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Review: Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Author: Seth Godin

Dustin B Flanary
Jun 10, 2018 · 8 min read

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea…A group only needs two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

You can’t have a tribe without a leader — and you can’t be a leader without a tribe.”


Tribes is a semi-provocative take on how we should lead (and not lead). It compares leadership to management, tribes to crowds, faith to religion, and breaking the status quo to maintaining it.

“A crowd is a tribe without a leader.

A crowd is a tribe without communication.

Most organizations spend their time marketing to the crowd. Smart organizations assemble the tribe.

Crowds are interesting, and they can create all sorts of worthwhile artifacts and market effects. But tribes are longer lasting and more effective.”

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  • Likelihood of recommending a friend to read? 📚📚📚
  • Likelihood of recommending a friend to purchase? 💰💰
  • Positive Influence: ⭐⭐
  • Time to read (more stars is more time): 🕒🕒
  • How related to business? 🕴️🕴️

“Sometimes, though, it may make more sense to take the follow. Leading when you don’t know where to go, when you don’t have the commitment or the passion, or worst of all, when you can’t overcome your fear — that sort of leading is worse than none at all.

It takes guts to acknowledge that perhaps this time, right now, you can’t lead. So get out of the way and take the follow instead.”

Two or Three Favorite Things

In an article…Kevin Kelly brilliantly described the world of “1,000 True Fans.” A true fan, he argues, is a member of the tribe who cares deeply about you and your work. That person will cross the street to buy from you or bring a friend to hear you or invest a little extra to support you.

An individual artist needs only a thousand true fans in her tribe. It’s enough.

It’s enough because a thousand fans will bring you enough attention and support to make a great living, to reach more people, to do great work. It’s enough because a thousand fans, true fans, form a tribe.

…Most important a true fan connects with other true fans and amplifies the noise the artist makes.

…Too many organizations care about numbers, not fans…What they’re missing is the depth of commitment and interconnection that true fans deliver. Instead of always being on the hunt for one more set of eyeballs, true leaders have figured out that the real win is in turning a casual fan into a true one.

Fans, true fans, are hard to find and precious. Just a few can change everything. What they demand, though, is generosity and bravery.

This quote made some vital points.

First and foremost is the principle that passionate followers, aka “true fans”, are more important than the total number of followers.

People that love your product or your work matter so much more.

They will share it, talk about it and engage with it and you.

The interactions, marketing and services directed towards them matter so much more than to the general populace.

Another thing that stuck out is how the number need not be that high.

If you have 1000 true fans, that’s a lot of people doing a lot of things. Obviously, 1000 versus 998 isn’t the difference maker here but it’s a larger number than 10 or 100 and gets you to a point that others who look for what you produce can find you.

The last point was quite intriguing to me as well. It’s obvious that true fans are hard to find. The key is that only a few can change everything. You only need a few passionate, committed followers to get things moving, and some movement is WAY better than no movement.

But the most intriguing part of all is that true fans demand generosity and bravery.

Fans expect to receive and they expect you to be brave in doing it.

His statement surprised me a bit, but after I thought about it it makes sense.

Many of us are fearful. We like to follow and we want to be brave.

We need our leaders to be brave if we are going to follow them.

Bravery may be the most expected and desired attributes we want from our leaders.

How many superheroes are NOT brave? They may not always be brave, but becoming brave is what makes them a superhero.

You must be brave to be a leader. No one wants to follow a coward or even a shaky leader. They don’t know where to go otherwise. The leader must also be doing what he or she does for the tribe, not for himself — the generosity that’s also necessary.

How do you manage leaders?

Given that leaders can appear anywhere in an organization, it seems to me that the job of senior management is to find them and support them. Leaders have tribes of their own, and someone needs to lead those tribes.

Which leads to the idea of positive deviance.

…Great leaders embrace deviants by searching for them and catching them doing something right.

…Sternin went to Vietnam to try to help starving children. Rather than importing tactics that he knew would work, or outside techniques that he was sure could make a difference, he sought out the few families who weren’t starving, the few moms who weren’t just getting by but were thriving. And then he made it easy for these mothers to share their insights with the rest of the group.

This seems obvious, but it’s heretical. The idea that an aid worker would go to a village in trouble and not try to stamp out nonstandard behavior is crazy…

…Over and over again, the Sternins have discovered a simple process: find leaders (the heretics who are doing things differently and making change), and then amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers — and things get better. They always get better.

I hope that’s not so simple that it gets ignored, because it’s important. It’s such an effective idea that it saves children’s lives every day. All the Sternins did was find the mom with healthy kids. And then they helped the others in the village notice what she was doing. They gave that mom a spotlight, encouraging her to keep it up and, more important, encouraging others to follow her lead.

It’s simple, but it works. It might be the most important practical idea in this entire book.

A little long but it contains an important and intriguing idea — that leaders need to focus on finding what’s working — those currently leading or doing things right — and find a way for them to share and help others to do the same.

I notice Networking Marketing companies try to do this by highlighting those who are successful. I think sales organizations do much of the same. It is sort of natural, but sometimes we don’t contextualize. What works in a different place in a different situation doesn’t always translate, so it is easier to compare and do this for those in the most similar situations possible.

I think Seth Godin’s main point is that we need to find and encourage positive deviation.

Business culture often tries to predict and control everything. It’s sometimes good in preventing costly errors, but it can be harmful in preventing highly beneficial breakthroughs or advances.

Personal Impact

Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. If everyone tries to lead all the time, not much happens. It’s discomfort that creates the leverage that makes leadership worthwhile.

In other words, if everyone could do it, they would, and it wouldn’t be worth much.

It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers.

It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail.

It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo.

It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.

When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed.

If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching you’re potential as a leader.

I spend a decent effort in my life to avoid discomfort. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t think I let myself live with it enough, especially relationship discomfort. It doesn’t sit easily with me. I am naturally programmed to avoid contention.

At the same time though, I recognize that much of my growth has come through discomfort until those uncomfortable situations became comfortable and I became capable of doing more. Almost always, I needed to work through the discomfort.

Both the ‘for whom’ and the ‘why’ are others-focused.

If you really want to help other people, you have to do uncomfortable things and face disagreement, rejection, and hurt.

Most interesting of all is the opinion that wherever you find discomfort, you’ve “found the place where a leader is needed.”

I think that’s where we certainly look for leaders.

And I think if we feel confident in the direction and the message, then that is where we can step up as a leader of a tribe. That’s certainly what Mr. Godin is suggesting.

Final Thoughts

This book is similar to Godin’s other books.

No chapters, no real structure, just short section after section of thoughts based on the topic that gradually build on itself over the course of the book. But, it’s a unique one.

Like most of his books it’s focused on action and disruption, but it has some unique takes on leadership and how to lead and what is needed. It took until about halfway through for me to like it, but it has some points I’ve really come to appreciate and agree with.

I think tribes are how people get together and the platforms now exist to make it easier to do so — to lead where we feel we need to lead and follow in other areas where we need to follow. To be part of many tribes.

“I’m frequently asked about getting credit. People want to know how to be sure they get credit for an idea, especially when they have a boss who wants to steal it. Or they want to know how to be sure to give me credit for an idea in a book or blog post of their own.

Real leaders don’t care.

If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually WANT other people to take credit.

…There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is.”

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