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Office Leadership – Defining Your Tribe

“We are running twenty-first century software on hardware last upgraded 50,000 years ago or more.”

– Ronald Wright
A Short History of Progress

While our lives have shifted far from the hunter/gatherer model, the fundamental idea of ‘tribe’ has never left us. The term has grown in popularity over the last five-or-so years with good reason. It’s our simplest, natural, default form of social grouping, built on shared beliefs and collective safety.

When it comes to leading a large company, tribal mindset can be a blessing and a curse. When an organization breaks the 150-employee mark, a natural splintering must occur. Our ancient brains cannot maintain meaningful relationships with more people. There simply isn’t the cognitive storage.

Fragmentation will inevitably lead to smaller groups, each with their own rules, success factors, leaders and influencers. Leadership becomes an exercise in recognizing and uniting these unique groups through consistent, trust-worthy messaging, aligning to a vision and purpose that speaks to them.

In the book Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright run with this idea, breaking down the mindset and strategy of company tribe into five stages. Each tribe is fluid and ever-changing. Things are always in motion – learning and regressing. As the book states, “Each stage gets more done and has more fun than the one before it.”

Stage 1
2% of total staff typically sit at this level


Life sucks. I have no hope for a brighter future with this company. I am hostile towards new ideas or efforts. I must leave this job, before it destroys me.

How to Change Behavior

  • Shift sadness and hostility into permitted apathy/passivity
  • Separate individual from other stage one employees

Stage 2
25% of total


Life doesn’t suck, but my life does. While I may not outwardly display hostility, I remain passive and uninterested. I am sarcastic and firmly rooted in the belief that any new effort will fail, just as it has failed in the past. I am not accountable for the failures I see occurring.

How to Change Behavior

  • Build confidence (give them something to brag about)
  • Build a narrative in their mind of the “lone warrior, fighting the good fight”

Stage 3
49% of total


I’m great, but you’re not. I possess a lot of valuable knowledge, and I use it to prove my worth and ‘win’ whenever and however I can. Others don’t have the ambition or skill that I do. I’m too busy too often, and see no support.

How to Change Behavior

  • Focus on the group over the individual (I vs We)
  • Nurture the ability to work less but get more done

Stage 4
22% of total


We’re great. As a group, we rely on each other to get the job done. Those outside of our group don’t understand what we do, and we do our best to protect ourselves from their meddling. We don’t care about politics or personal agendas. In fact, we reject people who do.

How to Change Behavior

  • Shift from group success to life success (We’re great vs Life’s great)
  • Diversify networks, adding new perspectives to the mix
  • Allocate time based on values and noble missions

Stage 5
2% of total


Life is great. We have the potential to do great things, and we are working to make them a reality. Innovation can happen at any time. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Nothing is too big.

How to Maintain Behavior

  • Don’t fix what isn’t broken

It’s worth noting that stage five is an ideal that should be approached in bursts (like a sprint) moving back down to stage four to recollect energy. The most successful companies tend to float between stage four and five.

For more information, Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization is available on Amazon, and recommended for leaders who wish to dig deeper into the motivation, leadership strategy, and power of tribe.

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