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Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us

Author: Seth Godin

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected, to a leader, and connected to an idea.

A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

Seth first mentions Joel Spolsky, a software developer. One of his notable contributions is The Joel Test, a means of seeing how good a software development team is.1

Geography limitations have largely been eliminated since the internet became generally accessible. Social Media has helped bridge those gaps. But the internet is not a requirement of a tribe, just a means of helping a tribe thrive.

The real power of tribes has nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with people.

There is a difference between management and leadership. โ€œManagement is about manipulating resources to get a known job doneโ€. Leadership, on the other hand, โ€œis about creating change that you believe inโ€.

The concept of a manager stems from kings and royalty. A king uses power to maintain status quo. Their direct reports have a vested interest in maintaining that because of the compensation they receive. The same structure is applied in many corporations. In the modern time, marketing gave those without power leverage over the CEO/king and allowed for tribes to form.

The only constant is change; people want new, innovative ideas. Old and mediocre ideas donโ€™t spread.

By definition, a tribe has an opinion about a topic. They believe in it; if itโ€™s a movement, they want the opposite to not occur. A leader in this case steps up and takes a position, connecting with that tribe to help guide them to interconnect. Tesla2 as an example disrupted the automotive market by bringing a fully electric vehicle to mainstream markets.

Intractable problems fall in the face of movements.

When trying to improve a tribe, most leaders focus solely on growing and gaining new members. While important, time is better spent helping the current tribe effectively communicate by providing the right tools (such as Discord, a Subreddit, or a social media hashtag), or โ€œtransforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for changeโ€.

Ultimately, the goal of your tribe is to create a movement: viral change for the better.

That movement comes from three key points, as defined by Bill Bradley:

  1. A story about the future the tribe is striving to achieve
  2. A connection between the leader and the members of the tribe
  3. A goal โ€” something to do and to work toward

Godin uses Wikipedia as an example here; Jimmy Wales provides all of this. The fundraising emails sent out describe a story of free, open knowledge. The emails themselves are a means of connecting to him. And the Wikipedia software provides the necessary tooling to achieve both the communication amongst the tribe members and the means of achieving their goal.

A crowd is different than a tribe. Crowds lack leaders and lack communication.

Godin argues that having 1,000 true fans is enough to support yourself, and that 1,000 true fans will form a tribe around you and your work. Getting even one true fan is difficult and requires engaging with them. Be generous and open with them (not unlike what Austin Kleon recommends in Show Your Work!). Provide something exceptional and novel.

The party didnโ€™t take four minutes to organize; it took four years.

The internet has provided a means of reaching the masses; this means that almost anyone has the potential to build something big.

Lots of people have ideas. The ideas that tend to succeed are the ones that come from those that have the least fear.


Tribes are about faithโ€”about belief in an idea and in a community. And they are grounded in respect and admiration for the leader of the tribe and for the other members as well.

Marketing used to be about advertising, and advertising is expensive. Today, marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.

So a leader can help increase the effectiveness of the tribe and its members by

  • transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change;
  • providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and
  • leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members.

Most leaders focus only on the third tactic. [โ€ฆ] In fact, the first two tactics almost always lead to more impact.

Fear of Criticism is a powerful deterrent because the criticism doesnโ€™t actually have to occur for the fear to set in. Watch a few people get criticized for being innovative and itโ€™s pretty easy to convince yourself that the very same thing will happen to you if youโ€™re not careful.

People show up because they have to, not because they want to. Desire is defeated by fear, and the status quo calcifies, leading to the long slow death of the stalled organization.

โ€œYouโ€™re not going where I need to go, and thereโ€™s no way Iโ€™m going to persuade all of you to follow me. So rather than standing here watching the opportunities fade away, Iโ€™m heading off. Iโ€™b betting some of you, the best of you, will follow me.โ€

Leaders have tribes of their own, and someone needs to lead those tribes.

This one I feel a lot because I didnโ€™t feel like I had the mentorship or community that I needed when I was a manager.


  1. Joel was also a co-founder of Stack Overflow, along-side Jeff Atwood. โ†ฉ

  2. Ignoring the current tailspin the CEO is in and the resulting collateral damage, of course. โ†ฉ