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Tribal Leadership - Book summary

Just like how birds migrate in flocks and cattle move in herds, human beings naturally organize ourselves in tribes. “Tribal Leadership” is about leveraging the natural phenomenon of human tribes to upgrade any organizational culture and improve effectiveness, engagement, job satisfaction, and expectations of future successes. In this Tribal Leadership summary, we’ll give an overview of what’s a tribe and outline the 5 sequential tribal stages.

For the full details, tips and examples, please get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.Tribal Leadership summary - book summary bundle

For centuries, human beings have survived in tribes—from the Ice Age to farming communities and modern cities. Tribes are the our way of organizing and living.

What Are Tribes?

A tribe is a group of 20-150 people, who are familiar enough with one another to stop and say “hi” if they were to meet in the streets. Your tribe members are probably in your email and phone address book. When a tribe gets too big, it naturally splits into 2 tribes or more. Every organization is a tribe. A small organization is a single tribe, while a large organization is a tribe made up of multiple tribes.Tribal Leadership summary_tribe definition

Tribal leadership is a mutual relationship between the tribe’s leaders and members. Tribal Leaders are not superstars. Instead, they work hard to upgrade themselves and their tribe, and are recognized as leaders due to the success they bring to the tribe. Their efforts create a wave, and they’re then led by that wave to fulfill the tribe’s will.

A tribe’s culture determines its effectiveness. A medium/large tribe of 50-150 people usually operates in a few cultural stages concurrently, and culture is in turn shaped by 2 elements:
(i) Language: the words used by people; and
(ii) Behavior: the actions and types relationships being forged.

From a 10-year field study of 24,000 people in two dozen organizations worldwide, the authors found that there are 5 tribal stages that define how people work and behave. We’ll now take a brief look at these 5 stages.

The 5 Tribal Stages

Every tribe has a dominant culture, and the authors have classified them into 5 stages, each with its unique language, types of behavior, and relationship structures.  The higher the stage, the better the organizational performance, with Stage 5 being the ideal. You can only move up the stages sequentially, one stage at a time. At each stage, you need to use targeted “leverage points” to upgrade your tribe. The goal is to get your tribe to Stage 4, as that’s the launch-pad for Stage 5.

In the book and our full 17-page book summary, we explain more about:
• The nuances of the Tribal Leadership System;
• The language and behaviors that characterize each stage;
• The 3 sub-phases within each stage, and
• The specific leverage points at each phase, to move a tribe to the next level.

Here are the 5 stages in a nutshell:Tribal Leadership summary_5 Tribal Stages

Stage 1: “Life Sucks”

People in this stage are of the view that “life sucks”. They feel alienated from others, and are bitter about the unfair world they live in. They may engage in physical or verbal abuse, vandalism or theft, and/or cluster together to form gangs. People in this stage talk as if life has treated them badly, hence they can do whatever they need to survive. Common phrases include “not fair”, “f***ed up”, or “do what I must to survive”.

Stage 2: “My Life Sucks”

People in this stage believe that “my life sucks” and they don’t fit in. They see that others have power and good things in life that they lack, feel silently angry and frustrated, but blame others for their lack of control, and convince themselves they have no choice but to suck it up. Common phrases include: “this can’t be helped”, “no promises”, “it’s against policy”, or “we’re being screwed”. Sadly, most of them eventually move to Stage 3, and become the exact type of manager that they used to hate.

Stage 3: “I’m Great (and You’re Not)”

People in this stage believe that they’re great, but others are not as committed or capable. They are engaged, energetic, committed to results, and do a great job. However, it’s all about personal victories; people act like lone warriors, and are constantly frustrated by the lack of time and support. The language centers around “I”, “me”, and “my”, with phrases like, “few people can match my skills”, or “if they tried harder, they’ll succeed”. In the book / our full summary, we also elaborate on how people limit themselves through 7 key Stage Three behaviors. For example, leaders control information and decisions by forming many “dyadic” or 2-person relationships, much like a hub-and-spoke network.  This relationship structure gives them perceived control but takes up a lot of time and energy.
[In addition, before entering Stage 4, every Stage 3 leader has a Tribal Leadership Epiphany, which transforms his/her language and behaviors, which shapes the tribe. Please refer to the book / complete summary for the 5-parts of the epiphany.]

Get a copy of the book for the full tips and examples!

Stage 4: “We’re Great”

This stage is about teams with shared values and a common purpose. Having experienced personal success in Stage 3, people are now ready for genuine partnership. People are proud of their tribe, believe “we’re great”, and the leader is pulled along by the tribe. The language is focused on “we”. Decisions are guided by values, information flows freely and partnerships are formed to address desired outcomes.

Before launch into Stage 5, you must stabilize 3 aspects of Stage 4:
• Strengthen teams through core values and a noble cause. This includes identifying your values, converting the values to tribal behaviors, and uniting the tribe with a noble cause.
• Build networks through triads or 3-party relationships.
• Develop a sound tribal strategy, using the 5-part model provided.

In the book / our full 17-page summary, we explain each of these 3 components above (and  their relevant action steps) in detail. With all these components in place, the tribes usually experience a defining moment when they make the leap from Stage 4 to Stage 5: when things miraculously come together and self-imposed barriers are transcended.

Stage 5: “Life is Great”

Stage 5 tribes go beyond beating rivals and winning market share, to expand their impact on the world. Their language centers on infinite potential, and how to make history. While people in Stage 5 are often seen to be heroes, they don’t crave the limelight. They focus on global or resonant values that transcend the individual or organization. For example, IDEO values “collaboration”, Apple values “elegant design”, and Amgen values “being ethical”. Stage 5 tribes can collaborate with any other values-driven tribes, not just tribes that share their values.

The authors believe that Stage 5 tribes are the future of business, though most companies are unable to stay in Stage 5 for prolonged periods—they may lapse back into Stage 4 as they get distracted by new market opportunities and/or competitive developments. However, it’s possible to stabilize at Stage 4 and repeatedly jump to Stage 5 for breakthrough results.

Review the 5 Tribal Leadership Stages at a glance with our book summary and infographic!

Other Details in “Tribal Leadership”

The authors supplement their findings on the Tribal Leadership System with numerous stories, technical notes, and coaching tips. Besides the key highlights and tips outlined in this summary, the book also includes:
• Many stories and examples of individuals, teams and organizations (e.g. Griffin Hospital, IDEO, Explorati etc.) at varying tribal stages;
• A “cheat sheet” for Tribal Leaders (which summarises some of the key takeaways from the book); and
• Background on their research.

Do get a copy of the book for the full details, get our Tribal Leadership summary bundle for a detailed breakdown of the various ideas and tips, or check out more resources at

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Get powerful tips to upgrade your tribe and organizational culture!

Click here to download Tribal Leadership book summary and infographic

One Comment

  • benjamin abunuasi says:

    this book has been so important for our organisation since it has turned into a family and now we are jumping into the 5th stage. to make our lives great .thank you

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