Book Review: “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us” by Seth Godin

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Book Reviews
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TribesI finished re-reading Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us today.  It’s a book that is on my very short list of books worth re-reading now and again.  The point of this small 2008 book is that there are groups of people (a.k.a. tribes, followers) just waiting for someone to step up and take a leadership role to help make change happen.

The book is a bit hard to review on one hand because it has no table of contents, no chapter divisions, no index to easily go back and find a thought – only seemingly random section headings that have content under each heading for a few sentences or a few pages. Good luck on outlining the book.  Godin acknowledges that potential critique near the end of the book, and if he’s not worried about it, neither will I.  The focus should be on the content of the book, not the structure.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for rebels – those willing to challenge the status quo and attempt to make change happen.  Godin refers to this person throughout the book as a heretic and encourages such behavior for all who see a different vision and aren’t afraid to try to make it come to pass.  “Heretics are engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than everyone else” (p. 49).  Long live the heretic!

Tribes is filled with short stories of people – many of whom you have never heard – who made the decision to make a difference and then who started to lead others who shared the same passion down a path of affecting change.  Rebels and heretics will find nuggets of hope and strength in these stories, encouragement to go forward in their worlds and lead their tribes.

There are a few sections which lay out precisely Godin’s underlying thoughts and principles.  One is where he describes his thesis:

  • For the first time ever, everyone in an organization – not just the boss – is expected to lead.
  • The very structure of today’s workplace means that it’s easier than ever to change things and that individuals have more leverage than ever before.
  • The marketplace is rewarding organizations and individuals who change things and create remarkable products and services.
  • It’s engaging, thrilling, profitable, and fun.
  • Most of all, there is a tribe of fellow employees or customers or investors or believers or hobbyists or readers just waiting for you to connect them to one another and lead them where they want to go. (pp. 12-13)

Another meaty couple of pages list five things to do and six principles behind creating a micromovement:

Things to do:

  1. Publish a manifesto.
  2. Make it easy for your followers to connect with you.
  3. Make it easy for your followers to connect with one another.
  4. Realize that money is not the point of a movement.
  5. Track your progress. (pp. 103-104)

Principles:

  1. Transparency really is your only option.
  2. Your movement needs to be bigger than you.
  3. Movements that grow, thrive.
  4. Movements are made most clear when compared to the status quo or to movements that work to push the other direction.
  5. Exclude outsiders.
  6. Tearing others down is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up. (pp. 104-105)

This review would be far too lengthy if I tried to write about all the notes I took and parts I underlined.  Besides the main points above, I’ll just mention a few more ideas that stand out to me…

“Skill and attitude are essential.  Authority is not.  In fact, authority can get in the way” (p. 20).  Too many people think they can’t lead because they do not have positional power and the accompanying authority that goes with it.  Malarkey!  You can lead from the bottom of an org chart any day.

“Organizations that destroy the status quo win” (p. 35).  I hear many companies talking about being “disruptive,” yet too many of them are still mired in old ways of thinking, stifling policies, outdated practices that lead to anything but disruption, and a culture of protection and control that inhibit and sometimes downright punish innovation.  These dinosaurs will die as others who actually walk the talk pass them by.  “The organizations that need innovation the most are the ones that do the most to stop it from happening” (p. 113).

“The only thing holding you back is your own fear” (p. 44).  

“Change isn’t made by asking permission” (p. 70).  This thought goes hand in hand with another: “The easiest thing is to react.  The second easiest thing is to respond.  But the hardest thing is to initiate” (p. 86).  Heretics initiate change.

“When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff” (p. 98).  I work on a team like this and can vouch for its truth and source of energy and inspiration.

I do find it odd that Godin chooses not to engage a tribe, himself, on Twitter.  He has two accounts there – @SethGodin and @ThisIsSethsBlog.  The former account is a mere placeholder with no activity, reserved so that nobody else can claim it, while the latter tweets whenever there is new content on Godin’s blog.  It’s his choice, of course, to be involved or not in whatever technology platform he chooses, but it seems like a missed opportunity to not use Twitter to engage with a willing tribe of followers.  That choice does not, however, impact the truth and value of the book.  You’ll find his website at http://www.sethgodin.com.

If your goal is to manage, this book isn’t for you.  If you want to keep the current organizational machine functioning as smoothly as possible with little disruption, don’t bother reading it.  But if you have a goal to produce change – at work, in your community, in your neighborhood, in government, in your church or elsewhere – then read this physically small, 151-page book and take away some insights and inspiration to lead a tribe.  “Do what you believe in.  Paint a picture of the future.  Go there.  People will follow” (p. 108).

One final thought… While reflecting on the book, the brief YouTube video of First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy came to mind.  I encourage you to watch it.

Comments
  1. Jeff, I heard about this book over a year ago and it peaked my curiosity. Now that I have read your review (and watched the video), I know that I will have to put this book on my short list. Thanks for the Review. -Robert

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