Ditching Dilbert for 'Tribal Leadership'

Jun. 5, 2017  |  Lynn Kletscher

Even though they’ve been around for decades, Dilbert and Office Space still make me laugh. They are so relatable — who hasn’t worked for a Pointy-haired Boss or a Bill Lumbergh at least once in their career?

While funny in a comic strip or movie ("I believe you have my stapler"), workplace culture is no laughing matter. It has a direct impact on the morale, productivity and profitability of an organization.

In fact, workplace culture is so important, has more than 7,000 books on the topic. One really stands out for me — “Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization.” It’s based on 10 years of research studies by Dr. Dave Logan and his co-authors.

"Tribal Leadership" highlights the following key concepts:

  • Every organization is made up of one or more tribes, i.e., groups of 20–150 people.
  • Each tribe is like-minded, sharing a similar language such as, "my life sucks" or "we’re great and they’re not."
  • Leaders can nudge tribes to higher cultural stages, with the goal of speaking the language of “life is great.”

These are my top three “Tribal Leadership” aha moments:

  • Aha No. 1: Me vs. we — the power of language
    Words — more importantly, words with authenticity — drive workplace culture. Unless you are a tribe of one (not possible, by the way), your successes are not yours alone. Give credit when credit is due; accept responsibility when things don’t go right. Listen to the words you, your co-workers and your management teams are using to determine your tribe’s cultural stage. A culture based on “we” instead of “me” language fosters engagement and unity.
  • Aha No. 2: Agreement vs. alignment — the power of direction
    Agreement only goes so far. And rarely does every tribe member agree with every business decision made. However, if everyone is in alignment with an organization’s values and noble cause, they have synergy and, ultimately, movement in the same direction.
  • Aha No. 3: Dyads vs. triads — the power of relationships
    One-to-one relationships, i.e., dyads, have their place, but are limiting. In a dyadic relationship, it’s just you and someone else. The more dyads you have, the more time and effort it requires to maintain those individual relationships. Now consider a triad. The authors suggest thinking of it as “a triangle, with each leg of the structure responsible for the quality of the relationship between the other two parts.” By creating relationships between others as well as with yourself, you build loyalty and followership.

"Tribal Leadership" holds far more insights and takeaways than my post allows. In addition to reading the book, I encourage you to check out Dr. Logan’s TED Talk.

What's the culture like at your organization? What are your thoughts on leadership? And, how’s that TPS report coming along? (This last one is another Office Space reference. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend adding it to your must-watch list.)

Topics: Leadership

Lynn Kletscher

Lynn Kletscher is the MNCPA Director of Education, working to secure innovative and informative continuing education programs for CPAs. When she’s not researching the latest NASBA CPE rules, she is at her hobby farm tending to her horses and chickens. She is a fair-weather motorcyclist and a year-round fan of The Walking Dead. Next time you attend an MNCPA event or seminar, ask her about her zombie escape plan. Lynn can be reached at 952-885-5513 or

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