The business book club: Seth Godin’s Tribes offers a practical perspective on improving performance through people

CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS

Best-selling author and speaker Seth Godin argues that everyone is a marketeer. The advent of social media has caused us all to have the ability to present ourselves as a product. But more than that, everyone is now also a leader. For the first time, everyone in every organisation – not just the boss – is expected to take responsibility, to lead. And our job as leader? To unite tribes.

Solving the classic debate, Godin says: “Managers have employees. Leaders have followers.” And “managers make widgets. Leaders make change.” It’s a solid hypothesis, but change is frightening. However, Godin notes that stability is an illusion. 

Management often strives to maintain the status quo – consistent productivity and quality, no accidents. Traditional safety, the safety of “push” and compliance, fits this need: the most stable action is to push a standard rule to a standard audience and succeed with incentive and discipline. 

 Leadership usually involves thinking and acting like the underdog


Tribes, Seth GodinBut organisations are stuck acting like managers and employees rather than the leaders we could become. Although a fear of change was previously useful – because change is often the first sign of risk – the structure of the modern workplace makes it easier than ever to bring about change, and individuals now have more leverage.

As a consequence, Godin believes, there are tribes of fellow employees waiting to be connected. He urges us to challenge the status quo, get out in front, and create a movement. Movements occur when people talk to one another, when ideas spread within the community, and when peer support leads people to do what they always knew was the right thing.

For a movement to start, we need two things: a shared interest, and a way to communicate.  With these in play, the leader increases the tribe’s effectiveness by transforming the shared interest into a desire for change, providing tools to allow members to contribute and leveraging the tribe so that it gains members. In other words: motivate, connect, leverage.

Godin says leadership usually involves thinking and acting like the underdog.  This is because leaders work to change things and the people who are winning rarely do.

In just 125 pages Tribes offers a practical perspective on improving performance through people, founded on key principles of respect, trust and transparency and a five-step route to create a movement. It suggests an organisation should:

1. Publish a manifesto. Devise your mantra or motto and a way of looking at the world. Make it easy to remember and share.

2. Make it easy for followers to connect with you as leader.

3. Make it easy for followers to connect with each other.

4. Realise it’s not about the output; focus on the inputs.

5. Track your progress.

Craft beer outfit Brewdog is a good example of Godin’s tribal movement model. What began as two guys and a dog in an Aberdeen garage in 2007 now has 1,000 employees, 55,000 crowdfunders, and is the UK’s fastest growing food and drink company.

I’ll leave you with Godin’s own mantra: “Ideas that spread, win. Ideas that are boring, don’t spread and don’t win.”


CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS 

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