiting for?
Seth Godin has another brilliant blog post, “Self-destructive instructions,” in which he identifies several such as librarians yelling at kids to be quiet.
Here’s my own list of what I call gutless interaction:
“I mean it” when you don’t.
“That’s it” when it isn’t.
“Just kidding” when you aren’t (probably a sign of latent hostility)
“I’d give anything” when in fact you wouldn’t or it would already have happened
“If only” awaits divine intervention rather than (invoking Godin’s phrase) shipping it
“Got a minute?” for what usually takes forever
“To make a long story short” but, in fact, making it much longer and even more boring
“I hate to tell you” when in fact it will be a pleasure
“This can’t wait” but of course it can and is probably not worth doing now…or perhaps ever
“They say” to add authority to what you think but are afraid to acknowledge as your own opinion
Do you have any to share?
From Seth Godin’s blog:
The first rule of doing work that matters
Go to work on a regular basis.
In short: show up.
It always, always comes back to work ethic. It takes time — lots of time — over the long haul — to be successful.
In his latest book, Matthew May offers a business parable and this is quite a bold departure from his approach in two previous books, In Pursuit of Elegance and The Elegant Solution. Briefly, the protagonist (Andy Harmon) is in his 40s, married with a family, and suddenly finds himself unemployed in Twin Falls, a “one company town” that has lost its largest employer, Mega Box Electronics. Should he relocate to another area in which jobs are more plentiful or remain and take his chances, such as they are? Either way, the risks are daunting. After giving the situation a great deal of thought, he decides to work for a local automobile dealership.
In this context, I am reminded of one of the most thoughtful books I have ever read on the subject of coping with setbacks, delays, frustrations, “crucibles” and even tragedies: Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), published by Portfolio/Penguin in 2007. According to Godin, here’s the challenge: When encountering what he characterizes as “the Dip” (i.e. a temporary setback which creates a “moment of truth”), know the difference(s) between “the right stuff” and “the wrong stuff” and proceed accordingly. So many decisions in life are gambles (i.e. “knowing when to hold and when to fold”) in that they must be made without complete information and thus require a combination of knowledge, judgment, instinct, courage, and faith.
This is precisely what May has in mind when he observes, “There are times in life when if fortunate we experience a moment of utter clarity. We feel wide awake and connected and balanced: everything makes sense, we know exactly who we are, what we want and why we’re here. In that moment, be it one blink or a thousand, our effectiveness is maximized. And yet our actions seem minimal, effortless even, and the experience is consummately satisfying. These are breakthrough moments.” The Shibumi Strategy is to experience such moments. Matt’s protagonist embarks on a process that eventually proves successful (the details are best revealed within the narrative) and I think many people who are unemployed or under-employed will easily identify with Andy Harmon’s struggles.
It is noteworthy that May introduces and then coordinates involvement of several minor but significant characters, notably Mariko Tanaka Simpson (a martial arts instructor) and Grady Carver (general sales manager at Mainstreet Motors). One of my complaints with other business fables is that their authors function as ventriloquists, ineptly using a protagonist to express concerns, raise questions, encounter problems, affirm core concepts, and eventually prevail by applying the given author’s advice to the reader via a straw man or woman. Although May is by no means a world-class raconteur, the story he tells engages the reader’s interest, moves along at a brisk but unhurried pace, and focuses on real-world situations with which most readers can easily identify.
It is also noteworthy that May makes effective use of Japanese terms, most of which that are probably unfamiliar to most readers such as the aforementioned shibumi as well as kata (a foundational regimen to a natural pattern of effective behavior) genchi genbutsu (observation), hoshin (goal alignment), kaizen (continuous improvement), and hansei (reflection). These and other terms provide both structure and illumination to the process through which Harmon works his way to a predictable but plausible conclusion.
This is among the most informative as well as entertaining personal leadership fables that I have read this far. It can be of substantial value to anyone who is in pursuit of clarity, understanding, and wisdom.