Choose Your Tribe

Published by Thriving Erin on

A Discussion of “Tribal Leadership” by Dave Hogan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright


All human interaction can be broken down into tribes. Tribes form so naturally that it is just considered to be human nature. As the authors write: “Birds flock, fish school, people ‘tribe’.” We settle into tribes in every area of our lives, we can see them in social settings, corporate settings, in families, athletics, religion, and politics.


Tribes can be overwhelmingly positive and encouraging environments, they can lift you up when you’re struggling and inspire you to pursue higher values. Tribal identity is all about the language we use and people in top tribes use language like “we’re great” or “life is great.” At their core, tribes are not based around action, they are established based on how people talk about themselves, their lives, their team, and the rest of the tribe. Though you can get people to agree with a plan or strategy, people will align with great values and this alignment is what creates a strong, successful tribe.


At the other end of the spectrum, people in lower level tribes use different language. They often talk about how much “life sucks” or how they “aren’t valued” and the tribe is banded together against something or someone else. These tribes need to have an adversary in order to stay united and are a hotpot of passivity, antagonism, and sarcasm. There is nothing innovative or positive coming out of these tribes and if you find yourself in one I would recommend getting out as soon as possible.


For most of us, we live our lives in different tribes that are operating at varying levels across the spectrum. The reality is that these tribes are easier to identify from the outside, most people struggle to accurately identify the level of the tribes they are in, but the key thing is to listen to the language. Then the test of whether a tribe is values-based or not, is in the alignment between their talk and the practices of the culture throughout that tribe.


Every tribe has a leader, even if they’re not leading well, or even intentionally, but it is the leader who determines the expectations for the rest of the tribe. The best leaders focus their efforts on building the tribe and upgrading the culture. A great tribal leader can bring the whole group along with her. She can dig deep and identify the values that unite people. The trademark of a great tribal leader is that they follow the core values of the tribe no matter what the cost is and for the truly great leaders, they become synonymous with the cause (e.g. George Washington, Steve Jobs).


Quick Tip  / /  If you’re in a tribe and you’re not sure what the values are of those around you, here’s a quick tip on how to get at someone’s values (even if they’re not sure themselves). Start by asking “What are you proud of?” Based on their answer, ask a few open-ended follow-up questions and you’ll quickly determine what it is that gives the person pride. Pride ties actions to values, and you’ll learn what those values are.


Through all of this, it is important to be looking internally, to be aware of our personal identity. There’s a popular quote that says, “Show me your five closest friends and I’ll show you your future.” We need to be intentional to choose our tribe and our tribal leaders. We all end up in tribes, this is just human nature, but if we want to be in a position where we can thrive, improve, be challenged, and succeed, we need to be intentional about the tribes we join. Like planting seeds in the wrong place, if we put ourselves in the wrong tribe, we limit our potential to grow before we even start.


Your Turn  / /  Ultimately, we are responsible for our own thinking and our own actions, so at the end of the day, make sure you know why you believe what you believe and ensure that you believe in the values you have aligned yourself with.


The right tribe is out there, go find it!




Tyler Bishop · November 11, 2018 at 12:20 am

I read this post with school culture on my mind. In many schools, a culture of “us against them “ emerges. I appreciate your insights into human nature and the impact of alignment on the development of positive school cultures. “What are you proud of?” is a great suggestion for determining where you fit in a school’s tribal arrangements.

    Thriving Erin · November 17, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    Hi Tyler, that sounds great. I love hearing how it’s practically relevant to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *