I just finished reading Tribes by Seth Godin last night. I learned a lot from it, but I think I could have learned a lot more. The book felt disjointed. In my opinion, the last third of the book provided the most value. What I most liked about this book was that it encouraged me to question my definition of leadership.
I’m not sure that he had in mind to point out that there’s a significant leadership deficit right now in America (both business and politics). Some people blame this on our academic system or use of standardized tests where an artificial bar of excellence has been established and everyone is taught from age five to measure themselves against it (and nothing higher). Others argue that TV and movies and other popular media discourage us from reading classic books, which is how character and values have been taught for centuries.
Whatever the true cause of the deficit, there’s little doubt that it exists. Rather than making difficult choices, like sacrifice, discipline and hard work, we seem to be a generation of entitlement. Everyone wants “their fair share”. No wonder Ed Dale and Frank Kern have been heard to lament that the one thing they can’t sell is the “do” part of what they teach.
Leadership vs. Management
One comparison that he uses throughout the book, which I think highlights the leadership deficit, is manager vs. leader. A manager’s job, he suggests, is to maintain the status quo. He isn’t there to innovate or to change. He has the sole purpose of ensuring that production of X goes on according to specifications. Leaders, on the other hand, define specifications.
While I don’t care for his use of the word heretic throughout the book, I think I see what he’s getting at. In this book I think a heretic is someone who challenges the status quo. The reason I say that I don’t like his use of the word is that I doubt most leaders would self identify as a heretic and by choosing a recalcitrant word, they might discount some of the strength of his arguments.
I believe that many leaders rise to their position not because they want to oppose established authority, but instead because they find their backs against the wall. For example, I think that many people would agree that the founders of the United States constitution were effective leaders.
Amid the din of patriotic praise for what they did, we might think that the government they established was heretical for it’s time. That’s not true. In fact, many of them tried (for many years) to reconcile their differences with Britain. They tried as hard to resolve the conflict beforehand as they did to establish independence afterward. They were also very well educated in matters of politics and familiar with the forms of government that have existed throughout the ages.
A leader doesn’t have to fly in the face of established patterns in order to lead. Sometimes to lead means to confront mutiny and maintain order according to specification (or the status quo).
How to identify your tribe
One significant question that the book doesn’t answer is “how do I identify my tribe”. This might have been his intention. After all, how do you teach someone where to go to look for people that might be interested in what you do? The fact is, you just have to make some noise and see who raises their hand in interest. In many cases, the people that compose your tribe may surprise you.
One aspect of identifying your tribe, that I think he understood to be implicit, is that you need to have a deep, burning passion for what your doing. Someone that lacks that all consuming drive for change will rarely be generous, selfless and enduring enough to inspire allegiance from their tribe (all qualities he attributes to leadership).
Here are a few quotes that I really enjoyed. By the way, I bought my copy on Amazon.
“great leaders don’t try to please everyone”
“the new thing is rarely as good as the old thing was. If you need the alternative to be better than the status quo from the very start, you’ll never begin”
“Don’t mortgage today just because you’re in a hurry”
“It’s a myth that change happens overnight, that right answers succeed in the marketplace right away, or that big ideas happen in a flash.”
And of course, he has a blog: Seth Godin. Go subscribe now.
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