Epiphany to Stage Four.

by Tribal Leadership on January 31, 2008

Tribal Leadership’s been in stores for a little over a week, and the response has been beyond encouraging. One group of people is responding to the business case for Stage Four tribes—higher profits, increased productivity, greater shareholder value. B school stuff.

Another group, smaller and more reflective says that the chapter on the epiphany of Tribal Leadership haunts them. They literally can’t stop thinking about it, feeling it. It’s as though it’s working on them.

Last week, for only the second time, I presented our research on the epiphany. This audience—or rather peer group, because the epiphany has no experts—the Sierra Health Foundation leadership program alumni group. Here it is in a nutshell: the more you develop yourself as a leader, the less a leader you are. Repeat that a few times and you’ll feel its impact. As a group, we mulled it over, looked at it from the viewpoints of psychology, business, sociology, even spirituality, and here’s what we came to.

What takes someone to Stage Three is development of self—education, skills, networking, success. But everything they want, at a deep level, seems ever out of grasp. Loyalty, deep respect, even love (from the tribe), are unattainable at Stage Three. The more I develop myself so I can get these things, the more elude me.

The real divide between Stage Three and Four is to see that leadership makes the leader catalytic, almost invisible. Gandhi, Mandela, and King spoke for tribes they represented. What they saw was the embodiment of the values of the groups they represented. Many people don’t know Gandhi’s profession before he worked to free India from the British, because the messenger didn’t matter. (He was a barrister, an attorney.)

It was the same with people we interviewed for Tribal Leadership—Gordon Binder, former CEO of Amgen, Bob Tobias, former leader of a union for federal employees, and Frank Jordan, former mayor and police chief of San Francisco. In asking to speak with them, all said the same thing: “why do you want to talk to me, I didn’t do anything.”

That’s how it looks from the other side of the epiphany. In moving to Stage Four, all that matters is the tribe, and the person no longer says “I did it,” but rather “they did—at best, I got out of the way.” In fairness, they did much more, as any member of the tribe will say. In fact, here’s an almost foolproof way to see if someone has had the epiphany: ask them how much they had to do with their tribe’s success. If they say anything more than what Binder, Tobias, and Jordan said, there’s a good chance the epiphany hasn’t broken in them yet.

Our thanks to the Sierra Health Foundation, and to USC’s Executive Master of Leadership program—the only two times we’ve had the opportunity to discuss the epiphany. In both cases, we walked away inspired by what these tribes knew and had to contribute. Even when you write about the epiphany, you are still its student.

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