Review: Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization
By Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright
# ISBN-10: 0061251305
# ISBN-13: 978-0061251306


  • Provides a researched system of classifying organizations and businesses as "tribes" that is easy to apply.
  • Has useful ideas for helping people "tribe up" and improve their relations and improve organizational relations.
  • Very readable and understandable.
  • Doesn't pull punches on some of the conclusions.


  • Some historical interpretations are arguable.

SUMMARY: Buy this book and read it unless you have no interest in community, leadership, and business.  In that case you're probably not even reading this blog.

Leadership books.  I've been getting tired of them ever since people started deciding "The Art of War" could by applied to businesses if you ignored all the war, killing, use of fire, and soforth in the book.  Everyone talks about Leadership in business and in the world, but as I don't see any improvement out there as the amount of lame Leadership books increase, so I assume most of these texts aren't that useful.

At the same time, I'm very interested of issues in Leadership since I don't see nearly enough of it.  I see bean-counting management, rock-star style poseurs, and exploitative jerks with a narrative.  I don't see enough leadership in business, politics, media, or more – real, rallying, directing, powerful leadership.

Tribal Leadership is the kind of book I've been waiting for.  It not only explores issue of leadership, mostly (but not entirely) dealing with business, but issues of culture, organization, and community.  In many ways its a book of applied sociology that happens to focus mostly on business.

Based on research covering a decade, the book lays out a very clear thesis:

  1. Humans naturally form tribes.
  2. These tribes can be classified into 5 types each with a unique attitude towards life, and become more functional as you move from Type 1 to Type 5.
  3. It is possible to coach people and groups to "tribe up" the scale to become more cohesive, functional, and productive (and in some cases at least less pathological)

The book is split between describing the theories, and describing how people and groups can advance from lower to higher Tribal levels.  Each chapter leads naturally to the next, and handy checklists and bulletpoints help you keep track of important ideas.  This clear focus and organization makes the book easy to read, refer to, and use.

As for the theory itself?  It's simple and intuitive  Essentially there are five tribal types, each defined by an attitude of members:
Level 1 – "Life Sucks" – pathological, gang-like, angry.
Level 2 – "My Life Sucks" – a mix of learned helplessness, bitterness.
Level 3 – "I'm Great" – Productive and dynamic but egocentric.
Level 4 – "We're Great" – tribe-oriented, creative, productive, tight.
Level 5 – "Life Is Great" – Big-picture, tribe-connecting.

You can probably guess right now which level you and your friends and co-workers function at (hint: you're probably also wrong).

The theory itself is extremely applicable in my experience, and the authors give extensive information to help you understand where you and your various organizations fit on the tribal scale.  The clear boundaries of levels, straightforward explanations, and explanations of the classifications helps you use this theory and see the sheer lack of B.S.  Just be prepared for a few ego-bruises because most people think they function higher than they do (and this book will puncture your illusions).

The theory comes with tips, advice, and directions for raising tribal level of people and organization.  These sections are straightforward with excellent detail, from things to try, to signs to look for to identify personal progress.  Again there's a refreshing lack of B.S. here.

So is the book flawless?  No.  There's a few moments of historical reference and metaphor that seem stretched or that I disagree with.  There could be some better explanation of techniques at a few points.

These are minor concerns.

Here's what you need to know about this book- you should read it unless you have a reason not to, like a lack of money or being currently dead.

How much did I like this book?  I've given two copies as gifts and my Kindle edition is filled with notes, I've joined a group to discuss it, founded another, and am discussing applying it's philosophy with other people.  Yeah, I was impressed.

I'd also like to note this is a great book for Progeeks because we often are painfully aware of bad organization, and have experience in assorted "tribes" in fantoms.  This book will help you with everything from your career to running a convention.  You can't beat that.

Go.  Buy.  Learn.

Steven Savage