Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tribal Leadership Book Review

Book Recommendations

How effective is your company in achieving its mission?  What role do you play in your teams?  How effective are you as a leader?  How can you improve your leadership beyond steering or controlling groups?

No doubt we’ve asked these questions of ourselves.  We may have even come up with somewhat satisfactory answers.  However, there’s nothing like research-based studies and books to shed light on what we may already intuit, or in helping us understand how to better lead our professional and personal lives.

TribalLeadershipBookThis last thought is exactly what may occur to you when reading the paper-back edition release of  Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, & Halee Fischer-Wright. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in better understanding how to lead teams, groups, or companies into a new level of productivity AND camaraderie.  Read on to learn why.

Overall
The book is well-written and easy to follow.  In fact, you may start the book and become addicted to the ideas, unable to put it down.  The conclusions are based on a study of 24,000 people in different companies at different levels of efficacy. 

The description of each stage of leadership, from complete chaos (Stage 1, “Life sucks”) to a well-oiled machine (Stage 5, “Life is great”), is lucid enough to seem familiar from your day-to-day life.    You’ll likely come away from this book  with a new mindset to navigate your personal and professional life to better serve, not just yourself, but your community at-large.

In short, after reading this book and applying its lessons, you’ll become a better member of society and the world community, increasing your happiness as well as everyone else’s.

Pros
The authors’ approach to leadership is based on a study of 24,000 people in different organizations. The focus is not purely on Drucker-style of leadership lessons, but historical evidence of effective leaders and the common theme that runs through each leader’s story.

This may sound like a typical theme for leadership books, except the authors approach and interpretation is different.  The authors focus on relationships and the languages that represent the different styles of leadership, not just ideas.  Given the book is based on studies of individuals and their results, the concepts aren’t theoretical in nature.  In fact, the authors admit they had to revise their pre-conceived notions based on lessons learned in the course of preparing to write and update this book.

The various levels of an organization and leadership are described as Stages, each signified by a general state of mind, consisting of a Mood and a Theme (table below is recreated from page 25 in the book):

Stage Mood Theme
5 Innocent Wonderment “Life is great”
4 Tribal Pride “We’re great
(and they’re not)
3 Lone Warrior “I’m great
(and you’re not)
2 Apathetic Victim “My life sucks”
1 Despairing Hostility “Life sucks”

The Themes are summaries of the language a person in each stage uses to express their state of mind.  Each of us have been at these Stages at one point or another in our lives, though, as the authors explain, the majority of population gets stuck at Stages 2 and 3.  Stage 3 is the most prevalent, as is apparent in our day-to-day interactions with overpowering managers, bosses, or business owners who portray the “I’m great, and you’re not” mentality, with especial emphasis on “you’re not.”

The goal of the book is to provide each person and, in turn, the groups that they lead, the tools to elevate to Stages 4 and 5 as quickly as possible.  However, there are apparently no shortcuts. You need to own and graduate from each Stage.  The graduation comes when we have mastered a stage and realize there has to be a better way of operating than the current Stage.  Trying to bypass a Stage by purely using the language of a higher one comes across as disingenuous.  We’ve all worked in companies where the leaders talk about how “we can be great if we do X,” but their actions demonstrate they mean “I can be better off if YOU do X.”  This approach doesn’t just come across as lacking, but also leads to distrust of leadership and eventual downfall of an organization into the ineffective Stage 2 mentality.

The stages are described as Viral.  To demonstrate this concept and how quickly Stage 2 groups can form, during a presentation to large groups, one of the authors often states aloud that, “My life sucks because I have to be here with all of you” (page 64).  After the audience gets over being stunned, one person may pipe up that their life sucks since they have to listen to the speaker.  Soon, everyone’s chiming in why their life sucks as people become comfortable airing their daily life frustrations. This viral nature isn’t limited to Stage 2, but can be replicated in all other stages as well, pointing to how language can be used to lead a group into a higher Stage of operation.  The caveat is that the members must be ready to graduate to a higher stage.

The authors warn that the Stages shouldn’t be used to categorize people, but to understand a person’s or organization’s language and relationships.  They argue that categorization leads to pigeon-holing which prevents a person’s or organization’s graduation to a higher Stage. 

The concepts in the book are sticky given the book’s clear structure and presentation.  Each chapter starts out by introducing the main points in the initial pages, then delivers the ideas in detail, and, finally, summarizes the chapter with Leverage Points and Success Indicators.  The summaries are essentially a bulleted list of key points that could be actionable. 

Aside from the main content, the book contains three key Appendices.  You may be tempted to skip them, until you realize they provide the ideas in brief for each Stage of Tribal Leadership, the summary of the research that lead to the book, and details of how the authors can be reached.  The authors do truly practice what they preach: setting up relationships that benefit a group or the society at large.

Cons
Some of the ideas in the book may seem academic, though nothing like theoretical models you’d see in textbooks.  In fact, the authors have skipped the “academics” by providing some of the theories and research details in Appendix B, thus allowing the reader to focus on the lessons learned in the main body of the book. In general, the ideas are approachable and will be comprehendible by most readers, from individual contributors to leaders.

Also the tips on how to progress from one Stage to another could be more detailed. For this, you’re directed to the the book’s website where you can further read about local events, training, and even blog posts on the subject. 

What Do You think?

Please feel free to comment on this review or share your thoughts about the book by writing a comment below.

Photo Credits

Tribal Leadership website.