When we think of tribes, we usually imagine hunter gatherers from ancient civilisations. But in fact, we are all part of a tribe or many different tribes. And tribal leaders are crucial to effecting powerful change.
What exactly is a tribe?
The dictionary defines a tribe as: "a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognised leader."
For millions of years, humans have joined tribes. And this simple concept is very much alive today.
David Logan, a lecturer on leadership at USC and co-author of Tribal Leadership says:
"A tribe is a group of about 20 to 150 people. And it's within these tribes that all of our work gets done. But not just work. Societies get built. Important things happen."
We’re all members of tribes. In work, within our communities, politically, spiritually - even at music concerts or sporting events, we’re connected in a tribe.
The role of the leader
Entrepreneur and blogger Seth Godin has written a book called Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. He believes that a tribal leader is crucial in bringing about meaningful change.
"When Al Gore set out to change the world again, he didn't do it by himself. He did it by creating a movement. Thousands of people around the country who could give his presentation for him, because he can't be in 100 or 200 or 500 cities in each night," says Seth.
Clearly a great tribe needs a powerful leader and vice versa. But what does this mean for businesses?
Leading tribes at work
David spent 10 years studying thousands of workers in dozens of organisations. He found three common themes.
The success of a company is dependent on its tribes. The strength of a company’s tribes is determined by tribal culture. And an effective tribal leader can bring about a thriving corporate culture.
He believes that the lack of a good tribal leader is why some businesses fail.
In his book he offers tips and strategies to show leaders how to employ their tribes to boost productivity and profit. And that by assessing their company’s tribal culture on a scale from one to five can help leaders move themselves and their tribe forward.
It’s about "finding a way to take the tribes that you're in and nudge them forward, along these tribal stages to what we call Stage Five, which is the top of the mountain," David explains.
By helping leaders build a better organisation, where the best people want to work and make a real impact, we can create more successful and less stressful workplaces.
Tribal leaders aren’t just CEOs of multi-nationals or entrepreneurs. Tribes are founded on shared ideals and values, which can give ordinary people the power to lead.
"It turns out that it's tribes - not money, not factories - that can change our world, that can change politics, that can align large numbers of people. Not because you force them to do something against their will, but because they wanted to connect," argues Seth.
Seth believes it’s the tribe leaders role to do the connecting, not necessarily the inventing.
"Bob Marley did not invent Rastafarians. He just stepped up and said, "Follow me"," he says.
Bob Marley was a heretic who didn’t like the status quo, so he stood up to change it and move it forward. Much like David encouraging business leaders to move their tribe on.
The Internet has removed barriers of geography and time, creating an explosion of tribes of thousands or even millions, united by a cause. But what the Internet can’t create is leaders.
Tribes need leadership to make a difference, and leaders Seth believes can come in many guises.
"Instead of being what I call a sheepwalker - somebody who's half asleep, following instructions, keeping their head down, fitting in - every once in a while someone needs to stand up and say, "Not me."
So if you have an opportunity to lead - be it colleagues or customers, readers or believers - that someone could be you.