Tribal Leadership Stages

The book “Tribal Leadership” by Dave Logan, Join King, and Halee Fischer-Wright provides a guide for tribes to understand their organizational culture using five tiered stages: undermining, apathetic victim, lone warrior, tribal pride, and innocent wonderment.

The power of using these stages to diagnose tribal culture comes from the development strategies recommended by the authors to progress tribes from one stage to another. Tribes range between teams of 20 to 150 members—for teams smaller than 20, consider adding other teams or individuals with the smaller team consistently or in proximity. When diagnosing a tribe’s stage using the indicators below, base diagnosis off the average language used and observed behaviors by each individual member.

For example, if Bob occasionally exhibits Stage Four behaviors, but on average resonates at a Stage Three, then Bob would be categorized as a Stage Three. Continuing on, if Bob’s boss is on average a Stage Four but the rest of the team, on average, is at a Stage Two, then the entire team would be categorized as a Stage Two.

Note: members do not stay stagnant and can move up or down the scale at any time but can never skip over a stage.

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  • Tribes range between teams of 20 to 150 members.
  • Base diagnosis off the language used and observed behaviors by individual team members.
  • Diagnose a team’s Tribal Leadership stage by averaging out scores attributed to each team member
  • Note: members do not stay stagnate and can move up or down the scale at any time but can never skip over a stage.

Stage 1 Indicators:

  • Most people talk as though they are alienated from organizational concerns.
  • Members form isolated gangs that operate by their own rules, often based on absolute loyalty to the group.
  • The theme of their words is that life has given them a bad deal, so it’s ok to do whatever it takes to survive.

Stage 1 Development Strategy:

  • The member must substitute “life sucks” with “my life sucks” – the mantra of Stage 2.
  • Move the member(s) to a tribe where the offending behavior is not tolerated.

Stage 2 Indicators:

  • A person at Stage 2 will often try to protect his or her people from the intrusion of management.
  • There is little to no innovation and almost no sense of urgency, and people almost never hold one another accountable for anything.
  • People talk as though they are disconnected from organizational concerns, seeming to not care about what’s going on.
  • They do the minimum to get by, showing almost no initiative or passion.
  • They cluster together in groups that encourage passive-aggressive behavior while telling people in charge that they are on board with organizational initiatives.
  • The theme of their communication is that no amount of trying, or effort will change their circumstances and giving up is the only enlightened thing to do.
  • When people are presented with new visions, their reaction is ‘we tried that before, and it didn’t work then and won’t work now.
  • We see Stage 2 mostly when people believe they cannot act creatively, where jobs are so mechanized that they feel like part of a machine.
  • Middle Stage 2s are united in their belief that someone or something is holding them down.
  • Stage 2s wants to avoid accountability at all costs and will invent reasons to remain disconnected and disengaged.

Stage 2 Development Strategy:

  • Build relationships with team members, let them know that they are valued.
  • For late Stage 2 folks, coach one-on-one rather than addressing culture-wide concerns. Commander’s/enlisted calls will not inspire development.
  • Spot and work with the few members of Stage 2 who want things to be different.
  • Start by explaining to each one that you see potential in him, that you want to assist in developing their leadership abilities.
  • Focus on developing Stage 2 individual’s confidence in their own abilities… they are the masters of their destiny.

Stage 3 Indicators:

  • Knowledge is power, so people hoard it.
  • The essence of Stage 3 is “I’m great.” Unstated and lurking in the background is “and you’re not.”
  • People mostly think about themselves and focus on appearing smarter and better than others.
  • Team members think they’re focused on team concerns, but their actions show their interest is personal.
  • People at this stage complain that they don’t have enough time or support and that the people around them aren’t as competent or as committed as they are.
  • Key words are “I,” “me,” and “my.”
  • Note: There are entire industries devoted to getting customers to Stage 3 and keeping them there. Most toxic leaders, micromanagers, and ‘Golden Airmen’ are Stage 3 Lone Wolfs.

Stage 3 Development Strategy:

  • Point out the superior results of Stage 4 tribes.
  • In tribes with a dominate Stage 3 culture, gain credibility in areas that matter. The key here is to know what counts in that group.
  • People who present themselves as Stage 4, but who have not owned Stage 3, come across as weak, often backing down from a fight the tribe needed to win. Tribal Leadership can never emerge out of weakness.
  • As much as possible, shape the roles of or move Stage 3 individuals to roles that inhibit their ability to micromanage or bring out other toxic traits.

Stage 4 Indicators:

  • The Rule for Stage 4 is ”the bigger the foe, the more powerful the tribe.”
  • Stage 4 tribes tend to ask, “what’s the next right thing to do” and build ad hoc partnerships to accomplish what’s important now.
  • Language focuses on “we” not “me.” If two people get in a squabble, a third will step in and repair the relationship rather than create a personal following for himself.
  • The group is composed of people who have played the Stage 3 game and won—and are ready for genuine partnerships.

Stage 4 Development Strategy:

  • Keep the team focused on alignment and overcoming challenges

Stage 5 Indicators:

  • Their language revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history—not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact. The group’s mood is “innocent wonderment,” with people in competition with what’s possible, not with another tribe.
  • The theme of communication is limitless potential, bounded only by imagination and group commitment.
  • People talk as though the world is watching them.

Stage 5 Development Strategy:

  • This stage is not sustainable, if you ever achieve it, be ready to deliberately pull it down to Stage 4 to face a new challenge and competition; otherwise, if unchecked the team could unexpectedly spiral down to Stage 3 or even Stage 2.


  • Fischer-Wright, H. King, J. & Logan, D. (2008). Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, Harper Business