tribesWho’s your tribe?

In 2008, Seth Godin wrote a powerful book titled, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.” It digs into the concept of leadership by influence and attraction.

Some of the strongest leaders I work with have their own unique twist on this concept. Specifically, they map out the spheres of influence around their company’s mission.

This is powerful because businesses on a mission usually feel like they’re so unusual that nobody understands them. It starts feeling like nobody really cares.

That’s not true!

The fact is that if you’re working to make the world a better place — through people, products, services, or influence — that there are others who align with your values. They have a desire to help you succeed, even if they haven’t heard about you yet.

This is where the concept of tribe can be particularly powerful. It describes the mix of logic and emotion that drives people to align with what you’re doing.

Your first tribe, of course, are you employees. If you don’t have them on board, then your organization is quickly going to fly apart and be ineffective.

Your second tribe are your customers and others who are a potential fit for your products. If we think of them as a tribe, then we see that there’s some value in them aligning as a community rather than just a random set of individuals.

There’s a powerful purpose behind why they choose to buy from you rather than the competition.

There are some more tribes that you should think about developing. Your partners and suppliers are absolutely vital to success, right? To what degree are they with you because of your mission, rather than just taking advantage of the business opportunity? How much are they emotionally invested in the relationship?

Another type of tribe are your industry and market influencers. Most often, your customers make a purchase not just based on what you’re telling them, but on what else is happening in their environments. It really does matter when they see people talking about you as a leader in an area they care about.

What does it mean to lead these tribes?

There are a couple of powerful dimensions to answering this question: what you do, and who you are.

What you do encompasses your products and services, the agreement to exchange value. Employees give you quality work in exchange for their paycheck. Customers give you their money in exchange for whatever you deliver. You’ll have a contract in place for each important partner arrangement. And other influencers are getting gratification and recognition in exchange for the information and perks you give them.

That’s Business 101, and we tend to spend all our attention on that.

But even more important is who you are. Your relationships, character, and values. Your mission.

You might think that customers just want to trust that you’ll deliver the value you promised. But if you don’t attend to the other motivations, customers will just wander away in search of another great deal. Because they’re not invested.

Likewise, if you limit the employee relationship to just work and paycheck, you’re missing the deeper motivations of why people spend so much of their time and energy with your company. As soon as a slightly better deal comes along, they’ll head for the door. And your business success will suffer.

Partners need to be emotionally invested as well. It’s not just trust. In fact, trust is the result of what you do in maintaining the relationship, being consistent, honoring commitments, and living your values every day. If you’re counting on partners for your success, you need them to be emotionally attached to you and your company. Some individuals will be key, but they’ll also be actively aligned as a group.

The industry and market influencers are primarily connected at the emotional level. You can “buy” their attention, I suppose, but that tends to be expensive and not particularly powerful. Instead, you want people who have deep connection to your mission, and will go out of their way to spread supportive messages about what you’re doing.

Businesses with a powerful mission are out there changing the world, and they’re doing this by expanding their spheres of experience through amazing connections.

They have whole tribes of people on board.


This article was first published in BizWest.

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