Servant Leaders and the Tribe

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

In a previous post on servant leadership, we said “Servant leaders serve people in pursuit of a goal.” In Tribal Leadership, authors Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright wrote about the 5 different stages of tribes.  The highest stages of tribal life form around a common purpose. (My review is here.)

You may have thought of several examples of servant leaders and tribal leaders as you were reading those posts.  Several came to my mind, too.  But my wife Vicky (@VHenry) suggested a great example from television right now.

Are you familiar with this AT&T Wireless commercial about the girl looking for her lost dog?

One person saw a need and mobilized a tribe to help a girl find her lost dog.  It’s one of those compelling stories that AT&T Wireless uses to show the benefits of the telecommunications network they have built and sell.  However, this article is about servant leaders and tribes, networks of people.

Leaders initiate.

Leaders don’t always initiate, but when you initiate, you’re a leader.

Networks matter.

The call went out to the network of friends connected through the contacts of one person’s cell phone.  You can’t build a network or a tribe when you need it.  There is never time. Invest in people and relationships and care for them simply because people are important.  One day your tribe will make a difference, but you must build a network before you see the need.  Reach out, connect, invest in people. Be a friend and then you will have friends.

Leaders submit.

The individuals in the tribe self-organized.  If they had all been “in-charge” the dog would still be lost.  They chose to participate, chose their role, self-organized and took action based on the need.  When the need or the vision is clear, people will self organize. They just need enough information about the problem, constraints, and resources.  High-performing networks require little control.  In fact, they may even resist it.

Leaders contribute

The initial leader’s tribe (network) provided the resources for the project.  Their structure, or infrastructure (cellphones), enabled the effort.  Once they shared the vision, they contributed their assets (time, energy, and telephones) in pursuit of one shared goal.


Granted, this is a commercial and the person who initiated the project happened to call one very connected college basketball star.  So? The principles remain. Servant leaders serve people in pursuit of a goal.  We are naturally drawn to them because they equip us as free moral agents to contribute, produce value, create meaning. Networks of servant leaders can change the world, or find a lost dog.

How’s your tribe?  The strength and stage of your tribe is a reflection of your leadership.  Think about it.

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Dallas Bragg  |  20 Nov 2009  |  Reply


You know, I have enjoyed this commercial for a while now, but never compared it to tribes or leadership. Thank you for making that connection! This week I focused heavily on serving my team–taking into consideration the needs of each member. The difference was immeasurable. I felt as if I brought the tribe to a new level by giving of myself. Thank you for this post!

.-= Dallas Bragg´s last blog ..Learning to Have Faith =-.

Mike Henry  |  21 Nov 2009  |  Reply

Dallas, As you’ve noticed, I end up seeing something about leadership in a lot of different places. You remember the comment, “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” You make a great case for the truth of the idea, though. People respond when they know you’re “for” them.

Thanks for the comment. Mike…

Doug Crandall  |  21 Nov 2009  |  Reply

I love it when people find leadership everywhere — even in commercials. Good stuff. One of my favorites is the movie Elf, where Buddy makes it clear that we all see the world through our own lens. A leader’s job is to understand everyone’s lenses and see it from their vantage point.
Anyway, good stuff with the commercial.

.-= Doug Crandall´s last blog ..Scotty Smiley at CBC Leadership Fellows =-.

Mike Henry  |  21 Nov 2009  |  Reply

Doug, I’ve often thought of just doing a series of the different places and competencies we see leadership exhibited. I must admit, I hadn’t thought about Elf in a while, but it will be on the family radar again real soon.


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