Tribes are hot.

Kevin has referred more than once to the famous Dunbar number for limits on optimal human tribe size.

One of my favorite books recently is Seth Godin’s book on leadership, called — you guessed it — Tribes.

Yesterday I heard a great talk by David Logan, co-author of Tribal Leadership.

Logan’s talk presented one of those rare, insightful models of human behavior that had me nodding my head at every point.  The model goes like this: there are five stages of development of human tribes that can be characterized by implicit cultural values:

  1. “Life sucks” (gangs, the disenfranchised)
  2. “My life sucks” (DMV, all bureaucracies)
  3. “‘I’m great” (entertainers, high-power professionals)
  4. “We’re great” (Zappos, Google, etc.)
  5. “Life is great” (peace and reconciliation process in South Africa)

One of the issues with tribes is that they can only comprehend the language and ethos of one level below and above their current stage.  That is, tribes in stage 2 can’t really grasp the mentality of stage 4 or 5, it sounds like a bunch of hogwash to them.  Good leaders, Logan argues, need to be able to speak the language of all five stages, and one of their main jobs is to nudge their tribe to the next level.  Thus, Martin Luther King, said “I have a dream”, speaking in stage 2 or 3 language, because that’s where his audience was.  Ghandi, Mandela, etc, all did the same thing.

We all belong to more than one tribe.  So, thinking about the tribes you are a member or leader of, what stage are they at?  What can you do to nudge them to the next stage of thinking?