Tribal Leadership

Key Idea

As the saying goes: “Birds flock, fish school, people tribe.” Tribal leaders focus their efforts on building the tribe – its culture, identity, values, and shared vision. Technically speaking, a tribe ranges between 20 and 150 people, and a large company or organization is often viewed as a tribe of tribes. People in your tribe, especially at work, are those whose names are in your cell phone.

Book to Read

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization
by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright (2008)

Quick Take from the Book

The idea of tribal leadership includes five stages, with stage five being the most desirable culture for an organization (and most difficult to achieve):

  • Tribes at Stage One the culture is stressful, hostile, unfair, with lots of internal strife (about 2 percent of organizations are at this stage)'
  • Tribes at Stage Two — a passive, resigned culture, with no urgency or innovation; very little gets done (about 25 percent of organizations are at this stage)'
  • Tribes at Stage Three — a ‘lone ranger’ culture with an emphasis on winning (think lawyers, salespeople); lots of gossip, competition for rewards, a place where knowledge is power so people hoard it (about 49 percent of organizations are at this stage)'
  • Tribes at Stage Four  everyone has pride in this culture, often uniting against a fierce competitor (think football teams or Microsoft v. Apple); people are happy and engaged (about 22 percent of organizations are at this stage)'
  • Tribes at Stage Five — The dominant feeling in this culture is not on beating a foe, but in making history; everyone is inspired; lots of energy and commitment (about 2 percent of organizations are at this stage)'

Quote of Note

"Tribal Leadership focuses on two things, and only two things: the words people use and the types of relationships they form. Moving a person from one stage to the next means intervening in a certain way to help this person change her language and set up different types of relationships. As that happens to one person and then another, the entire tribe goes through a change as a new cultural stage becomes dominant."
— Logan, King and Fischer-Wright

Related Styles: Agile Leadership, Inclusive Leadership

Return to List of Leadership Styles