I’ve just finished reading the short book “Tribes” by Seth Godin. I found it inspiring, probably because it put into words things that I know to be true but have never really thought about or verbalised before.

The idea of the book is that tribes are groups of people following leaders, and that anyone can be a leader. Through inspiring stories and examples, Godin illustrates what leadership is, and what it isn’t.

People don’t believe what you tell them.

They rarely believe what you show them.

They often believe what their friends show them.

They always believe what they tell themselves.

What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.

He would say that leadership is about investing in people, building relationships with them and inspiring them. As individuals are inspired and given the opportunity to connect with each other, the vision is passed on enthusiastically and exponentially. Management on the other hand is about controlling people and information, doing what is expected, and chasing numbers.

Leadership is essentially about bringing out the best in others, enabling them to come up with ideas that are better than what you could have told them. It’s about seeing an idea and a passion succeed because each person is free to reach their own potential.

Reflecting further, it made me realise that this has always been the essence of leadership. The problem is that the mass one-way communication of the 20th Century did its best to hide this. “Success” became about numbers, profits, fame and recognition. It was achieved by telling people what to do and how to do it. As the medium for communication (newspapers, published books, radio, TV) was fairly constant, achieving success became a matter of simply following the rules and controlling others to make sure that they were following the rules too.

But now in the 21st Century the world has changed. Communication is much easier, and is from anyone to anyone. Any idea, vision or passion, from any source, can change the world if it inspires enough people. Success of a concept is measured, not by numbers or profits, but by how many followers catch the vision, going on to inspire others to do the same.

The essence of leadership is clear again. It’s not about telling people what to do, controlling them and making them into productive machines – that’s management. Leadership is about connecting with people personally – helping them to realise things that they always knew deep down, and giving them the courage to reach the potential they always had.

The best thing about the book is that it doesn’t tell you how to be a good leader, it helps you to realise for yourself that you actually knew all along.

  1. David Ker says:

    Mark, Seth’s book is a current favorite of mine. Your quote reminds me of the section on story in Pink’s A Whole New Mind which is a book I also keep returning to.

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