/ Book Reviews

Tribes: A quick review


I just finished reading Seth Godin's Tribes and wanted to get a quick review of it out because I know I won't do it if I wait.

I think this was the perfect book for me to read at this point in my life. I recently switched jobs after having just recently switched jobs, which is a result of struggling to find my fit. That's for another post though. The reason I mention the job switch is that I have an incredible opportunity at my new gig to be a leader, but in an incredibly informal way.

Being a leader is something I aspire to, and in some ways, I think that sounds very vain. Maybe that's because the mental model I've built for a leader has to do with power. While my own passion for leadership has nothing to do with wanting to be "the boss", I inherently assume that to be a leader, you have to be in a position of power.

In Tribes, Seth reminds me of a simple truth: power moves to leaders, not the other way around. You can be assigned all the "power" in the world, but if you're not a good leader, it's all a temporary illusion.

However, if you take the lead on an idea and put hard work into it, people will notice. They'll notice and they'll start putting their own hard work in, too. Power will accumulate around the idea, and as the leader you'll be able to help shape that future.

It's important for me, as someone who would like to fit the leader role, to understand this concept.

One of my favorite quotes comes from The Fountainhead, in which the protagonist, Howard Roarke, and the Dean of the university he's attending at the time are discussing Howard's latest project. The dean isn't a fan of Roarke's unique style, and thinks he's on a road to unemployment as he believes Howard's designs just won't be understood in the real world. In an attempt to dissuade Roarke, the Dean asks:

Dean: "Do you mean to tell me that you're thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?"

Howard: "Yes."

D: "My dear fellow, who will let you?"

H: "That's not the point. The point is, who will stop me?"

One chilling point Seth made in Tribes is that the creator now holds the keys to the creation. They now have the power, entirely on their own, to build what they dream[1]:

Simple example: ten years ago, if you wanted to publish a book, you needed to find a publisher that would say yes. No publisher, no book.

Today, of course, you can publish a book all by yourself. Just visit Lulu.com and you’re done.

Without someone to say yes, all that’s left are unpublished writers who tell themselves no.

And so here I am, in a position where no one is telling me "yes, you need to do X, Y and Z to be a leader, and just do that and you'll qualify for the title."

There is no qualification and there is no official title. As Seth reiterates in his book[2]:

[Leaders] don’t share gender or income level or geography. There’s no gene, no schooling, no parentage, no profession. In other words, leaders aren’t born. I’m sure of it.

Actually, they do have one thing in common. Every tribe leader I’ve ever met shares one thing: the decision to lead.

So Tribes has plenty of great lessons, but it reminded me of one essential fact: it's not about titles; it's not even about "being a leader". It's about bringing together a tribe of likeminded individuals, and choosing to work passionately for those individuals. That's all leadership is.


[1] Godin, Seth (2008-10-15). Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (p. 138). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Godin, Seth (2008-10-15). Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (p. 145). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Godin, Seth (2008-10-15). Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (p. 146). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.