Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a fast-paced high-energy onslaught of short choppy chapters that shout the argument that we are all members of tribes – groups of like-minded passionate people – and that tribes are where the energy and enthusiasm is.

Godin uses this concept as the basis for a discussion on game-changing leadership. It’s about how “heretics” can passionately and determinedly fight for what they believe in, and that if they are right, people will follow them. The point is not to seek people to lead, but to seek a disruptive idea and make it happen; the people will follow.

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On the face of it, this is quite inspiring, but if we tear away at the outer garments of his thesis, we see that it’s not quite as fresh and new as it first appears. I’ve heard it all before – and in a more level-headed reasoned way – and the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a fancy argument for niche marketing dressed as something far more exciting.

That’s not to say it’s rubbish. It’s not. There are some great lessons in here, some very good points and some really valuable advice. When it’s focused on the role of leaders, it’s solid stuff, but I’m just not sold on the overarching argument that the “tribe” is such a universally powerful concept for the workplace leader.

I warmed to the book the more I read it. At first I was a bit sniffy about it (OK, a lot sniffy), but as I got more into it, it grew on me. As an argument for idea-based leadership, with its stress on tenacious determination and the “heretical” pursuit of the innovative and the game-changing disruptive idea, it works – it’s just that whole “tribe” thing that nags at me.

He also falls for the tiresome received opinion that managers are obstacles to disruptive change. This argument is commonplace in change management and it bores and irritates me in equal measure. Managers are not a single homogeneous entity, for every stick-in-the-mud there are many others desperate to make things better and eager to take risks to do so. These exciting heretical game-changing leaders should be seeking out these willing managers as key allies, not sidelining them as if they were automatic defenders of the status quo.

Some good useful advice and inspiring concepts presented in a readable way, but – for me at least – muddied by the whole tribal business.

 

 

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