David Logan on Tribal Leadership and how this talk relates to church cultures

I listened to this Ted Talk by David Logan on “Tribal Leadership” a couple years ago and have thought about it frequently since.  Logan’s insights into our natural tendency to form tribes and the cultural stages that these tribes typify have had me looking at the faith communities in my area with new eyes.  I think this is a helpful talk to all in ministry, whether as a lay person or paid clergy.

You should listen to the full talk to hear Logan’s helpful illustrations and stories, but for quick reference, here are my notes:

All of you are members of tribes.  People form tribes.  They always have.  They always will.  It’s just what we do. But not all tribes are the same, and the difference is the culture.

Stage One – “Life Sucks”

Stage One produces people who do horrible things.  The culture of gangs and prisons.  One is a group where people systematically sever relationships from functional tribes, and then pool together with people who think like they do. We don’t often deal with Stage One, but we need to. It’s not enough to simply write people off.

As people see the world, so they behave.

Stage Two – “My Life Sucks”

The Stage Two culture makes people dumb.  You find these tribes in the best organizations in the world. You find them in all places in society.  If that’s how you talked, imagine what kind of work would get done. What kind of innovation would get done? The amount of world-changing behavior that would happen? In fact it would be basically nil.

Stage Three – “I’m Great…and You’re Not”

Stage Three is where most of us move and park and stay.  Imagine having a whole room of people saying, in effect, “I’m great and you’re not.” Or, “I’m going to find some way to compete with you and come out on top as a result of that.” The greatest challenge we face in innovation is moving people from Stage Three to Stage Four.

Stage Four – “We’re Great”

When individuals come together and find something that unites them that’s greater than their individual competence, then something very important happens.  The group gels.  And it changes from a group of highly motivated but fairly individually-centric people into something larger, into a tribe that becomes aware of its own existence.  Stage Four tribes can do remarkable things. 

Stage Five – “Life is Great”

Stage Five is where you really change the world.  It is the stage of Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi.  This is a scene from the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa for which Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Prize. Terrible atrocities had happened in the society, and people came together focused only on those two values: truth and reconciliation.  In this atmosphere, where the only guidance was people’s values and their noble cause, what this group accomplished was historic.  Largely because people like Desmond Tutu set up a Stage Five process to involve the thousands and perhaps millions of tribes in the country, to bring everyone together. 

There are counter-intuitive findings that come out of all this.

The first finding is that leaders need to be able to talk all the levels so that you can touch every person in society.  People can only understand the language of stages one step away.  You don’t leave them where you find them, though.  You nudge them forward to the next level by getting them in a new tribe and then, over time, getting them connected.  

2% of tribes are at Stage One, 25% are at Stage Two, 48% are at Stage Three, 22% are at Stage Four, and only 2% get to Stage Five. 

I’d like to encourage you to do something beyond what people normally do and call networking. Which is not just to meet new people and extend your reach, extend your influence, but instead, find someone you don’t know, and find someone else you don’t know, and introduce them. That’s called a triadic relationship.

People who build world-changing tribes do that. They extend the reach of their tribes by connecting them, not just to myself, so that my following is greater, but I connect people who don’t know each other to something greater than themselves. 

We all form tribes, all of us. If you do what we’ve talked about, you listen for how people actually communicate in the tribes that you’re in.  And you don’t leave them where they are.  You nudge them forward.  You remember to talk all five culture stages.  And the question that I’d like to leave you with is this:

Will your tribes change the world?

Some questions to consider as you think about your church tribe:

  • Has my tribe parked in Stage Three?  Does “I’m Great…and You’re Not” sound like the kind of talk happening in my church?
  • Does my church tribe make connections with other church or organizational tribes on the basis of shared values and goals to accomplish great things?
  • Do I speak the language of all tribal stages, nudging people in my tribe forward gently and helping them get connected in ways that advance their development?
  • Does my tribe write people off who are not at the same stage?
  • What are the values held by my tribe?

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One response to “David Logan on Tribal Leadership and how this talk relates to church cultures

  1. Pingback: Q&A on Christian Feminism | The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors

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