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5 circles of tribal leadership

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Every winter, says David Logan, an expert on human behavior and change, tribes of 20 to 150 Americans come together all over the country and set social norms. We call these events Super Bowl parties or tribal councils.

“People form tribes,” he says. “It’s what we do.”

All tribes are not alike, he adds. They have different cultures. Here’s a peek:

Circle 1: “Life sucks.” These are gang members, prison inmates and the Virginia Tech murderer. Their attitude is “despairing hostility.” They make up about 2% of society.

Circle 2: “My life sucks.” This level is characterized by a visit to the typical Department of Motor Vehicles, or, “How can people be so dumb and yet live?” Everyone there is not dumb, Logan hastens to add. The culture is dumb, and about 25% of us live mainly in that culture.

Circle 3: “I’m great (and you’re not).” Here’s where most people, about 48%, reside. To illustrate this narcissistic little world, Logan describes three doctors in an elevator. One brags that he’s the best because he published advanced research. One brags that he’s the best because he’s performing advanced surgeries. The third brags that he’s teaching and thus shaping the future of medicine. They all laugh and leave the elevator.

The greatest challenge for change agents is moving people from Circle 3 to Circle 4.

Circle 4: “We’re great.” This is when a group is aware of itself as a team and its members realize that together, they can do great things. They value fun and creativity, and make up about 22% of the workforce. Current exemplar: online shoe store Zappos.

Circle 5: “Life is great.” This level is inhabited by only about 2% of people, “the ones who change the world.” It is completely driven by values. Logan points to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a concept Nelson Mandela enacted to keep his country from descending into violence after apartheid.

Tribes can operate only one circle above or below where they start. The job of leaders is to pull people up. Logan says: “They extend the reach of their tribes by connecting them.”

— Adapted from “David Logan on Tribal Leadership,” talk at TEDxUSC, www.ted.com.

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