Tribal Culture and Leadership (HR/manager blog)



dv1492001I recently ran across an interesting organizational culture and leadership theory regarding tribes on a manager/HR website called, enviable workplace. They were discussing a popular book called Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright. A tribe is defined as any naturally-occurring group of approximately 20-150 people. They reviewed results that came from a 10-year study of 24,000 people in 24 companies. The study mapped the five stages of corporate culture and one of the book’s goals is to show leaders how to assess, identify and upgrade their tribes’ cultures, one stage at a time.

The five stages of tribal culture are as follows:

  • Stage 1 (theme is “Life sucks”) – People act out in hostile and dangerous ways, and have an extremely negative viewpoint on life; only 2% operate in this stage.
  • Stage 2 (theme is “My life sucks”) – People are down or apathetic about themselves and feel disengaged; 25% are in this stage.
  • Stage 3 (theme is “I’m great and you’re not”) – People think highly of themselves and their hidden agenda is that others are beneath them; with 48% in this stage, it is the dominant culture.
  • Stage 4 (theme is “We’re great”) – People are inclusive of others and genuinely supportive of each other within the team, but competitive against other tribes; 22% reside in this stage.
  • Stage 5 (theme is “Life is great”) – People are focused on realizing their potential, as well as creating a positive impact in their community or globally; this only represents 2% of all workforce tribes.

So, how does someone use tribal leadership to improve the workplace culture and get people to move from a lower stage to a higher one? Here are a few tips from the authors’ official site to reach this goal.

  • Moving people from Stage 2 to Stage 3 – Provide compliments/encouragement, offer progressive training with attainable goals, mentor them on organizational politics/processes, enlist them to participate in finding solutions to problems, and help them build relationships to increase their sense of belonging.
  • Moving people from Stage 3 to Stage 4 – Identify individual values, perform a 360° feedback process, encourage sharing of tools/techniques with others, have them facilitate a strategy session, and get mentoring from people at Stage 4.
  • Moving people from Stage 4 to Stage 5 – Run a joint strategy process with another tribe, point out shared values of other groups, focus on global problems, emphasize giving away knowledge/information and solicit contributions.

The importance of organizational culture on workplace productivity, turnover and loyalty cannot be understated. Empathia has an excellent benefit called Culture1st that helps assess, improve and maintain a positive corporate culture. If you’re interested in learning more, please click here.

What are your thoughts? Do you have other suggestions or personal stories? Please feel free to ask questions or share your experiences below.

Suggested Resources

 Jeremy joined Empathia (then NEAS) in 2007 as Manager, Client Care Services, then became an Account Manager/Sales Consultant in 2012. He is also a certified wellness and tobacco cessation coach. Jeremy has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Organizational Management. Prior to joining Empathia, he spent 14 years in the EAP industry in a variety of roles with another behavioral healthcare organization. Jeremy enjoys reading, photography, music, and spending time with his wife and daughters.



*Specific LifeMatters® services vary from company to company, so please speak to your company benefits representative or call LifeMatters to determine the specific services that are available to you.


2 comments on “Tribal Culture and Leadership (HR/manager blog)

Jeremy, I LOVE this article. It reminds me of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, except it is even better as it offers concrete ways of encouraging a healthy workplace environment. EXCELLENT!

    Thank you so much for the positive feedback! I greatly appreciate it and I’m glad you found the information helpful.

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