Stage Two of Tribal Leadership: "My Life Sucks"

February 27, 2014
Laura Beck, The Eden Alternative
John King

As we count down to the conference, I’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.

My chat with John King is the subject of several blogs featuring these different stages. We covered Stage One last time, so now it’s on to Stage Two.  Stage Two accounts for roughly 25% of the professional population.  Whereas Stage One was characterized by the notion that “Life Sucks,” Stage Two’s focus is “my life sucks.”

“People in Stage Two have pretty much taken themselves out of the game.  They find themselves cynical or in despair, so they’ve disconnected from others in the workspace,” says King.  “They see things in terms of win/lose or a zero sum game, and they feel they are the ones always losing.”

According to King, people access power through their connections with others.  He points out that a classic Stage Two assumption is that power equals force, so those in this stage take the position that they aren’t “going to play the game.” Unlike Stage One, individuals in Stage Two are “in the mix,” but they aren’t engaged. Having essentially given up their power, they play the martyr, feel undervalued, avoid accountability for their actions, and act as if they have no choices.

Here are some conversation starters for talking about Stage Two in your teams:

  • Take knowing each other well to the next level.  The more well-known and “seen” team members feel, the less evidence individuals in Stage Two have that they don’t matter.
  • Consider a “buddy system” where people in Stage Two have the opportunity to connect one-on-one with another or others on the team.  Think about connections that foster a natural mentorship – the idea is to create encouraging, positive relationships that create a safe place for someone to grow.  This is a gentle way to “show, not tell” and reinforce that Stage Two behavior is really not acceptable in a person-directed work culture.
  • Talk about the power of building on strengths.  We each have strengths, those places where we are “in the flow.”  Individuals in Stage Two can begin to shift their perspective, when they see their strengths acknowledged by the team.
  • Seize opportunities, as leaders, to really highlight and apply the strengths of individuals in Stage Two. When leaders and teams build on the strengths of their teammates, Stage Two team members get a read on how they support and strengthen the bigger vision and how they, too, are a part of the solution.
  • Continue to work diligently on the bigger picture of creating a person-directed culture in your organization.   As the culture, as a whole, continues to change and grow, distrust and cynicism begin to dissolve.

Keep in mind that John King will be a keynote speaker at the 2014 Eden Alternative International Conference.  Stay tuned, too, to learn more next time, when we explore Stage Three.

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