Exploring Tribal Leadership: Stage One

February 03, 2014
Laura Beck, The Eden Alternative

Several weeks back I posted a blog featuring an interview with John King, author of the best-selling book Tribal Leadership:  Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization and a keynote speaker at the 2014 Eden Alternative International Conference. During the course of our 12-week conference countdown, we will explore each of the five stages of tribal leadership one at a time.

Described as an “unusually nuanced view of high-performance cultures,” Tribal Leadership frames leadership in terms of five distinct stages of development involving the participation of naturally-occurring “tribes,” each of which comes together around unifying ideas or qualities.

Stage One, which accounts for less than 2% of the professional population, marks the beginning of this evolutionary process.  It’s framed by the perspective that “Life Sucks.”  Stage One is about perceived alienation from the whole.  Stage One comes to mind when we encounter those people who come across as hostile, distrusting, and see things as generally pointless.

“Human beings are social creatures,” says John King.  “So, if we aren’t being social, we are doing something anti-social. There’s a pathology to it.  Stage One is essentially a pathological state.”

When people in this stage do come together, they can convey a gang mentality.  Feeling they are at the mercy of a life they didn’t choose (and feel they have no control over), the pursuit for power can become distorted and framed by their sense of isolation.

King says the bottom line is that “human beings access power through their connection to other people.  If there’s no connection, there is no access to power whatsoever.”

So, let’s apply this to our work.  Here are some conversation starters for talking about Stage One in your teams:

  • Becoming well-known and seeking connections with others is your first line of defense against Stage One behavior or tendencies in the workplace.
  • By taking opportunities to regularly celebrate and highlight successes, we remind each other how life doesn’t “suck” – we have the chance to see what does work.
  • Discuss how the focus of person-directed practice is empowerment.  We each have choices, particularly when it comes to how we think about things or how we choose to show up in our teams.
  • Explore how teams can hold each other accountable for letting go of negative, cynical attitudes and playing the victim.  Support each other, instead, in focusing on how each of you has the power to help make changes for the better.

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