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Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us – Seth Godin

by Venky

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Long before Googleplex tickled the febrile imagination of a techno-cult, a man calling himself a ‘Maverick’, instituted a set of pyretic work practices that made the global corporate culture sit up and watch. It also upended the conventional, taken-for-granted, staid run-of-the-mill approaches to work. Ricardo Semler, the CEO and majority owner of Semco Partners, a Brazilian company, saw revenues under his ownership surge from US$4 million in 1982 to US$ 212 million in 2003. This was made possible, amongst others, due to a set of revolutionary work practices which set Semco apart from the rest. Workers’ share of profits was increased to 39%, management salaries were cut by 40% and employees were given the right to approve every item of expenditure. In Semler’s own words, “At Semco we did away with strictures that dictate the “hows” and created fertile soil for differences. We gave people an opportunity to test, question, and disagree. We let them determine their own futures. We let them come and go as they wanted, work at home if they wished, set their own salaries, choose their own bosses. We let them change their minds and ours, prove us wrong when we are wrong, make us humbler. Such a system relishes change, which is the only antidote to the corporate brainwashing that has consigned giant businesses with brilliant pasts to uncertain futures.”

In his best-seller, “Tribes”, Seth Godin, the founder and CEO of Squidoo and one of the world’s foremost business bloggers, talks about ‘heretics’, such as Semler who not only act as catalysts of change but also inspire an entire ‘clan’ of followers. In other words, these prophets of radical reforms lead their own “Tribes.” A tribe is simply, “any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have sought out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical. It’s our nature.” With an explosion of technology and a dramatic reduction in the cost of computing,  a majority of the global populace not only has access to an astounding gamut of information, but also the tools required to transform the users into heretics and leaders. In other words, one can have her own “tribe.” As Mr. Godin points out, from the prolific Joel Spolsky who has altered the domain of software programming to the Grateful Dead, who have toppled received wisdom hitherto treated as gospel in the music industry on its head, harbingers of change and their faithful tribes are all around us. The prosaic methodologies which held employees and managers in a fell clutch of manuals, best practices and sacrosanct rituals are now being challenged and dangerously so by a new breed of principles that brook neither fear nor favour. This invasion of intruders is changing the world of work and leisure. “Stability is an Illusion” says Mr. Godin. “” Established 1906” used to be important. Now apparently it’s a liability.”

The standing of the heretics has undergone a sea change. “They burn heretics at the stage. They also drown them, denounce them, ignore them and hang them from the rafters. …. None of that is true anymore. Now we invite heretics to Davos. Heretics get elected to Congress. Heretics make a fortune when their companies go public. Heretics not only love their jobs; they get a private jet too.”

Drawing the readers’ attention to the work of Jerry and Monique Sternin in helping starving children, Mr. Godin emphasies on what he terms “the most important practical idea in his entire book.” “Find leaders (the heretics who are doing things differently and making change), and then amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers – and things get better. They always get better.”  How does a leader go about accumulating and improving his tribe? Over to Mr. Godin: “…it takes only two things to turn a group of people into a tribe:

  • A shared interest
  • A way to communicate

The communication can be one of four kinds:

  • Leader to tribe;
  • Tribe to leader;
  • Tribe member to tribe member;
  • Tribe member to outsider

A classic example of communication nurturing tribes is the medium of Twitter. In a short burst of 280 characters, one can subtly, succinctly and strongly convey one’s intentions and since the medium being online real time the message spreads like wildfire – literally – and before one can say “Amen”, one has a million doting and eager ‘disciples’ looking up to the originator of the tweet for guidance and advice. Mr. Godin strongly urges all of us to avoid what he calls, “Sheepwalking.” Sleepwalking, “is the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line.”

Is there a particular number that forms a traction for the tribe of a leader to bloom fully? Mr. Godin explains that a leader does not actually need many follower fans as long as he she can engage and interact with the ones following her. It could be less than a dozen or a few hundred. Some of us would love to lead millions but would probably settle for 1000. In this Mr. Godin derives inspiration from Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired. As Mr. Godin writes on his own blog, ““Some people will read this and immediately understand. Others will read it and start waffling over the meaning of “true.” My expansion: you need to alter what you do and how you do it so that 1,000 true fans is sufficient to make you very happy.””

Before concluding, Mr. Godin goes on to identify what he argues as constituting “the elements of leadership:”

  • Leaders challenge the status quo;
  • Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture;
  • Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they are trying to change;
  • Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers;
  • Leaders communicate their vision of the future;
  • Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment;
  • Leaders connect their followers to one another

Jacqueline Novogratz, Gary Vaynerchuck, Mich Matthews, Thomas Barnett, Niklas Zennstrom, the founders of Lulu.com and Scott Beale all stand out because they dared to dream. They refused to be cowed down by intrinsic doubts and external fears and proceeded to live according to the dictum laid down by them. This made them leaders with a fanatical base of tribes.

As Mr. Godin reiterates each one of us have the potential to become a leader just as the ones referred to above. And yes, with our own tribes!

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1 comment

dipsviewpoints April 1, 2020 - 6:00 pm

Great post , thoroughly enjoyed..
Seth Godin’s great quotes are a great source of inspiration and motivation.., this one is awesome as well


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