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Five Stages of Tribal Leadership

Podcast with cultural change, strategy, and negotiation consultant, Dave Logan

Dave Logan Dave Logan

In Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, management consultants Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright show leaders how to use the tribes within their organization to maximize productivity and profit.

Based on a ten-year study of nearly 24,000 people in more than two dozen corporations, and with insights from such leading and diverse figures as Brian France, CEO of NASCAR, Reed Hoffman, Chairman of LinkedIn, Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, and Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, Tribal Leadership is not only a fascinating look into the nature of organizations and human behavior, but an invaluable guide to understanding how today's top companies perform, how to develop both personal and team excellence, and why the success of any company comes from the strength of the tribes within.

Tribal Leadership

©Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright

Every company is a tribe, or a network of tribes—groups of 20 to 150 people in which everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows of them. It's a fact of life: birds flock, fish school, and people "tribe." Tribes are more powerful than teams, companies, or even superstar CEOs, and yet their key leverage points have not been mapped—until now. Great leaders know they can't instantly change the culture of 100,000 people, or even 50 people, with gimmicks or trendy initiatives.

Successful executives focus on developing their culture one "tribe" at a time. The heart of leadership development is helping leaders to upgrade the effectiveness of their tribes, taking these groups from "adequate" to "outstanding." Tribal Leaders focus on building the tribe—or upgrading the tribal culture. If they succeed, the tribe recognizes them as the leader, giving them discretionary effort, cult-like loyalty, and a track record of success. Divisions and companies run by Tribal Leaders set the standard of performance in their industries, from productivity and profitability, to employee retention. They are talent magnets, with people so eager to work with the leader that they will take a pay cut. Their efforts seem effortless, leaving many people puzzled by how they do it.

Now you can better own your role as a tribal leader, and develop other leaders. Five Stages of Tribal Culture Tribes come in five flavors, marked by differences in talk and behavior. Tribal Leadership starts with recognizing which stage you have, and doesn't stop until you reach Stage 5.

Stage 1 runs the show in criminal clusters, like gangs and prisons, where the theme is "life stinks," and people act out in despairingly hostile ways. This stage shows up in 2 percent of corporate tribes, but leaders need to be on guard, as this is the zone of criminal behavior and workplace violence. The best way for a leader to intervene is to get individual members out of the group and into another.

Stage 2, the dominant culture in 25 percent of workplace tribes, says, in effect, "my life stinks," and the mood is a cluster of apathetic victims. People in this stage are passively antagonistic, crossing their arms in judgment yet never getting interested enough to spark any passion. Their laughter is quietly sarcastic, resigned. Tribal leaders intervene in Stage 2 by finding those individuals who want things to be different, and mentor them—one at a time. Tell them that you think they have potential. Over time, some will start to talk the Stage 3 language. At that point, invite them to mentor another member of the tribe.

In Stage 3, the dominant culture in half of U.S. workplace tribes, the theme is "I'm great" or, more fully, "I'm great, and you're not." In this culture, knowledge is power, and so people hoard it, from client contacts to gossip, people at this stage have to win, and winning is personal. They'll out-work, think, and maneuver their competitors. The mood that results is a collection of "lone warriors," wanting help and support and being disappointed that others don't have their ambition or skill. What holds people at Stage 3 is the "hit" they get from winning, besting others, being the smartest and most successful. Tribal leaders intervene in Stage 3 by identifying people's individual values and then seeing which cut across the tribe. Point out the values that unite people, and then construct initiatives that bring these values to life.

Stage 4 represents 22 percent of tribal cultures, where the theme is "we're great," and another group isn't. Stage four is the zone of Tribal Leadership where the leader upgrades the tribe as the tribe embraces the leader. The leader transforms tribes of individuals into Stage 4 groups, and the tribal leaders in these groups focus people on their aspirations, and define measurable ways to make a worldwide impact. As the tribal attention shifts from "we're better" to "we can make a global impact," their culture shifts to Stage 5.

Stage 5 is the culture of 2 percent of the workforce tribes, where the theme is "life is great" and focuses on realizing potential by making history. Teams at Stage 5 have produced miraculous innovations. The team that produced the first Macintosh was Stage 5, and we've seen this mood at Amgen. This stage is pure leadership, vision, and inspiration. Identify which of these five cultures dominates your tribe, and start bumping your tribe to the next stage by noticing the social groups that exist in your company.

These are your tribes. Then listen to the way they talk. Is it "life stinks" (Stage 1), "my life stinks" (Stage 2), "I'm great" (Stage 3), "we're great" (Stage 4) or "life is great" (Stage 5)? Move your tribes to the next stage, until reaching Stage 5. These steps will help you move from adequate to outstanding, and produce tribes that want to change the world.

Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright are coauthors of Tribal Leadership (HarperCollins) and partners of the management consulting firm CultureSync. Visit

About the Author

Dave Logan is co-founder and senior partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm specializing in cultural change, strategy, and negotiation. CultureSync's clients include Intel, Colliers International, American Express, Prudential, and Health Net.

Dave is also a professor at the Marshall School of Business at USC. From 2001-2004, he served as Associate Dean of Executive Education. During that time, he launched the largest training program in commercial real estate (with CB Richard Ellis), and new programs with dozens of organizations, from Northrop Grumman to numerous small cap financial institutions.

Currently, he teaches leadership and negotiation in the USC Executive MBA (ranked fifth in the world), and is on faculty at the Center for Medical Excellence in Portland and the International Center for Leadership In Finance (ICLIF) in Kuala Lumpur, endowed by the former prime minister of Malaysia.

He has written two books in addition to Tribal Leadership and is currently at work on a 2009 release recently selected for the "Warren Bennis" line of books at Wiley. His work has also been published numerous academic and professional journals, including a 2006 "agenda" in MIT-Sloan Management Review.

Dave has a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from the Annenberg School at USC.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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