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Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization Paperback – June 7, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
The authors, management consultants and partners of JeffersonLarsonSmith, offer a fascinating look at corporate tribes—groups of 20–150 people within a company that come together on their own rather than through management decisions—and how executives can use tribes to maximize productivity and profit. Drawing upon research from a 10-year study of more than 24,000 people in two dozen organizations, they argue that tribes have the greatest influence in determining how much and what quality work gets done. The authors identify the five stages of employee tribal development—Life sucks, My life sucks, I'm great and you're not, We're great and Life is great—and offer advice on how to manage these groups. They also share insights from the health care, philanthropic, engineering, biotechnology and other industries and include key points lists for each chapter. Particularly useful is the Tribal Leader's Cheat Sheet, which helps determine and assess success indicators. Well written and enlightening, this book will be of interest to business professionals at all levels. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Tribal Leadership gives amazingly insightful perspective on how people interact and succeed. I learned about myself and learned lessons I will carry with me and reflect on for the rest of my life.” (John W. Fanning, Founding Chairman and CEO napster Inc.)
“[A]n unusually nuanced view of high-performance cultures. . . . [S]hare the book with your Type A’s and prima donnas, as it expertly describes the tension between loners who perform exceptionally and those who perform exceptionally but who measure success as part of a team.” (Inc.)
“[T]he most thorough and unique book to come along pertaining to organizational dynamics in quite some time....Whether you’re trying to move an organization forward or trying to move forward yourself, Tribal Leadership is a great place to begin your efforts. (Business Lexington)
“Leaders of both for profit and non-profit organizations, including politicians, and can benefit from perusing Tribal Leadership.” (McClatchy-Tribune News Service)
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What is Tribal Leadership - in a nutshell it's a completely new framework for how to look at leadership and creating high performing organizations. It's not about strategy and it's all about the culture and the evolution of the organization. It turns out there are 5 distinct stages of organizational culture that all build on one another.
Stage 1 - Life Sucks...equivalent of a street gang mentality, not really a factor in most professional settings
Stage 2 - My Life Sucks...Dilbert, the employees at Dunder Mifflin (The Office) or the employees at Initech Software (Office Space) are great, if a little over done examples of Stage 2 cultures.
Stage 3 - I'm Great! (and you're not) - the lone warrior who is very competent and effective by themselves, but doesn't share well with others. Office politics, bad management practices and Stage 2 Cultures all come from Stage 3 managers.
Stage 4 - We're Great - the language changes from I, Me to We and Us. It's all about the success of the team vs. individual accomplishments. The only way to really get to Stage 4 is to really 'own' stage 3. Stage 4 organizations will significantly out perform Stage 3 and lower organizations in terms of financial results and ability to get things done.
Stage 5 - Life is Great...this stage occurs sporadically when Stage 4 organizations rise to a significant challenge and do something borderline miraculous (Think the 1980 Miracle on Ice US Hockey victory).
In order to get an organization to Stage 4, the majority of people within an organization need to be at Stage 4...they need to have reached an epiphany in Stage 3 that doing everything yourself isn't productive in the long run - you've got to have a team that you can count on if you really want to make things happen.
A couple of key ideas that are critical for Stage 4 include:
Triadic relationships - basically the idea that a group of 3 people can form a very effective and stable relationship when they all 3 share the burden of making the relationship successful.
Core Values - In order to reach a stage 4 culture, a group must have clearly stated alignment on core values...the types of values that make getting up in the morning important!
Noble Cause - Finally, Stage 4 cultures revolve around ideas that are bigger than any 1 person...you must have a Noble Cause that everyone understands and gets behind.
It's tough to summarize these really big ideas - but hopefully that gives you a taste. The book has a lot of interesting stories and examples and the authors do a nice job of stepping you through the ideas in a logical flow that makes a lot of sense. If you're looking for a set of ideas that will really shake up how you think and how you create a team that will do more...a lot more than you need to check out Tribal Leadership!
Another reviewer commented on the authors' inappropriate use of George Washington as an example of tribal leadership. Here I provide a nitpick but I think it will illustrate the larger point about the quality of this work:
The authors said Washington led America by "getting [his officers] to talk about... valuing freedom, hating the king's latest tax, or wanting to win the fight." If you've read any history, for instance David McCullough's "1776" or Gordon S. Wood's "Revolutionary Characters," you will find this description of Washington as a highly verbal, touchy-feely leader unrecognizable. They go on to say, "As [Washington] built the common cause, a mission gelled and they embraced 'we're great' language." In fact, nothing could be further from the reality of conversation in near-hopeless 1776 than "we're great." The authors mention Washington twice more, both times indicating a lack of having done their homework.
Throughout the book, the authors give many more examples, all presumably subject to similar lack of critical thinking. Since I haven't met or read biographies of the contemporary CEO's they're describing, it's impossible for me to know if there might be evidence contrary to their theory. They don't provide it. They do make much about their experience, and anecdotes, and 24,200 datapoints (sounds legit!).
They write, "If you want to see the academic side of our research, start with 'Appendix B.' " Therein I found no data about performance. Worse, I read the following astonishing admonition: "A company with a great culture and low strategic performance will, over time, find that its culture erodes." In other words, if you're a hopeless tech startup with a 'we're great' language, your choice of words will decline to lower levels and your organization will still fail. This was an exceedingly important point to explore, but they glossed over it like authors working to a deadline, or careless scholars, or both.
What we're left with is a way to *categorize* organizations by language. If their five-point scale has any power to predict individual or corporate performance, the authors don't share this fact with us. They make reference to "30% productivity improvement" and "history-making projects," but again these are presented as anecdotes without the strength of correlation, let alone the power of causation.
It's too bad, because I wanted to love this book and the classification system. Instead I'm left hoping I didn't fill my head with half-truths. If you're interested in practical conversation you'd be much better served with Roger Fisher, or for serious theory something by Deborah Tannen.