Finding My Business Tribe
For my entire career, I’ve been searching for my business tribe. The unspoken but deeply ingrained tribe virtues of cooperation, affinity, and sharing epitomize how I conduct myself day in and day out at my job. Yet from the moment I started my first job after college, I’ve always existed on the fringe of other established tribes, never feeling a deep kinship to any one community in particular.
In our modern workplace, business tribes have primarily developed along two lines: functional groups and geography. This makes logical sense given these are the peer groups that you spend the bulk of your time interacting with. And for the majority of people in the work force, this somewhat pre-determined affiliation is fine for them and they are happy to follow suit. For them these role and office based groupings are sufficient enough common ground to create tribal affinity.
While the ease of this affiliation makes sense, there is a trade-off one needs to be cognizant of. Unconscious hiring biases and other factors can lead these business tribes to, over time, become self re-enforcing ideological communities where there is a premium on conformity, and diversity of thought can fall to the wayside. Colleagues want to get their job done and not introduce friction that might force them to change the way they have been going about their work.
These realities of today’s business tribes have therefore presented me with several challenges. On one front my career hasn’t followed a well traveled conventional path. To that end, my background doesn’t conform to the traditional profile of classic functional departments like finance or sales. And while I do share common experiences and skills with corporate development, sales operations and FP&A, none of these teams have ever instinctually felt like my tribal peers. I also have a propensity to push back (hard) against the ‘this is the way we have always done it’ defense. I’m always the first to ask ‘why are we doing it this way?’ or ‘isn’t there a better way of doing this?’ Being at odds with these two underlying principles puts me in the minority at work and thus the conventional notions of a business tribe failed to fully resonate with me.
Yet, despite not fitting existing business tribes norms, I was always yearning for others like me. And from time-to-time I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a similarly minded person, typically having an equally distinct background or located in another office. We have forged great business friendships, but there was never a concentration or seemingly definable affiliation which drew this disconnected lot of us together.
Forming My Own Tribe
Given the lack of success with my search and not content to continue in the status quo, it’s become clear that I need to take the bull by the horns and form my own tribe. From those colleagues that I have connected with, I knew there was a desire within all of us to be connected with a larger, more accepting group.
As I dwelt on this idea I came to realize that it was not a functional, geographic, or any other affiliated tribe that I sought, but rather one of a similar mindset. A mindset business tribe would cut across the conventional business tribes that I was interacting with, and align me with others that share a common point of view. Who I was really looking for was a tribe of people who go about their business at work with my same mentality.
With this enlightenment, I felt on track for finding my tribe for the first time. So to help me form my tribe, I decided I needed a manifesto of my mindset for my fellow tribe members to coalesce around. Easier said than done. How does one capture in words what has prevented you from joining the tribe’s of countless colleagues and friends?
The Tribe Mindset Manifesto
For months I (figuratively) banged my head against the wall, desperately searching for the right words to call out to my tribe with. Then I had a revelation. It dawned on me the other day that I’d recently heard (or more accurately, heard for perhaps the tenth time) the perfect quote that embodied the soul of my tribe. This quote resonated deeply with me and I knew that it would draw other like minded people in.
What could this be you ask? Well it came from the unlikeliest of places. My manifesto was perfectly captured in the immortal words of Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) from the timeless action thriller classic Taken:
“What I do have are a particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”
These three sentences perfectly frame my career, capturing everything from how I felt about it to how I choose to speak about it. That, and some small part of me longing for the perfect opportunity to utter these words at work and see people’s reactions.
We Are a Tribe of Fixers
My potential tribe members will fully appreciate the sentiments of this quote. But for those scratching their head, not fully appreciating the perfect word selection (and delivery), let me decipher each of Bryan’s sentences making up this quote:
- “What I do have are a particular set of skills.” — For me and my tribe, there is considerable intelligence and strength in the purposeful lack of specifics here that instantly makes us feel we are in the presence of a kindred spirit. When networking at industry events, we don’t need to provide a laundry list of all the skills we possess. The fact we avoid explicitly talking about them signals all you need to know.
- “Skills I have acquired over a long career.” — Like Bryan, our careers have seen their share of highs and lows, but each was necessary in order to lead us to where we stand today. We’ve been involved with a great many transactions, engagements, and projects over our careers and accomplished a great deal. We don’t however, need to feed our ego by telling you everything we have ever done.
- “Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.” — Ok, the use of “nightmare” here is a bit of a hyperbole, but I can’t help but smile as I recite this sentence. My tribe is highly confident in our ability to perform in any situation under any circumstances and produce the desired results.
To sum it up, my business tribe is the fixer. We work out of the spotlight to get the hard things done. We don’t do things for personal glory, but because it’s the right thing to do. We do the things that need to be done, but no one else is willing to do.
Calling My Tribe
So if you are drawn to these sentences, believing they have some deeper special meaning to you, I invite you to come join my business tribe. Like me, I know you’ve been searching with no success for others that think and act at work like you. I would be thrilled at the opportunity to be surrounded by similarly driven people and to get to know them better. More importantly, I look forward to learning from my tribe: gaining knowledge that only comes from the hard earned experiences that we fixers are willing to undertake.