My Escalating Obsession with “Tribal Leadership”

For better or worse, I tend to jump between obsessions – certain books/ideas that I cram into just about every conversation. My current obsession is the book Tribal Leadership. I’ve summarized the ideas in the infographic above – individuals and groups go through five stages from least to most productive:

  1. “Life sucks”: Alienated and nihilistic, individuals are focused on survival (examples of groups include gangs and prisons).
  2. “My life sucks (and it’s your fault)”: Separate and resentful, individuals feel powerless to advance in life (examples of groups include many office environments – represented in the comic “Dilbert,” the movie “Office Space,” etc.)
  3. “I’m great (but you’re not)”: Personal and self-centered, individuals are focused on gaining competitive advantage over others (examples of groups include most corporate cultures – personified by our current commander in chief (who is mentioned repeatedly in the book (which was written back in 2008) as the patron saint of Stage 3)
  4. “We’re great (but they’re not)”: Partnership-based and productive, individuals set aside their egos to work together (examples of groups include high-functioning companies such as Apple)
  5. “Life is great”: Team-based and transformative, this is Stage 4 teams working at their very best – with the only competition being what’s possible

The problem with music – along with many other competitive fields – is that most people get stuck in Stage 3.  I haven’t been immune to this – I’ve gotten snagged on personal development and self-promotion. To get from Stage 3 to Stage 4, individuals must go through an epiphany and realize that true happiness and impact comes from working with and to help others – not from being the best at your own thing. Most musicians recognize that Stage 4 groups vastly outperform Stage 3 groups, but few are willing to let go of their ego enough to make the shift themselves.

Right now, I’m figuring out how to help people progress through these stages through my performances, teaching, and publications. The main challenge is that people can only move up one stage at a time (or from the lower part of a stage to the middle-upper part). Thus, I’ll encounter groups where everyone is at roughly the same level musically, but at very different stages of Tribal Leadership. It’s challenging, but it’s no longer “me” against the world – it’s “us” plugging into the full potential of the tribe.

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist and Instructor

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