Tribal Leadership? Hey Gallup Management Journal, What the?!

The other day I was reading an article posted in the Gallup management journal. The article was written by a couple of advanced degree guys with a lot of patience. They studied 24,000 people in numerous organizations over a ten year period. High marks for commitment for sure. Their article was called Tribal Leadership. A catchy title, not sure about the conclusions. Overall the quality of articles in the Gallup online journal are quite high and this article “quality wise” was no different.

I found myself asking what leader would seriously go out and try to figure out who the tribal leaders were if he were not one of them. It seemed insane to me. A leader is not a position it is a person. You have to earn the right to lead. You can certainly manage from a position but you lead from who you are. So I read the article growing ever more skeptical of its premise and wondering how the heck would anyone ever apply this in the real world. Having worked with senior executives I just can’t see them talking in the board room about who is the tribal leader of this group. How can we influence this tribal leader to achieve this organizational priority. Not happening.

I suppose I could see those same executives considering who they needed to influence but almost certainly their first line of action would be through their direct reports, not the informal leaders, the tribal leaders. While the authors believe that their study has the ability to help organizational leaders guide the development toward high performance through these tribes, I think this perspective is overstated. The tribe concept I read about in The Tipping Point a Malcom Gladwell book. Yes we humans tend to self organize in numbers around 150. Yes we have closer social relationships in groups this size and when they grow beyond they tend to split. Yes those split groups will expand to about 150. We can even agree that if your organization is about 150 and you are thinking about hiring another 50 people or merging with another small organization, be very very careful how you approach this.

The authors describe in the article how an organizational leader can help move people from one of the tribal development stages to the next. While admirable, their stages seem strangely reminiscent of a guy named Bruce Tuckman who long ago identified the life stages of a work team (you may know these as form, storm, norm, perform and adjourn). Not an exact match but close enough for me. I think adding new language and terminology can be a dangerous game. I am in favor of simplfying how we interact and treat people. The authors mention the use of open ended questions, good on them. They mention the importance of speaking the language of the tribe, being understood. (Imagine me here with the dumbfounded blank stare look) It took you 10 years and 24000 people to figure this out?

Ya, they make some good and wise points but I am not seeing anything new here worth changing language over. I guess I will have to wait for the book and see what I can learn…

in the mean time lead well


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