Tribes

In his latest book, Seth Godin issues a plea for radical changes to leadership: “We need you to lead us.” To set the stage, he paints a picture of the form of leadership most in the corporate world are familiar with. Leaders, managers and workers alike fight to maintain the status quo. Words like “empowerment” are repeated by Human Resources but mean nothing in reality. Godin calls these people sheepwalkers. They fight to keep things the way they are while the rest of the world is changing at a dizzying pace.

Sheepwalkers are all around us. People desperately cling to their experience on the flawed assumption that the future is going to happen exactly like the past. This belief has brought the music industry to its knees. Its exclusive control over expensive production facilities has become inconsequential in an age of digital distribution, and easily affordable recording and production equipment has made its importance obsolete.

In the fast-moving world of the Internet, barriers such as geography, cost and time have been almost entirely eliminated. People with a common interest are able to come together and tribes are formed based on the vision of a person willing to take action. Online social media have created an unprecedented opportunity for this to happen; people using Facebook, Twitter and even blogs are able to gather others around them and move on an idea seemingly overnight.

“The web can do amazing things,” says Godin, “but it can’t provide leadership. That still has to come from individuals—people just like you who have passion about something. Anyone who wants to make a difference now has the tools at their fingertips.”

The message of Tribes should resonate loudly with networking professionals. In network marketing, effective leadership is based on influence—not on authority. Successful network marketing organizations encourage everyone to be a leader. When this is done well, influence takes off like a raging fire. In organizations where people are managed, growth is slow and chaotic at best.

Godin refers to the most successful leaders as the heretics of our age. Heretics were once denounced and burned at the stake for the crime of thinking differently. Today heretics are the people who lead change. This change is usually not an overnight success, which is where the role of leadership comes in. Tribes are knitted together through common vision; real change requires a constant drip until a critical mass is achieved and everyone else views you as an overnight success.

“Leadership does not require rank or authority,” says Godin. “Instead, leadership requires you.” It asks you to stand up, get your hands dirty and perhaps risk the insults of people who disagree with you.

Tribes will make you think about the opportunities for leading (your fellow associates, your customers, your believers, your readers…). It’s not easy, but today it’s easier than you might imagine.

Hardcover, 151 pages, $19.95;
Portfolio, 2008