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As a result of lots of people operating together at this cultural stage, a certain mood results. People trained in Tribal Leadership—and you are on your way to being one of them—can detect this mood within a few minutes of walking into a work group. Before we judge people at this stage as having big egos, we have to remember that society made them—us—this way. Once Griffin moved people to the point where they took individual responsibility for crafting a patient experience, they had moved to Stage Three. Like most professionals, our careers have been spent in and among Stage Three.

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A typical faculty meeting shows the limitation of Stage Three. One professor after another gives his opinion and says what he thinks should be done. The result is that most educational programs look as if they had been designed by a committee—because they were. Staff members often gripe that professors see only their little corner of the world, and in many cases the criticism is legitimate.

Organizations run by Stage Three behavior feel dehumanizing. Again, the focus of Tribal Leadership is to upgrade the tribal culture first. Chapters 6 and 7 give the leverage points for Stage Three. As we watch, Bill Powanda is fully himself, and people are fully themselves. No corporate cult here. Everyone seems happy, inspired, and genuine. Leading a tribe with a dominant Stage Four culture, the leader feels pulled by the group. At times, Tribal Leadership at this stage is effortless.

A most impressive characteristic and display of confidence as we toured Griffin was that everybody—staff, volunteers, doctors—made eye contact with us, which is highly unusual in medicine. A tribe will seek its own competitor, and the only one who has influence over the target is the Tribal Leader. The rule for Stage Four is this: the bigger the foe, the more powerful the tribe. Griffin would not be the success it is if it were to target a single hospital as its rival.

People often ask Charmel and Powanda how they can lead the way they do.

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

We will show how this is done in later chapters. Chapter 8 is the realm of Tribal Leadership. When groups get to this point, they see themselves as a tribe, with a common purpose. They commit to shared core values and hold one another accountable. They will not tolerate The Office—style performance or the personal agenda of Stage Three. The purpose of this book is to build great companies, and this means getting you and your tribe to Stage Four.

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization | The Piras Group

Since tribes move only one stage a time, only those at Four can make leaps into the most advanced stage, described below. Tribalism, as the word is often used in parts of the developing world, refers to the violence and despairing hostility of Stage One. Ethnic cleansing and other horrors are inconceivable in a Stage Four tribe.

The Five Tribal Stages

When we explain this last stage, which reflects less than 2 percent of workplace tribal cultures, we see skeptical looks coming back at us. Their language revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history—not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact.

Teams at Stage Five have produced miraculous innovations. This stage is pure leadership, vision, and inspiration. After a short burst of activity, Stage Five teams recede to Stage Four to regroup and attend to infrastructure issues before possibly returning to Five. In sports, these bursts win Olympic gold and Super Bowl rings. Griffin is a model for the best organizations in the world as its culture oscillates between Stage Four and Stage Five. Table 1 summarizes the five cultures.

In the Austin Powers movies, Mini Me was always a loyal follower— but you had to keep up with who had his loyalty. When backing Dr. Evil, Mini Me would stop at nothing to kill or harass Austin Powers. When a person soaks long enough in a Stage Three tribe, she becomes an ambassador for that culture, even when moved to other environments. At the same time, the culture the person soaked in was shaped by her influence. Over time, the language the person speaks and that of the tribal stage sync up.

You might say that Mini Me and his boss shape each other. We can predict the performance of the tribe by counting the number of people who speak the language of each stage, and noticing who is in positions of leadership. The one factor that makes Griffin extraordinary after its turnaround is the high number of Stage Four people who talk Stage Four language. If someone at Griffin were to talk the language of Stage One or Two, the tribe would reject that person.

When the old CEO fired Charmel, the tribe refused to accept the decision. If we reject their advice, they ostracize us. Those people are Tribal Leaders. Executives get frustrated that change is so hard to implement. Amazingly, people just redistribute to the stages as other people leave. The company buys hundreds of copies of Who Moved My Cheese?


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On top of this tribal chatter, the CEO fights to make quarterly earnings, and the head of human resources wonders why trust and communication are always the weak points on the climate survey. This process involves moving many people forward, individually, by facilitating them to use a different language, and to shift their behavior accordingly. As that happens, the tribe itself will produce a new, self-sustaining culture. Each person in this tribe is on a journey through the stages, and the tribe makes that journey long or short.

The job of you as Tribal Leader is to expedite this journey for each person, so that a new critical mass forms at Stage Four. When that happens, the tribe will see itself as a tribe, just as Griffin does, and embrace you as the leader. This is Tribal Leadership in a nutshell. Tribal Leadership focuses on two things, and only two things: the words people use and the types of relationships they form. Moving a person from one stage to the next means intervening in a certain way to help this person change her language and set up different types of relationships. As that happens to one person and then another, the entire tribe goes through a change as a new cultural stage becomes dominant.

We call these ways of intervening leverage points, and they are summarized in Appendix A for all five cultural stages. We ignored their age, gender, income, and ethnicity. Rather, our research stems from an ancient way of understanding people: that they—we—create our reality with language.

You literally cannot make this journey alone—your tribe will either help you or prevent your forward movement. In fact, you can move forward only by bringing others with you. Tribes are more influential than individuals, no matter how smart or talented they are. As you move forward either you will become a Tribal Leader— upgrading your tribe with you—or you will stall. The only exception to that rule is that there are people who have changed themselves by switching to a new tribe.

Without any external coaching, people advance through stages very slowly. Children usually start school at Stage Two on that first day of kindergarten—disconnected, trapped, and wanting to go home. Depending on their grade and how much they care, they graduate somewhere in the Two to Three range. When people take their first job, they talk about their achievements but also miss their friends, and again they are in the range of Stage Two to Three.

Professionals usually cap out at Stage Three. Attorneys, accountants, physicians, brokers, salespeople, professors, and even the clergy are evaluated by what they know and do, and these measuring points are the hallmarks of Stage Three. People start the climb to Stage Four in one of two ways. The second, common in high technology and the sciences, is that they join a technical project that is bigger than one person can take on. As people see the results of this collaboration they adapt and become full contributors.

Until the mids, such groups were the exception. As the complexity of tasks and their technological requirements have soared, people have been pushed into Stage Four. Today, business schools believe their mission is to turn out team players—although the evidence suggests they are really turning out Stage Three people who can act like Stage Four individuals.

Chapter 7 delves into the set of insights that people need to make the leap to Stage Four. These epiphanies hit at many levels: intellectual, emotional, even spiritual. That chapter explores nuisances that will send some of you reaching for Tylenol to soothe your headache—the same headache we had in interpreting data and making sense of what makes truly great leaders.

Tribal Leadership

Shifting the center of this distribution from Stage Three to Four makes the tribe visible to itself, and others, as was the case in Griffin and in the young American colonies in the time of George Washington. Injury rates and sick days go down. In short, companies with tribes at the later stages earn more, employ better performers and upgrade the performers they have , serve their markets, and have a blast doing it. Everyone wins—except those individuals unwilling or unable to adapt from Stages Two and Three.

The next chapter is your navigation guide to this book. Most corporate tribes are mostly at Stage Three or below.

The next chapter will help you find out, give you a few rules of the Tribal road, and then direct you to the chapter that will give you the tools to nudge your group to the next level. Each time people speak, their words exhibit the characteristics of one of five tribal stages. Stage Five outperforms Four, which accomplishes more than Three, which gets more done than Two, which is more effective than One. The goal of this book is for you to upgrade your tribes to Stage Four. This chapter is your navigation system, showing you which chapter to jump to find the leverage points to nudge it forward faster, and how to emerge as a Tribal Leader.

Tribal Locator System The key in locating your tribes is to listen for how most people talk, to notice how most people structure their work relationships.