Tribal Leadership: From “I” to “We”

Part 1: Tribal Leadership: Tribes and Tribal Leaders
Part 2: Tribal Leadership: Tribal Stages and Leverage Points
Part 3: Tribal Leadership: From “I” to “We”
Part 4: Tribal Leadership: Tribal Strategy

Tribal Leadership is a process for leveraging natural groups to build thriving organizations by focusing on language and relationship structures.

As tribes naturally move one cultural stage at a time on a scale of one-to-five and as tribal leaders focus on upgrading tribes through cultural stages using leverage points, the chasm between stage three (“I’m great”) and stage four (“we’re great”) is huge! Stage four is the realm / zone of Tribal Leadership, when a group sees themselves as a tribe, and without stabilizing at this stage, a tribe will continue to oscillate in and out of stage three.

Stage 3: “I’m Great”

Dyadic relationships are the basis of stage three. People experience personal domination of one member over others where their relationships are established for their usefulness; their behavior expresses being lone warriors and their language expresses “I’m great (and you’re not)”.

At this stage, people form a series of dyadic (two-person) relationships (hub with spokes), hoard information (where knowledge is power), try to keep their “spokes” from forming relationships with one another, rely on gossip and spies for information, use military or mafia language, hunger for tips/tools/techniques/practices to become more efficient, and focus and talk about their individual values. Dyadic relationships involve one-on-one conversations where people at the other end of the relationship feel commoditized and valued only for their service or information.

Ultimately, people complain that they don’t have enough time, don’t get enough support, and are surrounded by people less able and less dedicated than themselves. This is the point of diminishing returns where the harder they work, the less effective they are, and the less their efforts seem to matter.

At this stage, people are treated as a “means” and not a “end”; people (hubs) foster relationships where others (spokes) are dependent on them (the person fostering the relationship).

The Epiphany: “I Am Because We Are”

The epiphany is a journey (an event or series of events) from stage three to stage four where a person is awakened to reflect intellectually & emotionally on their core assumptions and becomes aware of deeper insights from which there is no turning back.

The first part of the epiphany focuses on “What have I achieved?” This leads the person to the realization that their achievements are more personal than tribal and they are not making the impact they thought they were.

The second part of the epiphany focuses on “How can I fix this?” This leads the person to begin preaching a “we” system (stage four) within stage three (using such words as “vision”, “partnership”, and “collaboration”) and ultimately leads the person to the realization that stage three cannot be fixed and must be abandoned.

The third part of the epiphany focuses on “What’s the real goal?” This leads the person to the realization that the ego hit of accomplishment at stage three isn’t the same as success itself and that the real goal is having an impact on people and betterment of the tribe.

At the end of the epiphany, the person realizes “I Am Because We Are” and shifts from “I” and dyadic relationships to “we” and networked systems of people where there is a pure focus on the tribe and being in service of the institution.

Stage 4: “We’re Great”

Core values, a noble cause, and triadic relationships are the basis of stage four. People experience stable partnerships where their relationships are important; their behavior expresses tribal pride and their language expresses “we’re great (and they’re not)”.

A tribal leader fosters finding and leveraging commitment to resonant core values, aligning on a noble cause, establishing triadic relationships, and building a history-making strategy.

Core Values

Core values fuel a tribe; it is what the tribe “stands in”. Core values are timeless. Core values are “principles without which life wouldn’t be worth living”.

A tribe identifies and leverages its core values. These are not the tribal leader’s core values, but the tribe’s core values.

Noble Cause

A noble cause is the direction of where a tribe is headed; it is what the tribe “shoots for”. A noble cause is far-reaching (represents the tribe’s yearnings and aspirations). A noble cause is a “pronouncement of a future state that a tribe will bring about through its coordinated action”.

A tribe aligns on a noble cause. A noble cause cuts across individual differences, establishes tribal identity, and makes leadership possible. This is not the tribal leader’s noble cause, but what the tribe is in “service of”. Focus is on alignment, which fosters passionate resolve with coordinated action, while agreement is shared intellectual understanding.

Next to values, nothing is more important than a tribe’s noble cause. A tribe doesn’t just talk about its core values, but must live them through its practices. A tribal leader follows the core values of the tribe no matter what the cost. A tribe’s values create a stable platform from which the tribe may be flexible and change almost everything else. Many organizations are challenged because they lack a stable platform!

A rouge tribe is one in which people adhere to noncore values, values that don’t have universal benefit, or a noble cause that benefits one group by disenfranchising another. Routine tribal maintenance involves a tribe removing or pruning any process, system, or habit that is inconsistent with the tribe’s values and noble cause.


A tribal leader establishes triads (three-legged relationships) all around them. Triading is fostering a relationship between two people based on core values & mutual self-interest and moving on, which results in loyalty and followership. Whatever one gives out, one gets back! Triads can link people together as well as tribes. Triads offer stability, the context for innovation, and scalability.

Triads involve three parts where each leg of the structure is responsible for the quality of the relationship between the other two parts. This is not one part being responsible for the other two parts, but being responsible for the quality of the relationship in-between the other two parts.

Triads are undermined if senior decision makers solve problems themselves, thus when a tribe encounters problems, a tribal leader reminds people of their core values (since values lead to alignment) and people work to resolve the problem. However, at stage 3, a problem is addressed by creating dyads that require time and attention!

A tribal leader fosters triads by knowing the values and current projects of people in their network, has the credibility with both people (they are triading with) before facilitating an introduction, is great or world-class at something, and has experienced the epiphany (otherwise triading looks like thinly veiled self-promotion). Effective triading requires “authenticity”!

At this stage, people are treated as an “ends” and not a “means”; people foster relationships where others are interdependent on each other (rather than the person fostering the relationship) and unified by their core values and noble cause.


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