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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. In this book, Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-wright present how you can leverage the natural phenomenon of human tribes to upgrade any organizational culture and improve effectiveness, engagement, job satisfaction, and expectations of future successes. In this free Tribal Leadership summary, you’ll get an overview of what’s a tribe and outline the 5 sequential tribal stages.

What Are Tribes?

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.

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

This 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.

Tribal Culture

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.

Our 17-page Tribal Leadership summary explains 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 our complete Tribal Leadership summary, we also elaborate on how people limit themselves through 7 key Stage Three behaviors.

Before entering Stage 4, every Stage 3 leader must have a Tribal Leadership Epiphany, which transforms his/her language and behaviors, which shapes the tribe. You can learn more about these 5-parts of the epiphany in our full summary.

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.

Our full Tribal Leadership summary, we explain the 3 components you must stabilize before the tribe can make the leap from Stage 4 to Stage 5–That’s 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.

Getting the Most from Tribal Leadership

The authors supplement their findings on the Tribal Leadership System with numerous stories, technical notes, and coaching tips. If you’d like to deep-dive into each of the 5 stages above, along with examples and applicable tips/strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 17-page text summary, and a 28-minute audio summary.Tribal Leadership summary - book summary bundle

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 summarizes some of the key takeaways from the book); and
• Background on their research.

You can purchase the book here for the full details, or check out more resources at

Wish to learn more about leadership and organizational culture? Do check out our Culture Code summary and Organizational Culture and Leadership summary.

About the Authors of Tribal Leadership

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build A Thriving Organization is written by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright.

Dave Logan is an American author, professor and consultant. He’s the co-founder and senior partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm specializing in cultural change, strategy, and negotiation. Dave is also a professor at the Marshall School of Business at USC. He has a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from the Annenberg School at USC.

John King is an American speaker, lecturer, coach, and consultant. He’s the co-founder and senior partner of CultureSync. John is part of the leadership development team at Sierra Health Foundation, is on faculty at various institutions.

Halee Fischer-Wright is an author, speaker, healthcare leader, physician and a former partner at CultureSync. She started her own medical practice early in her career, spent time as a management consultant, and served in leadership roles in the healthcare industry. She holds an M.D. from the University of Colorado, a Masters of Medical Management from USC, and a Certificate in Executive Leadership Coaching from Georgetown University.

Tribal Leadership Quotes

“Birds flock, fish school, people ‘tribe’.”

“Tribes emerge from the language people use to describe themselves, their jobs, and others.”

“The moment leadership becomes cookie-cutter, it isn’t leadership at all—it’s management.”

“A tribe operating at Stage Five acts like a magnet for other groups that can help in their pursuit of its noble cause.”

“A strong outcome will inspire the best in people and raise the dialogue above tribal politics.”

“The test of whether a tribe is values-based is not just in its members’ talk but in the alignment between their talk and the practices of the culture.”

“Although tribes always form, only Stage Four tribes have a sense of their own identity.”

“Tribes are the basic building block of any large human effort, including earning a living.”

“A small company is a tribe, and a large company is a tribe of tribes.”

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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