HR Management & Compliance

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Sarah Hulsey, PHR, reviews Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by David Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, finding it insightful and a must-read for HR and management at all levels.

It isn’t often that I read a business management book that I can’t stop talking about, but I absolutely loved Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by David Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright.  Over a 10-year period, the trio studied 24,000 individuals in 24 organizations, researching employee behavior in terms of the groups they form (tribes) and those who assume leadership roles (tribal leaders).  In particular, the authors wanted to find some link between the tribes and their leaders that explains how great leaders emerge, develop new skills, and leave a standing legacy where they work.

The book looks at the workplace in terms of small groups, or “tribes,” often created along the lines of department (operations, IT, support staff), status (new employees, hourly employees), personal characteristic (gender, race), or any varied set of values.  Accordingly, employees can belong to more than one tribe at the same time.  Tribal leaders are challenged with harnessing the synergistic energy inherent in any group of people and using the collective power of the group to bring about change, achieve goals, and eventually, create remarkable success for the company.

Using descriptions provided by the authors, readers can categorize their tribes as being in Stage 1 (the most rudimentary, ineffective groups) through Stage 5 (high performing companies with goals above simple market success).  A tribal leader’s job is to figure out which stage their tribe is in and “upgrade” the tribe using management techniques heavily influenced by the company’s cultural values and vision.  The book provides useful tips for dealing with groups at each stage, as well as behaviors that indicate you’ve succeeded in moving tribes up from one stage to another.  Written as both a research report and how-to manual, the book is both highly readable and easy to relate to, with numerous real-life examples, interviews with CEOs, and links to further research material.

I particularly loved the realistic tone of the material — so many management books are all roses and sunshine with a “Do this, and you’ll be great too!” spin.  Tribal Leadership is sometimes brutal in its honesty, acknowledging that some employees (and some companies) simply won’t advance through the five stages, no matter how great a leader you are — sometimes you have to cut the dead weight in order to catapult the tribe to a new stage.

Readers of this book will be exposed to a wealth of insight into the groups they work with, and will receive invaluable tips on how to propel both themselves and their groups into the next level of development.  This book will be just as useful for a small start-up group as it will for a large public entity, and should be on the bookshelf of anyone who has ever admired the seemingly impossible success of companies like Apple, IDEO, Griffin Hospital, and more.  It is a longer read than many management books (250 pages in hardback, with densely-packed text), but well worth the time if you’re working with an organization that seems to be stuck in a rut or has cultural and morale issues.

In short, this is one of the best management books I have read in years. I highly recommend it, whether you’re a middle manager suffering under an authoritarian boss, or a CEO who wants to develop a company dedicated to more than just profit margins and stock prices.

Sarah Hulsey, PHR is the Talent Manager for Rising Medical Solutions, Inc., a national medical cost-containment and care management organization that services the auto, workers’ compensation, and liability insurance markets.  For more information about Rising Medical Solutions, go to

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