Takeaways from LMA-LA’s “Foundations of Tribal Leadership” Program

On July 19, LMA Los Angeles was honored to host Harte Logan of CultureSync to discuss tribal leadership, a topic encompassing identifying corporate culture and organizational behavior. “Tribes” consist of groups of 20-120 people that are naturally connected.  One way to think about a tribe member, is if you passed him or her on the street you’d say “hello.” This program specified 5 tribal “stages” influenced by and reinforcing the culture found within these groups.

In Stage 1, employees feel a pervasive sense of isolation, in a hostile, wasteland. They are uninspired in their work, have the mindset that “life sucks,” and believe others feel the same. To those in this stage, doing whatever it takes to survive is justified.

In Stage 2, employees are focused on their complaints about the organization. Their attitude and often passive-aggressive behavior spreads among other employees. Instead of “Life Sucks,” the mindset is more along the lines of “My Life Sucks.” The corporate culture becomes one where employees feel they must only meet the bare minimum requirements of their positions to not get fired. These organizations commonly perform below the industry average. The attitude and small frustrations of day-to-day operations and employees’ attitudes make their personal lives a frustration in the workplace, which is further reflected in their work.

In Stage 3, employees feel that they are the reason behind the success of the organization, and that they are superior to others. Though they engage readily with their work, employees in this stage tend to place themselves at the center of a hub-and-spoke wheel of projects, information and success. In their role as experts or managers, they delegate tasks to coworkers and subordinates, keeping information on a need-to-know basis and attempting to create miniature versions of themselves. They complain that others in the organization do not provide enough support. Stage 3’s mindset of “I’m Great, and You’re Not” is common, including in law firms.

In Stage 4, values become the decision-making tools of the organization and the glue that binds together and provides focus to teams of employees. Leaders explicitly name the tribe’s core values and stick to them. The organization becomes much more team-oriented and there is a collective belief in the goals the team is seeking to achieve. The mindset is “We’re Great.” Employees’ language focuses on “we,” not “me.” This stage is also characterized by subsets of the tribe called triads. Triads are groups of three, where each person is responsible for the quality of the relationship between the other two and can step in where necessary. The shared values and collaborative work strengthens the relationship among coworkers, which is then reflected throughout the greater tribe.

In Stage 5, employees are elevating Stage 4 to a “change the world” mentality where their competition is something potentially very “high concept.” This stage is usually temporary, centered on achieving a historic goal. The mindset here is “Life Is Great” and workers believe that the world has limitless potential that their team need only seize through imagination and innovation.

As a takeaway, to be successful, tribal leaders must learn the language of all of these stages and work to move themselves and a core group of others around them toward Stage 4 or even 5. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach, because employees within an organization are often at different stages and have different goals and desires to be met. The key for the tribal leader is changing their language and actions toward a more values-oriented, team-oriented mindset.

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