May 20 Program Recap: Foundations of Tribal Leadership

By Michael Silverstein

For its May 2014 event, the Los Angeles chapter of LMA invited Carrie Kish, CEO of CultureSync, to speak on the topic “Foundations of Tribal Leadership.” CultureSync’s driving force comes from founder Dave Logan and his theory of “Tribal Leadership,” which he delineated in his New York Times bestselling book of the same name.

Carrie began with the concept of a “tribe” – a group of 20 to 150 people that forms naturally and in which all members are noticeable to the rest, and of some level of importance to the whole. In the legal world, tribes include practice groups, marketing departments, and regional offices. As leaders of tribes, our goal is to elevate the collective level of our tribes so that they can function at their maximum potentials, for optimal team results.

Tribes operate at five levels or stages. Stage 1, “Life Sucks,” is the lowest level; approximately 2% of tribes are Stage 1. Stage 1 tribe members view the tribe as purposeless, pointless, and irrational, and see no possible benefit to their participation in tribe initiatives. These people have consistently poor performances and are tempted to act unethically for personal gain. Carrie suggested we partner these people with mentors or coaches who could help them find a greater connection to the tribe.

Stage 2 tribes, “My Life Sucks,” consist of people who view their roles in the tribe negatively, but who see future advantage in working with the group. About 25% of tribes are at this stage. These are the companies filled with complainers. Carrie stressed that “a complaint is a request in disguise,” and to get these tribe members more involved with group activities in order to raise their sense of the tribe’s, and their own, worthiness.

A plurality of tribes (49%) exist at Stage 3, “I’m Great.” These tribes have members who view themselves as confident, competent, and excellent, and their perspectives as superior to others’. Though a Stage 3 tribe member may in fact help improve the overall output of the tribe, nevertheless this stage is still not optimal due to its underlying narcissism, and Carrie suggested that Stage 3 tribe members form “triads,” groups of three people with shared values who can balance each other out for the greater good.

At Stage 4, “We’re Great!”, tribe members align their values to serve the higher purpose of the group. Twenty-two percent of tribes operate at this level, with members negotiating among themselves in order to produce optimal results for the tribe. However, there is one higher stage, “Life is Great,” which only 2% of tribes reach. These are the tribes that work together at their maximum potential to make history. To get your tribe to Stage 5, first make sure that its status as a Stage 4 tribe is stable; then focus on a short-term plan that will produce industry-shaking innovation.

This creative approach to workforce dynamics left the LMA attendees with much to discuss, and the presentation went well past its allotted hour time slot. As side conversations bubbled up among newly formed triads around the room, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air, as the lessons of Carrie Kish took root in the legal marketers’ minds.

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