Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Book Highlights)

How do successful leaders turn a group of people into a tribe and movement?

Tribes BookTribes: We Need You to Lead Us

by Seth Godin

New York: Portfolio, 2008.

 


 

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

–Seth Godin
Tribes, p. 2

In recent years the concept of tribes has been rising to prominence as a way of understanding the way people associate with one another, follow leaders, and rally around ideas. This idea has been popularized by the entrepreneur and author Seth Godin in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008).

In Tribes, Godin offers an explanation for the human desire to belong to something greater:

Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people. We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new. (p. 3)

The desire to belong to a tribe is part of human nature.

The New Internet Style

As Godin argues, tribal associations used to be limited more by geography: people connected with those in their own village or city. But now globalization and the Internet have allowed tribes to spring up and flourish without regard to geography. The result:

This means that existing tribes are bigger, but more important, it means that there are now more tribes, smaller tribes, influential tribes, horizontal and vertical tribes, and tribes that could never have existed before. Tribes you work with, tribes you travel with, tribes you buy with. Tribes that vote, that discuss, that fight. Tribes where everyone knows your name. The professionals at the CIA are a tribe and so are the volunteers at the ACLU. (p. 4–5)

Rather than creating a new phenomenon, the Internet simply empowers and amplifies the natural human urge to connect: “Before the Internet, coordinating and leading a tribe was difficult. It was difficult to get the word out, difficult to coordinate action, difficult to grow quickly. . . . Twitter and blogs and online videos and countless other techniques contribute to an entirely new dimension of what it means to be part of a tribe. The new technologies are well designed to connect tribes and to amplify their work” (p. 6).

Get ’em Together

The main idea of Tribes is that because it is now easier than ever to form, coordinate, and lead a tribe, anyone can become a leader. “Every one of these tribes is yearning for leadership and connection. This is an opportunity for you—an opportunity to find or assemble a tribe and lead it. The question isn’t, Is it possible for me to do that? Now, the question, is, Will I choose to do it?” (p. 8).

Leaders need to focus their message.

The most successful leaders, according to Godin, are those who turn their tribe into a movement by challenging the status quo: “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements. The marketplace now rewards (and embraces) the heretic. It’s clearly more fun to make the rules than to follow them, and for the first time, it’s also profitable, powerful, and productive to do just that” (p. 11).

Successful movement leaders inspire people rather than dominate them. These leaders “don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. . . . Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate. They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them” (p. 22–23).

L’il Communication

There are two things that are required to turn a group of people into a tribe: 1) a shared interest and 2) a way to communicate. Communication can be between the leader and the tribe, between tribe members, and between tribe members and outsiders. A leader can help make a tribe and its members more effective by:

  • Transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change
  • Providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications
  • Leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members (p. 25)

Great leaders create movements, and a movement has three key features:

  1. A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build
  2. A connection between and among the leader and the tribe
  3. Something to do—the fewer limits, the better (p. 27)

Hey Leaders

Godin argues that leaders need to focus their message on what will motivate their own tribe. “Great leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could ever be” (p. 67).

The vision of leadership laid out in Tribes is about attracting, connecting, communicating with, and motivating followers of a tribe. As Godin summarizes, “Leaders challenge the status quo. Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture. Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change. Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers. Leaders communicate their vision of the future. Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based upon that commitment. Leaders connect their followers to one another” (p. 126).