Tap into tribes to improve influence

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What tribes can you tap into?

A tribe is “any group of people, large or small who are connected to one another, a leader and an idea,” as best-selling author Seth Godin wrote in Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.  

Traditionally, tribes tend to be ethnic, political, religious and cultural.

Tribes exist in organizations too.

For example, consider employees who care deeply about social responsibility, environmental issues and work/life integration. They band together to volunteer their time, energy and resources to make a difference.

The trends that have been enabling formal and informal organizational tribes to form faster and grow larger are building momentum.

Robust social networks, flexible work teams and growing trust in peers (“employees like me”) over executives all contribute to the popularity and power of tribes.

Leaders need to take tribes seriously. Rather than ignore or fight tribes, leaders should seek out tribe leaders and their members to listen and engage on strategic issues.

In other words, consider the tribes as potential advocates—assuming the tribe leaders and members are amenable. Their support can help you influence other key stakeholders, probably more effectively than senior executives.

As reported in the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer earlier this year, we’re experiencing a serious crisis of confidence in leaders, both business and government.

The traditional pyramid of authority with its top-down edicts doesn’t work anymore, according to the report. Instead, we need to operate more inclusively.

This means inverting pyramids that encourage more real-time, peer-to-peer dialogue and actions.

The dialogue and actions lead to positive organizational change. In “Change Through Smart-Mob Organizing: Using Peer-by-Peer Practices to Transform Organizations,” I describe three case studies featuring a union, a manufacturing company and a retailer.

(I contributed this chapter to the new book, The Change Champion’s Field Guide: Strategies and Tools for Leading Change in Your Organization from The Best Practices Institute, which John Wiley published in July.)

Yet, we need to be skeptical about embracing all tribes just for the sake of inclusion.

For example, consider one of today’s fastest growing global tribes—the “heads-down tribe.”

Heads-down tribe members are “smartphone addicts who are susceptible to traffic accidents, physical illness or psychological disconnection,” as described by doctors and researchers

These tribe members move and text at the same time, putting themselves and others in danger. (Does anyone claim to lead the heads-down tribe?) 

Other tribes are able to offer tribe leaders and members development opportunities that positively affect them and their organizations. The involvement of tribes provide a triple win: development on the individual level, leverage for leaders and improved organizational performance and effectiveness.  

What tribes are you involving to make a difference and improve results?   


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Louis Carter
Louis Carter is CEO and founder of Best Practice Institute, social/organizational psychologist, executive coach and author of more than 11 books on leadership and management including his newest book just released by McGraw Hill: In Great Company: How to Spark Peak Performance by Creating an Emotionally Connected Workplace. He has lectured globally in the U.S., Middle East, and Asia on his work and research in organization and leadership development and is an executive coach and advisor to CEOs and C-levels of mid-sized to Fortune 500 organizations. He was named one of Global Gurus Top Organizational Culture Gurus in the world and was chosen to be one of 100 coaches to be in the MG100 (Marshall Goldsmith) out of 14,000 people as one of the top 100 coaches in the world .

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