Author Seth Godin is all about change. In Tribes, as he has in his previous books such as Purple Cow and The Dip, he challenges the status quo with a straight-on, get-with-it kind of attitude, and you got to love him for it. His books are sweetly short, and they manage to be breezy and thought-provoking at the same time.
This time out he tackles the oft-dissected concept of leadership. But he does so with a twist. He delves into the surfacing of a new kind of leader — one who has emerged since the Internet has enabled and mobilized countless global tribes around passions ranging from global warming to politics to great restaurants.
Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea that inspires their passion. He argues that human beings have a need to belong, “to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people. We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new,” he writes.
If you are thinking, Barack Obama, and his astonishing political ascent and money-raising prowess, you’re on to it. But of course, the Grateful Dead pushed this concept some four decades ago. “The Dead helped us understand how tribes work,” Godin writes. “They didn’t succeed by selling records (they only had one Top 40 album). Instead, they succeeded by attracting and leading a tribe.”
Thanks to the Web, the barriers to leadership have fallen. There are tribes everywhere, millions in search of leaders, waiting to connect to create change. And people yearn to belong to more than one tribe, according to Godin.
And therein lies the opening door for Net-savvy leader wannabes. Because the Internet eliminates geography, existing tribes are bigger and there are smaller tribes, too — tribes you work with, tribes you travel with, tribes that ride motorcycles, and more. There are “literally thousands of ways to coordinate and connect groups of people that didn’t exist a generation ago,” he writes.
Godin’s mantra is that everyone can now find or assemble a tribe and lead it. The tools are there to lead the tribes that are forming from Facebook to Twitter to Craigslist.
“All that’s missing is you, and your vision and your passion,” he urges.
No one gives you permission or approval to lead. You can just do it. The only one who can say no is you. In other words, you can make a difference if you have something to say, and want to, that is, in his view.
He even has a name for someone who strikes out to assemble or lead a tribe, a “heretic.” Heretics are no longer condemned or burned at the stake as they were in days of old. “The world has changed a lot. There are heretics everywhere you look,” he writes. “Heretics are engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than everyone else,” he explains. “And they have a tribe that they support (and supports them in turn).”
Heretics reach out to others and put their ideas on the line. Heretics believe. “Can you imagine Apple founder Steve Jobs showing up for a paycheck?” he asks. It’s nice to get paid. It’s essential to believe in what you do, Godin opines.
Faith is at the heart of the matter. It is one component of leadership that is underrated. “The only thing holding you back from becoming the kind of person who changes things is this: lack of faith,” he writes. “Faith that you can do it. Faith that it’s worth doing. Faith that failure won’t destroy you.”
So after all the pep talk and feel-good motivation, what’s wrong with Godin’s latest tribe manifesto? He tells you: “People might say that it’s too disorganized or not practical enough or that I require you to do too much work to actually accomplish anything. That’s OK. … Criticism like that almost always accompanies change.”
So what if he’s right. … Now go pursue something that matters. And lead.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin; Portfolio, 151 pages, $19.95.