Tribal Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Resources

tribal leadershipI’ve just finished listening to a book called Tribal Leadership Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright. I listened to an abridged audio version of the book that you can get for FREE! here, compliments of

The authors define a tribe as a group of up to 150 people that share time and common interests.  You’re in several. Those tribes, however, all fall into 5 stages, characterized by their prevailing attitudes.  The distribution of the stages is very much like a normal bell curve.

Stage 1

The first stage is the equivalent of a gang, where the members believe that all life is unfair.  The comment that defines this group is “All life sucks.”

Stage 2

Stage 2 is defined by the futility and hopelessness of bureaucracy where members and victims who believe that “my life sucks,” but that other people, luck, a higher power, or winning the lottery could make it better.  They believe their life is what it is through no fault of their own.  They are just victims of circumstances.

Stage 3


The third and largest group consists of people who are fighting, scratching, and clawing to get ahead.  It’s them against everyone else and they’re phrase is “I’m good ” or “my life is good.”

Stage 4

In this stage we start to see a different kind of tribe. They begin to associate their personal success directly with the success of the tribe.  Shared goals and the success of the group become the central purpose of their individual effort.  They’re identified by the sentiment that “we’re good” or “our life is good.”

Stage 5

Finally, in the rare air of Stage 5, the tribe becomes all about the cause.  This tribe is so focused on the cause, that they believe “life is good.”

One of my favorite ideas from the book regards the break between Stage 3 and Stage 4.  An important distinction occurs as tribes cross that divide.  We create different types of relationships. I made a reference to this in Open Source Leadership.  At Stage 4, we begin to create what the authors call Triad Relationships. Rather than a group of relationships that look like hub-and-spoke diagrams, our relationships begin to look more like a triangles or points on a grid. In a typical hub-and-spoke relationship, people remain connected through others.  In effect, if I introduce two of my friends, but they never establish any relationship of their own, that’s a hub and spoke relationship. However, when I connect two friends in a triad relationship, they establish a relationship that no longer requires me to be involved.  Those individuals take the relationship beyond the point of interaction with me. These triad relationships form in the context of a cause: something greater than the individuals.  Stages 1-3 have no higher cause than the individuals involved.

When we’re living for something bigger than just ourselves, our relationships take on a new dimension. We live on purpose. The cause becomes the focus and relationships create energy rather than draining it.

Are you living on purpose?

You can see some hints in the types of relationships you’re creating. As you invest your life in a purpose bigger than yourself (or other individuals) you’ll begin to form triads and you can celebrate the success of your friends and coworkers.  People you connect may have a huge impact on the world.

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

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

Michael Leiter  |  12 Nov 2009  |  Reply


An inspiring view of workplace communities. There is a message of hope in the idea that groups in the doldrums need not be permanently stuck but may be at an earlier stage in the process of forming a community.
The triad idea encourages people to reach out to others, building stronger relationships through inclusion. It supports openness in a fundamental way.
And I certainly subscribe to the idea that shared values form the foundation for community. A value based community builds on open dialog.
All the best,

Mike Henry  |  13 Nov 2009  |  Reply

Michael, thanks for your comments. I too am working through and thinking about triads and how they enable us to make a difference. It was good to see it in print.

Susan Mazza  |  12 Nov 2009  |  Reply

The idea of a tribe has been used quite a bit especially since Seth Godin’s book, but I had never heard these stages described.

You have me thinking about how these stages apply to the corporate environment. Thanks for sharing this.
.-= Susan Mazza´s last blog ..Who is Right? =-.

Mike Henry  |  13 Nov 2009  |  Reply

Uh oh. You’re “thinking” again. I’m interested to see the questions and posts that come out of that. Thanks for stopping by.

Chrissann Ruehle  |  13 Nov 2009  |  Reply


This is a fascinating article. I am currently working on my MBA and have seen my cohort transition from stage 3 to that rare jewel; stage 5, over the past year. There are 14 of us in the cohort and the triads are very fluid. There’s a lot of collaboration, energy, sharing, encouragement, innovation and freedom in our class. We are all focused on growing professionally and we find ways to help everyone in the class to mature as a team.

As leaders in our workplaces, what are some strategies we can use to facilitate the evolution of our teams towards stage 5?

Thank you for sharing this information.

Best regards,

Mike Henry  |  13 Nov 2009  |  Reply

Chrissann, thanks for the note. It is fun to be part of a stage 4 or stage 5 group, isn’t it? The book presented some strategies for helping tribes move up the tribe-chain. One key to facilitating the evolution is encouraging triad relationships. Those relationships actually encourage a focus on the purpose rather than the individuals, which is a key change in the move to Stage 4. Mike…

Monica Diaz  |  15 Nov 2009  |  Reply

That ability to make connections and have them take off on their own is always fabulous. I believe that great leaders can do that easily and I love it when I can be a part of something like that, in any part I take in the triad. This concept of tribes is slightly different than what I have been exploring and interesting, too. Thanks, Mike, for bringing our awareness to it. Many questions in my head about this one and that is always a good thing. Thx.

Mike Henry  |  19 Nov 2009  |  Reply

Monica, sorry for the delayed response. Thanks for your comment. More and more I appreciate triads as well. I especially appreciated how they articulated them in the book, which is why I passed it along. Thanks, Mike…

J. Michael Thurman  |  19 Nov 2009  |  Reply

Hi, Mike!

Thanks for the suggesting the book. I’m in the middle of the book, now, and think its lessons will be of great value.

Hope all is well.

.-= J. Michael Thurman´s last blog ..3 Decisions Everyone Needs to Make =-.

Mike Henry  |  19 Nov 2009  |  Reply

Michael, glad you are getting a lot out of it. It really gets good in the chapters on stages 4 and 5 because those are more rare for most of us. At least they were for me. Thanks for the comment. Mike…

Julian Bergquist  |  15 Dec 2009  |  Reply

I’ve included a link to a recording I made with Dave Logan last month related to triads. The next call is Dec. 21st if you want to ask him any questions.
.-= Julian Bergquist´s last blog ..Entrepreneurs Call #4 With Dave Logan (Dec 21st, 2009) =-.

Mike Henry  |  17 Dec 2009  |  Reply

Julian, thank you. I’ll listen to it. We had some technical glitches with the site, but the link is very helpful. I appreciate it.


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