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Seth Godin’s Tribal Leadership Strategies

Permission marketing expert Seth Godin has written a new book called Tribes about leadership in a post-geography world. Is Nuveau Tribalism the path to leadership in the twenty-first century?

Godin’s thesis, as Brian Clark recounts in Copyblogger is that the internet allows anyone to become a leader of a tribe big or small, with members from across the planet. And people want you to lead them in all sorts of contexts.

Here’s an interview with Godin about how to become a leader.

BC: How does a member of any particular tribe know she’s ready to lead one of her own?

Godin: Well, everyone is a member of a tribe. A community tribe, perhaps, or a spiritual one. The time to go start your own tribe is when you realize the obligation you have to contribute your leadership and when you are passionate enough about a goal that you will make the commitment the tribe demands to get there.

In other words, do it when you care.

If you don’t care, don’t whine, don’t complain. But if there’s change you want to make happen (business change, social change, any change) then this is the way to do it.

BC: You’ve stated that the most interesting things happen at the edges, and I suspect this is true with tribes of all types. I think it’s also true at the intersection of neighboring tribes. Are the edges and intersections the most fertile ground for new leaders?

Godin: If you look at the innovations that we’ve seen online, they’ve all been at the edges. No one wins by saying, “this is a better version of AOL” or “this is a better version of Yahoo.” Google won by finding an edge that Yahoo cared little about (search) and embracing it.

With tribal behavior, we see that most people aren’t interested in joining a new tribe. So who does? Fringe types. Restless folks. Dissatisifed seekers. That means that your earliest members are fellow travelers, people willing to take a leap. THEN they bring in their friends and the growth happens.

It’s rare that we have a schism between different tribes (Arabs and Jews, Shiites and Suunis, Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich). Far more likely is apathy. Far more likely is that most people are just sitting there doing nothing. The big middle. Your opportunity is to peel folk away from the middle and give them what they want, which is movement and connection.

BC: We here at Copyblogger are obviously big proponents of using quality reader-focused content to become an online leader. Where’s the fine line between giving people what they want and leading them where they need to go?

Godin: Most people have no clue what they want, and if you ask them, you’ll get a lame answer. Most people don’t know they want Pretty Woman or Slumdog Millionaire. They don’t know they want Purple Cow or one of your killer articles. So if you want to have an impact, all you can do is lead. You can’t ask.

BC: You mention repeatedly that Tribes is not a “how to” book, since all tribe-building is unique and context-dependent. Are there any universal principles you can share?

Godin: There are many:

* People want to belong, they want to be missed when they don’t show up.

* Charisma doesn’t make you a leader, leading gives you charisma.

* Most of all, people care about themselves.

* Faith is belief in the future and it is critical. Religion is a set of rules designed to amplify faith at the same time it guarantees the status quo. As you can guess, heretics have a lot of faith, but not so much patience with religion. And heretics are the ones who make change.

* When in doubt, work with small groups. If you can’t find 5 followers, how will you find 1000?

* Talk to people with respect, don’t advertise at them.

* Transparency is your only option, because the tribe will smell artifice.

BC: Does a real leader make moves that the tribe may rebel against, even if only to understand the tribe better?

Godin: It’s not a democracy. It never is. It’s about acting in a way that you’re proud of, that the tribe can interact with. Often, the leader’s job is to come quite close to destroying everything but she does it to get to the end goal that everyone needs.


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