Seth Godin, Tribes and Leadership Mistakes

You may know Seth Godin as the author of Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us in which he says that:

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

As leader, you have a tribe of your own which, although perhaps artificially constructed via the workplace, is nevertheless relying on you to lead it somewhere. It is up to you to build the same commitment that a socially or culturally formed tribe has.

Passion attracts crowds and builds tribes. If you can see the future and it inspires you, your passion will show.  You will begin to create ideas and change the status quo.  It is almost impossible not to be caught up in the excitement of your vision.  That’s how you turn an assortment of team members into a cohesive tribe. That’s how they begin to support and follow you and to contribute ideas of their own.  That’s how momentum is built.

Once you have your tribe you need to nurture it. You are a special collection of people who will gradually develop your own culture and norms. Those are ties that bind you together –symbols of belonging, and something to be proud of. The in-jokes are part of your communication system which gradually allows as much to be left unsaid as it does say, yet everyone in your tribe still understands perfectly.

So, as a leader, what happens if you lose your way? What happens if you make a mistake?  Will your tribe fall apart or abandon you?

That’s a question that bothers most leaders at some stage because mistakes are inevitable. We’re all human.  But according to Godin, it’s not the mistake that can kill off a team; it’s the way you handle it.

Are you the kind of leader who beats yourself up over every little error? Are you the kind of leader who broods over what you should have done, but didn’t?  That negativity is what will bring your tribe to a standstill and eventually break it apart.

The way you choose to handle a situation is vital. Remember, you have a tribe which means you are connected through a common vision and purpose. Negativity can shatter that vision and leave your team confused.

Great leaders learn from their mistakes, so a bad experience actually becomes a positive. It’s all about the learning you can pull out of every experience and event, which you can use to power the team forward.

You can build a tribe that is so powerful and focused that it will continue to work towards the vision even if you are no longer there. Think about Martin Luther King.  He couldn’t change things on his own but he could (and did) build a tribe to help him change the world.  It didn’t stop after his death; it continued on, still inspired by his leadership.  That’s a true tribe.

“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” (Seth Godin)

What kind of future do you see?  What is screaming at you so loudly that you need to change it – to change your world?

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