Review: Tribal Leadership

The next book I took a read through was Tribal Leadership. At first, I enjoyed the book. It was something specific (unlike many business books that are all over the place), covered a functional area, and gave specific and actionable steps to take in the real world. However, I think the book could of been cut in half in terms of content (or more), and still got 85-90% of the message across.

Personally, it was a new topic to me, here is the thesis; people can be dividied into five stages based on personal development stages. Each stage has a view or catchphrase that encompasses their outlook on life. Stage one consists of those whose who think ‘life sucks’. Life – for everyone it seems – is a downhill battle, with very little, if any upside. From there you move into stage two, with the realization that life does not such for everyone. It seems some people have figured it out, therefore the move into stage two moves to ‘my life sucks’. From there, individuals have an epiphany – realizing that hard work and focus, partnered with a steady self-reliance, is the only way to make it. They move to stage three, ‘I am great (and you’re not)’.

A further epiphany moves you onto stage four. The realization that by having to be the center of all exercises, they limit the potential of the group. The individual moves from forming dyadic relationships (like a bike wheel, with spokes), to triadic relationships, increasing the potential of the group. Additionally, the tribe gets behind a noble cause, a key to maintaining a stage four group. This stage is summarized by ‘we’re great’, and is the final stage before stage five. Stage five is characterized by feelings of ‘life is great’, where the group comes up with innovative products, solutions and excels beyond all expectations.

However, I did have a couple issues with the book. Firstly, I think it is over simplistic to tag line a person universally. There are certain areas of life and business where you can be at different stages, which means a more micro approach might yield more value and insight. Additionally, I have to think there is a large deal of nature vs. nurture. If I were to go join Google, there is a much higher chance that I would operate at a higher stage then if I were to join a manufacturing plant. Therefore, if the organization is having such a substantial impact on my stage, is there even a point to identifying my personal stage?

Also, they assert that before you advance on from one stage to the next, you need to ‘own’ that stage, especially stage three. For me, this was a somewhat disappointing assumption. Firstly, I don’t believe it is realistic. Lets refresh what stage three is: it’s an individual who believes his own skill and knowledge trumps that of the group. I do believe you must identify with that stage, see its limits, and move past it, but in terms of ‘owning’ it, I do not feel that you need to loiter at that stage in order to move to stage four, ‘we’re great’.

Overall the book was a good read, and depending on your learning style, the stories that fill the bulk of the chapter may be worth the time required. However, I would think one could get 80% of the value of the book by just reading the summaries and key leverage points of each chapter, and the chapters on stage four and five.


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