Tribal Leadership

The first audiobook I completed was Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright.

I chose this book because I heard Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, talk about how the Zappos culture is the most important attribute of the company. He recommends all Zappos employees read the book, and they often have discussions based on the book inside the company.

The book explains that all human organizations are made up of tribes, which are groups of up to 150 people who share work. Many different types of organizations can be considered tribes, ranging from companies to sports teams to school classrooms.

The Five Stages:

Tribes can be classified in one of five stages, which explains how functional and successful the tribe is.

Stage One: People in the tribe hate life. They don’t like working with others, and they have no aspirations.

Stage Two: People have goals but feel destined to fail. They don’t believe they have the ability to improve their situation.

Stage Three: People are highly motivated to improve their own life and move up the food chain. They have a competitive edge and compete with others for success. They act with their own best interest in mind.

Stage Four: People are motivated by the success of the tribe as a whole. They act with the best interest of the group in mind, and they are supportive of the other members of their tribe. The tribe is focused on beating their competition as a group, and they are financially very successful.

Stage Five: This is rare. The tribe is not focused on competition with other humans, but instead, with only improving the world and reaching a greater good. An example is Amgen, who is more focused on curing cancer than increasing their profits.

Moving from one stage to the next

Much of the book focuses on how to move from one stage from the next. It describes how to recognize the stage your tribe is in and how to make concrete improvements to bring your tribe to a higher stage.

One of the main rules was that you can only move up one stage at a time.

This was one that I found extremely interesting. It is essentially saying that it’s impossible to jump directly to a stage 4 or stage 5 tribe, both of which are considered to be the stages at which organizations are highly functional and successful.

One thing that came to my mind was that it seems that some organizations attempt to jump straight to Stage Five without first reaching Stage Four, which is a problem.

That sort of behavior can be seen in many non-profits organizations.

Many people start or join non-profits with the goal of changing the world for the better. Their entire focus is on improving some issue they see in the world. This sounds like a person who belongs in a Stage Five organization, but there is just one issue… They never got to Stage Four.

Non-profits will often try to skip over Stage Four, so they can focus on “saving the world.” According to the book, this is not possible, and it’s clear that many unsuccessful non-profits haven’t noticed.

By trying to skip Stage Four, they skip the stage where the organization teams up and becomes financially successful, beating out their competition. Since they do not have this success, they cannot thrive as a team and organization well enough to raise money for their cause and create meaningful change.

CodeHS as a For-Profit Company

This point hits close to home, since many people ask me why my company, CodeHS, is not a non-profit. People hear that our mission is to educate high schoolers by teaching them to code online, so they assume that our goals are noble, and we should move beyond caring about the financial success of our company, since we clearly just care about learning outcomes and improving the world.

This, however, is just not feasible. If we changed our model to that of a non-profit, we would become dependent on fundraising to continue our venture. We’d be significantly less able to make money ourselves and become a successful Stage Four company.

It’s wonderful that people want to create educational resources that are freely available, but that is not sustainable if you cannot make enough money to support your organization.

This leads to an even worse outcome, which is that the content just goes away or the organization just stops improving or supporting it.

We don’t want that to happen. By trying to make CodeHS a viable business first, we are trying to be a successful Stage Four organization, so we can then, make the leap to Stage Five and focus on improving the world.

We feel that starting a for-profit company is actually a better, safer path to creating social good than starting a non-profit can be.

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