I had another great CMO 2.0 Influencer Conversation with Dave Logan, the co-author of “Tribal Leadership,” professor at USC and co-founder and Senior Partner at CultureSync.
Dave started off by talking about the research that he and his colleagues, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, did over a period of eight years and which led them to uncover five distinct organizational cultures. The context: as you move up through the various stages, everything you want – such as effectiveness, productivity, and innovation – increases, while everything that you don’t want – such as stress, anxiety, and even workplace violence – decreases.
Dave then took us through the aspects and details of the five tribal leadership stages and what the key motivator is for each. Worth noting: the reason they settled on a tribal metaphor is because they found that it is not the individual that determines a company’s culture, nor is it the organization as a whole. Rather the culture gets determined by ‘tribes’ – those naturally occurring groups of 20-150 individuals in organizations through which the work gets done.
Here is a summary of the five stages of Tribal Leadership:
- Stage 1 is motivated by the motto “life sucks.” This is the domain of workplace violence and it makes up about 2% of tribes.
- Stage 2 is motivated by the theme “my life sucks.” These tribes move very slowly, they don’t collaborate and they have very low performance – in fact they do the bare minimum not to get fired. They also have a high degree of cynicism (done that, been there) and they comprise 25% of the tribes.
- Stage 3 is where people think “I am great, but you are not.” Productivity and effectiveness in these tribes increases, but they need to verbally compete to operate.This stage is very typical of professions where knowledge or personal achievement is key – or where you need to outperform you peers to get ahead. Again there is very little collaboration at this stage and people talk a lot about themselves. They comprise 48% of the tribes.
- Stage 4 is where people are motivated by “we are great and they are not.” You find those cultures primarily in young organizations and high tech environments where there is little bureaucracy, making it easier to get things done. Because they are based on shared values, there is less politicking going on, less anxiety and much more collaboration. They make up 22% of the tribes.
- Stage 5 cultures no longer need rivals and their theme is “life is great.” It’s focused purely on values – e.g, curing cancer. This is where the breakthroughs happen and they make up 2% of the tribes.
As a leader, you need to stabilize the level that your tribe is operating before you can work on moving them up to the next level. If you do not push into a new level from a stable position at the previous level, your tribe will operate in a position of weakness and have a high likelihood of regressing back. Of course, that also means that you cannot skip a level. Dave used the example of many dot.coms to make that point. They deluded themselves into thinking they were operating at level 5 without having gone through the previous stages. When the bust hit, many of those tribes regressed multiple stages – some as far as Stage 1.
As he describes it, one’s goal should be to reach Stage 4 and then stabilize your tribe there. That requires you to constantly review the values that you share with your team – always making sure that you are still fighting for the same thing. You also continuously need to connect people with other people as Stage 4 is characterized by fused relationship – where groups of three operate as a single unit.
Organizational change can come by changing one tribe at a time, and if you want to change the level of an organization as a whole, you have to start with the most senior executive tribe first. That is especially hard considering that traditional management structures are very much designed as Stage 3 environments – the leader is great and most others are not, they are dominated by two-people relationships, and they are very political.
The most important leadership skills for tribal leadership are: 1) the ability to notice and identify tribes, and 2) the ability to assess tribal stages, which is primarily based on listening skills to uncover what language tribes are using and what values they share. Transparency is important as well. Without it you cannot build the trust to get to Stage 4 and 5.
Other topics we discussed include:
- Co-existence of the different tribal leadership stages within companies
- How people in Stages 1-3 feel threatened by people who are better than them and therefore hire people who they can control – and how companies at Stage 4-5 develop processes to avoid this
- Some simple techniques to help move an organization forward
- How people can belong to multiple tribes, some of which span the corporate boundaries, and what that means for companies.
- How good leaders get (re)defined by their tribes
As usual you can listen to the recorded podcast on the CMO 2.0 Site and soon we will be putting up a transcript.