Stage Three of Tribal Leadership: “I’m Great!”

March 13, 2014

As we count down to the conference, we’ve been talking to best-selling author John King about his book, Tribal Leadership.  Labeled an “unusually nuanced view of high-performance cultures,” Tribal Leadership frames leadership in terms of five distinct stages, each involving the participation of naturally-occurring “tribes” that come together around shared ideas or qualities.

King’s take on Tribal Leadership is the subject of several blogs featuring these different stages. Last time, we touched on Stage Two, which is characterized by an attitude of “my life sucks.”   Today, we turn our attention to Stage Three.  According to King, people in Stage Three are “in a win/lose relationship with Stage Two, and they are the winners.”

“The dynamic is, ‘I’m great, you’re not, and I have the stats to prove it,’” says King.   He goes on to explain that these two stages and the interaction between them comprise roughly 80% of what’s playing out in most organizations.

Stage Three alone accounts for 48% of American professionals today and our educational system has set them up for success. King describes Stage Three leaders as smart individuals that focus on creating hub and spoke relationships with the people around them.  These “commoditized” relationships position Stage Three leaders to dominate the flow of information with others to maintain their lone warrior persona. In fact, Stage Three leaders will actually try to prevent their “spokes” from forming relationships with one another.

“Individuals in Stage Three see knowledge as power,” notes King, “they have figured out how to assemble all of the knowledge in a way that they can dole it out.  This way, they can control their environment.  This is how we create silos in an organization. “

No amount of team building will turn a group of star players (Stage Three leaders) into a team, but there are some specific things you can do to help them grow. Let’s take John King’s wisdom and apply it to how we might work with, and evolve beyond, Stage Three qualities in our teams:

  • Keep the emphasis on relationships and knowing each other well. This makes it harder for Stage Three leaders to maintain “power over” relationships.  Deeper connections between people make it easier to envision “power with” scenarios. Use Learning Circles focused on topics that strengthen relationships and uncover common ground.
  • Encourage teamwork in “triads,” groups of three or more people where knowledge has to be dispersed and shared between team members.  Give groups of people projects that no one person can accomplish alone. Then, help them be successful! Give them the tools they need to effectively problem-solve and work together, including conflict resolution skills.
  • Celebrate team successes to reinforce that working together often yields the best results.  This also highlights the power of sharing knowledge, not hoarding it. Then, have the teams be the experts who teach what they know to others. Show people that teamwork is stronger; don’t just tell them about it.

We are perfectly set-up in our lives to strive for Stage Three leadership. Yet in our heads we know that there must be something better; we’re just not sure how to get there. Eden Alternative Principle Ten emphasizes that it takes wise leadership to overcome the Three Plagues. How are you creating awareness of your Stage Three leadership tendencies? Are you willing to move outside your comfort zone and grow as a wise leader?

John King will be a keynote speaker at the 2014 Eden Alternative International Conference.  Next, we will explore Stage Four.

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Read about the “I’m Awesome” stage of tribal leadership


Explore the “I’m Awesome” phase of tribal leadership


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