This post is written in conjunction with the “Becoming a Public Scholar-Activist” course and is directed by Monica A. Coleman.
In the book Tribes: We Need you to Lead Us Seth Godin accurately predicted back in 2008 the culture of today in 2013. Godin’s formula for a tribe is:
Tribe = a group of people + shared interest + communication.
Godin argues that tribes are not only forming and growing, but they are radically changing our social culture. Godin’s purpose is to call all people to lead tribes and to leverage the power of tribes to bring change. Today, five years after Godin wrote this book, tribes are flourishing in all sectors of society.
Tribes are a great way to describe social culture today, especially in a city like Los Angeles. In a quick search on meetup.com for people meeting near me I found groups for urban farmers, smart car owners, ukulele players, and Whole Foods shoppers. There are tribes for all sorts of ideas, hobbies, and activities. There are more and more social networks that enable the forming of tribes. Tribes are changing the fundamentals of the art industry, businesses, entertainment, dining, and a plethora of other cultural sectors.
After reading through Godin’s perceptive call to leadership there was one thing missing from Godin’s book. Although tribes are now the social norm, Godin assumed that all tribes are good. Godin passionately and articulately called for more tribes and more leaders! But he never defines the end goal of having a social culture with a million kinds of tribes. Are all tribes good? Would all leaders direct their tribe to good ends? What do we do with tribes that cause harm and destruction? In all tribes people will still be people. People have conflicts. People can have ill will.
Tribes are powerful tools for leadership, but I do not believe that the purpose of a leader is just to form more tribes or to form the most popular tribe, as Godin seems to suggest. Tribes can bring fast change, but change is not always positive. Before we all go out and form new tribes, let’s discuss what makes a good tribal leader and why each tribe is important for the common good. Since tribes are alive and flourishing today, these questions are even more important for us to ask.
Cindy Lee is a Ph.D student at Claremont Lincoln University in Education and Formation. She also completed a D.Min degree from Bakke Graduate University in Transformational Leadership. Cindy currently works at Fuller Theological Seminary as a coordinator for the Doctor of Missiology program.