Book Review – Tribal Leadership

Tribal Leadership centers on the insight that how and what gets done is driven by groups and their culture and relationships.

This is a book that focuses on the emotional aspects of team (tribe) success, rather than strategy in the Michael Porter sense, or individual success in the Franklin Covey sense. The authors, Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright present the results of deep research on team cultures and present a rich model of the traits of highly successful tribes. Interestingly, most organizations fail to achieve real success because they can’t move beyond cultures of individual success, where one employee’s gain is another’s loss. In fact, some organizations don’t even achieve that accomplishment and resemble a Dilbert cartoon (incidentally, the authors interviewed Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist for the book). The individual success model is weak because it is naturally zero-sum, implicit in the success of one employee is the ‘defeat’ or lack of success of another. The individual success model may work to a limited degree, but doesn’t scale to the level of an organization as not everyone can be fulfilled. If a strong performer leaves, there is no guarantee of replacement, and by definition there will always be low performers, and the authors argue that even in the Jack Welch model of cutting the bottom 10%, employees will continually drop down the stack to replace them over time. Furthermore, there is no sustainable legacy or permanence created by individual achievement. Therefore, true success can only come through mutual trust, not trust that is earned over time, but assumed trust between employees and a shift to shared values that the tribe genuinely believes in and everyone embodies. This model enables success beyond the limits of individual attainment. Successful individuals hit the limitations of 24 hours in a day and their own skills and knowledge, but an effective tribe can leverage the group dynamic and moves from one-on-one relationships to team relationships, and the authors stress the roles of triads, individuals brokering relationships between two other people, rather than just forming relationships themselves.

As with many business books, a handful of fundamental insights are scattered across many pages, but the anecdotes and breadth of coverage from the Mafia to start-ups to the military are insightful. In addition, Tribal Leadership feels new and refreshing. Tribal Leadership moves beyond the paradigm of individual success and excellence (Franklin Covey, David Allen etc.) and really explores group dynamics in a way that makes sense. The attempt to create ‘strategic maps’ toward the end feels like too much of a stretch, but the book contains fresh insight that should give anyone who thinks seriously about their work environment and how they operate within it a chance to reflect.

One response to “Book Review – Tribal Leadership

  1. Thanks for the great review!

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