Book Review: Tribes by Seth Godin

Last week I picked up and read a neat little leadership book by Seth Godin called Tribes. It is a secular book on leadership but contains a great challenge to get out of the boat, embrace the challenge, and take the risk of leading. The back cover contains this statement: “If you think leadership is only for other people, you’re wrong. We need YOU to lead us.” Godin suggests that in today’s unprecedented, globally connected Internet world, we don’t have time to sit around and wait for other people to step out and lead. It is up to us to embrace something worth living for – something we’re passionate about – and go for it. He takes a Nike kind of approach basically saying, “Just do it!”

He defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” Whereas in the past tribes have always been restricted by geography, in today’s world, thanks to the Internet, tribes are made up of individuals from around the globe. “Tribes are everywhere today,” says Godin, “and they are yearning for leadership and connection. This is an opportunity for you – an opportunity to find or assemble a tribe and lead it. The question isn’t, Is it possible for me to do that? Now the question is, Will I choose to do it?”

One of my favorite concepts in the book is the idea that the kind of leaders we need today are those Godin calls “heretics” (e.g. Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Thesis) – people who will …

believe in their ideas,

challenge the status-quo,

reach out to others,

listen (“[Ronald] Regan’s secret, is to listen, to value what you hear, and then to make a decision even if it contradicts the very people you are listening to … People want to be sure you heard what they said – they’re less focused on whether or not you do what they said.”),

put their ideas on the line,

create things that are worthy of criticism,

take risks (“It’s a certainty that there’s risk. The safer you play your plans for the future, the riskier it actually is. That’s because the world is certainly, definitely, and more than possibly changing.”),

be willing to be wrong (“The secret of being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong. The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal. The only thing that makes people and organizations great is their willingness to be not great along the way. The desire to fail on the way to reaching a bigger goal is the untold secret of success.”),

and take initiative to lead.

There were a few things in the book that I didn’t agree with, especially when it comes to a specifically Christian leadership setting (i.e. “Exclude outsiders: Exclusion is a powerful force for loyalty and attention”). One of my favorite words and guiding philosophies of ministry is inclusion. To be sure we need to define who we are and what we’re about. But we need to always be welcoming of everyone, even if they don’t agree with us. Godin suggests that we should set up our tribe and if people don’t like it they can just go start another tribe. That’s where it becomes apparent that not all of his ideas are transferable to a spiritual entity like the Church because they are not compatible with the life and teachings of Jesus which is our standard. While there are some bones that need to be spit out, it is nevertheless a good little book with some solid food for those who are hungry to grow as leaders.

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