The five tribal stages
I recently came across this TEDx video by David Logan talking about the five tribal stages and was glad on discovering another confirmation to my stage theoretic model. Dave along with King and Haleee have also written a book titled “Tribal Leadership” which summarizes their research, their tribal leadership model and how corporates and other organizations can move from one tribal stage to another.
As their theoretical background they have rhetorics, organizational theory and chaos theory and they view ‘culture as a self-correcting system of language’. This needs a bit of elaboration. What they mean is that the day to day language we use in our workplace or tribes and our relationships with other members of the tribes (behavior) is indicative of the stage at which the tribe is functioning. They explicitly dismiss all ‘cognitions, beliefs, attitudes, or other factors we cannot directly observe’ and in doing so and thus focusing solely on language and behavior are more in the behavioristic tradition, than grounding their tribes in a cognitive framework. Despite the resistance to cognitive framework, they do take recourse to developmental theory and Ken Wilbur’s spiral dynamics . However, their stages do seem to be good enough and are elaborated below:
- stage 1: Despairing Hostility :“Life sucks”: If people at Stage One had T-shirts, they would read “life sucks,” and what comes out of their mouths support this adage. People at this stage are despairingly hostile, and they band together to get ahead in a violent and unfair world.
- stage 2: Apathetic Victim: “My life sucks”: People in this cultural stage are passively antagonistic; they cross their arms in judgment yet never really get interested enough to spark any passion. Their laughter is quietly sarcastic and resigned. The Stage Two talk is that they’ve seen it all before and watched it all fail. A person at Stage Two will often try to protect his or her people from the intrusion of management. The mood that results from Stage Two’s theme, “my life sucks,” is a cluster of apathetic victims.
- stage 3: Lone Warrior: “I’m great (and you’re not)”: People at Stage Three have to win, and for them winning is personal. They’ll outwork and outthink their competitors on an individual basis. The mood that results is a collection of “lone warriors,” wanting help and support and being continually disappointed that others don’t have their ambition or skill. Because they have to do the tough work (remembering that others just aren’t as savvy), their complaint is that they don’t have enough time or competent support.
- stage 4 : Tribal Pride :“We’re great (and they’re not)”: A “we’re great” tribe always has an adversary— the need for it is hardwired into the DNA of this cultural stage. In fact, the full expression of the theme is “we’re great, and they’re not.” For USC football, the “you’re not” is usually UCLA (and in good years, whichever team is contending for the national championship). For Apple’s operating systems engineers, it’s Microsoft (although this is changing as Apple has moved to using Intel processors). Often, it’s another group within the company. A tribe will seek its own competitor, and the only one who has influence over the target is the Tribal Leader.The rule for Stage Four is this: the bigger the foe, the more powerful the tribe.
- stage 5 :Innocent Wonderment: “Life is great”: Stage Five’s T-shirt would read “life is great,” and they haven’t been doing illicit substances. Their language revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history—not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact. This group’s mood is “innocent wonderment,” with people in competition with what’s possible, not with another tribe.
This fits with my own stage model pretty well: the first stage is pretty much about survival and safety and getting together to outsmart the cruel environment. The second stage is more personal and (non) motivational in nature. The third stage is about accomplishment and has an achievement focus. The fourth is the most tribal with social focus and a visible ‘enemy’ or competitor tribe. The fifth stage has an imaginative and innovative focus.
It is possible and desirable to move from one stage to other and Dave shows that nicely in his TEDx talk embedded below:
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