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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Dave Logan on Core Values and Tribal Leadership

Dave Logan on Core Values and Tribal Leadership


1. It’s nice to be here with you. We’re here at the CultureCon, we had a conversation this morning about core values. Why do people care about core values and specifically why is the language of core values important?

Well, people care about core values because it trumps everything else, it trumps their accomplishments, it trumps their ego, it trumps their degrees hanging on the wall. I mean, it’s who people are at a really core level. If you have ever had the experience, this happens actually a lot in software, you connect with somebody and it’s as though you know everything about them, even when you don’t actually know any of the biographical details, that’s what happens when your values, your core values really connect with somebody. And, the reason it’s so important is because if groups make decisions based on values, those decisions tend to be uniform, they tend to move very quickly, there’s not a lot of drama, so that’s essentially high performance in a nutshell.


2. Yes, now when I move through society looking for people who are aligned in my values, how do I find out, what do I look for, what do I listen for?

Well, you listen for the commitments that they have. So, Tony Hsieh from Zappos, I asked him a similar question when we did the paperback book for Tribal Leadership, Tony was kind enough to write an intro, so I asked him the question: “If you find your values, how do you find other people who have values?”. And he said: “It’s the VW effect, that you don’t notice any VW’s on the road until you start thinking maybe I should get a VW, and suddenly every other car is a VW. So once you know your values, it’s really not any trickier than simply looking around, and once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll see them everywhere”. So, people often think that’s much harder than it is, but your question was what do you listen to or what do you listen for, you listen for people’s commitments. You walk into someone’s office or cube and you can tell what’s important to them by the pictures they have, by the screensaver they have, by the way they dress, you can actually read in-between the lines, but then you just ask people questions like “why did you decide to work here”, “why did you decide to go into software, why not something else”, and people talk in terms of what’s important to them.


3. Ok, yeah, now you talk a lot about stability at stage four and that also that most people have a tendency to overrate their stage. So if I’m stable at stage four, “we’re great”, what am I listening for out there in the world, to identify aligned people?

Well, what you’re looking for out in the world is people who share your values, so that’s what you’re looking for. So, for people in software that’s people who work with us, potential clients and potential vendors, any kind of working relationship. But in answer to the first part, of what you said that people tend to overrate their stage, individuals overrate their stage, but groups don’t. So, Dan, I mean if you think that you’re Gandhi, which is kind of stage five, there’s a good chance you’re actually stage three, which is “I’m great and you’re not”. So people tend to give themselves as individuals a two stage increase, called stage inflation, but if you ask a group, a tribe “where do you think you are” and you just show them the levels (we’re big believers in open source so you can get that, it’s on the web) simply show people what the levels are and if you want to get very low tech about it, just ask them to pull out a sheet of paper and write in a corner of it what tribal stage they think they are as a group. And they can use fractions of 3 1/2, 4.2, whatever and then just run a quick average and tell them “this is what you think you are” and then have the discussion, which will then get to what are the values that we have. So if we’re at four we’ll talk about our values. If we’re not at four we’ll talk about what the values might be, which gets to the second part of your question about how do we then identify people who are aligned with us.


4. Specifically in the language, what do we listen for as well as look for?

So what do we listen for in the language?

Dan : Yes.

Let me just make sure I’m understanding your question. So the question is “Once we know our values, what do we listen to in the language of other people?”

Dan : Yes.

Ok. You listen for we. So not the royal we, there’s some people who say we when they mean I, that’s just weird. You listen to legitimate or authentic use of we. When people say “we really believe” or “we really think that this is important”, or “when we’re at our best, here is what we’re doing.” So you listen for we. And then you listen for in the language what is it that constitutes, that brings together that sense of we-ness, and that’s a commitment. So that’s what you listen for. So, at CultureCon, I had several conversations with people offline from the session about “why are you here”, then other people would kind of come up and they would say “well, really, I’m here for learning” or “I’m here to get tools”, and someone else would say “yeah, you know, me too” and then the third person would say “yeah, really we’re here because we’re here for fun and we’re here for networking”. So notice what happened, the we formed and it picked up the values of the two people and that’s what constitutes we, so that’s what you listen for.


5. Yes. Excellent. Now my next question has to do with stage three. In your book you talk about stage three cultures which are the majority of cultures out there, it’s difficult to upgrade them and that many stage three folks think they can move to stage four without owning stage three. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Owning stage three means, this is going to go against every piece of conventional wisdom that’s out there, but you actually want to relish in stage three. Just want to relish in it, so just after I got my PhD, I was difficult to live with as you can imagine, because I was very proud of it and I enjoyed being called doctor, Dr. Logan. And my longtime collaborator, John King, the person that I wrote Tribal Leadership with, gave me a piece of advice, it was great. He said: “Take out about two months and just relish the fact that you’re a doctor, but at the end of two months give it up”. And I did, it was the best advice ever, so that’s what it means to own stage three. The way that we tend to describe it at CultureSync is wallow, just wallow in it. “Wow I’m awesome, I’m great, look at this thing that I did, look at this, I just got through all my emails, wow I’m more efficient than you”.

So, it’s always an I - you comparison, just wallow in it. And then at the end, swallow, so wallow and then swallow, and I know that sounds borderline offensive or pornographic or something, but all I mean is just kind of take within. But the point is you’re going to build all of your future success on stage three, so it’s not that you wallow and then get up and clean yourself off, you actually need to embed that within you and then build upon it, to go further.


6. Ok, so I’m early stage four, I’ve done the wallow and swallow, and now I’m early stage four. What are the special challenges that I’m facing at that stage of tribal leadership?

Well, you can’t get to stage four alone, so when you say you’re at early stage four that means you’ve got other people with you, and there’s a sense of we. Early stage four forms out of just a sense that we’re better. And this is a lot of the college rivalry, so where I’m from in LA, the Trojans are great and the Bruins, which is the UCLA team, they suck. So, you know, “we’re great just because we’re Trojans”.

Dan : And they suck?

“And they suck!” Right, so there’s that other comparison. The danger in that is that that becomes what defines the group, that “we’re just better because our shirts are a different color”, or “we’re better because we work in this department, or in software development”, “we’re better because we’re working on this project” or “we’re better because we know Dan”. So there’s something that’s not really that compelling that makes us better, that’s early. Then you want to move into, and I think this is where your question is going, you want to move into the middle part of stage three, which is where the values really emerge. “Yeah, we’re great because we know Dan”, “we’re great because we’re in software”, “we’re not idiots like the people in marketing”. You often hear that from people in software, not saying it’s true, I have a lot of friends in marketing! But really then what makes us great is our commitment to doing really great work. We’re really here to do something that is going to impact the world in some significant way. And yeah, we all wear the same shirts and that’s fun, but that’s really what makes us great. So you actually want to move to values as quickly as you can.


7. Ok, Dave, so tell us about, give us the elevator pitch for Tribal Leadership, what are the four stages and why do I care?

Ok, sure. Well, actually there are five stages. So what we did in Tribal Leadership was to look not at people and not at companies, not at teams, but at something that in English has no name, which is a group that’s between 20 and 150 people, that’s called a tribe. These have always been the basic building block of every human endeavor, this is why people thrived, that’s why our species survived the Ice Age and tribes are incredibly effective and powerful, they’re the most powerful force in the human sphere. But in organizations we ignore them, we talk about departments and teams and organizations and business units, it’s really the tribe. So with that as its focus, then the question becomes what makes a tribe more effective than another? And we came up with a rating system and we spent years doing this and validating it and doing all this stuff to make sure that we actually had it right. Stage one says “life sucks”, life is just inherently unfair and so I as a person will do whatever it takes to get mine.

So you see behavior that is despairingly hostile, that’s where people come to work armed or steal something or cook the books, that’s a really bad place, only 2% of tribes are there. Stage two says not “life sucks”, but “my life sucks”, so “wow, I’ve got to talk to Dan, I’ve got to sit on a plane, this really stinks, later on today I have to go get screened by the TSA, which is a stage two tribe. And it’s clear that their life sucks and my life sucks because I’m going through it. So imagine a whole group between 20 and 150 that talks that way most of the time, innovation is non-existent, collaboration is very low, people do the minimum to not get fired. That’s stage two, that’s about 25% of tribes. Stage three is “I’m great and you’re not”. So, “sorry Dan, but I’m better than you, I’m more accomplished than you, I’m more able than you” Now if we were in a tribal relationship and we were at stage three, you would then counter. So it’s not that I declare that I’m great and everyone then bows down to me, it’s that we are in this constant sort of gun fight with words about who’s the best.

So you go into a group dental practice and you just ask the dentist, “who’s the best dentist here, you know off the record, who’s the best dentis?” Guarantee you’ll hear “well, me”.Well why? Well, if it’s the young kid “well, I just graduated, I know all the latest techniques, I can use lasers, right”. If you ask the old guy “well, I got the years of experience”, and if you talk to somebody right in the middle “I’m really, I’m the best of both worlds, I got the new stuff but really I’m experienced enough that I’m probably not going to accidentally cut out your tongue, so I’m really kind of right in the middle”. So that’s stage three. Stage four is “we’re great” and that’s where the focus of we becomes values, that’s what makes us great. So it’s commitments like making an impact, or quality, something like that, innovations can be values, so people say we and what they mean by it is the values, the shared values that bring that to life. That’s about 22% of tribes. Only 5% of tribes are stable, at stage four, which is the key. And then stage five, top of the mountain is “we’re great”, no no, pardon me, got that wrong. Stage five is “life is great”, where there’s no sense of another, it’s just pure values play. So, stage four has a competitor, often it’s another tribe, could be another company even, but there is some group that we are trying to be better than, and our values give us an edge in that.

But at stage five the sense of an other goes away, and it becomes a pure values place. So you think of the most famous example in technology history is Xerox PARC, coming up with the graphic user interface. It wasn’t their goal to outpace whoever Xerox’s competitor was, it was just purely inventing the future, doing what’s possible. So the goal is you want to take your tribe wherever it is up one stage at a time, you want to get them to four, solidify them at four, four is the goal. And then every once in a while you can take these history making leaps into five, do something amazing, produce some new innovation that changes the world, then come back down to four that’s your home base. So that’s it, that’s whatever it was, three minutes on tribal leadership.


8. [...]What does a person at stage three, who reads this, what is a person in middle stage three to do if they can never break through to, let’s say, get that PhD credential or write that book or do something else that causes them to be celebrated or acknowledged in a stage three kind of way?

Dan's full question : Thank you. So, OK, we’re at these different tribal stages, stage four and stage five sound really fun, so you’re doing things with other people, there is a lot of synchronicity, there is a lot of alignment, you feel affinity with the people and then if you go to stage five it’s even more of that but you’re changing the world on an episodic basis. What does a person at stage three, who reads this, what is a person in middle stage three to do if they can never break through to, let’s say, get that PhD credential or write that book or do something else that causes them to be celebrated or acknowledged in a stage three kind of way?

That’s a very good question. It’s a harsh message for some people to hear but the message is “you have to become world class”, there’s no way out, but, how you become world class is completely up to you. I work in environments where everybody has a PhD, having a PhD doesn’t make you world class, PhD’s are a dime a dozen, so that doesn’t make you world class. Getting a certification doesn’t make you world class, going to an Ivy League university doesn’t make you world class, being world class means you find the strengths that you have, this is where the strengths based movement comes in and positive psychology. Find the things that you are uniquely good at doing and be the best in the world at those things. And wallow in it, just wallow in it and get to the point where you kind of make your friends a little nauseous when you come around, because you are just so excited by the things that you do uniquely well.

And like I said then swallow, because that becomes a part of who you are. So you really want a dual tracker, so one track is find your strengths, find your skills, and that’s tricky. I don’t mean go online and take an assessment and it gives you your five words that are your strengths. I mean there is a strength that is unique to you and it’s always in the nuance, you want to find the nuance that makes you really good at something, build on that, express that over and over, build the assets for that. So that’s track one. Track two is you want to find your values, find your core values and once you find those too, then first maximize your strengths, become world class and then start connecting people on the basis of values, that’s how you get from middle stage three to four.


9. The triads. Ok, now stage five. Stage five in your book, you talk about how stage five is an episode of basically stage four people who congregate around a world changing mission for a unique moment in time and then they don’t have another one like that, what’s happens next?

So, if you get a group that moves to five and they change the world and they celebrate that but then there’s no new opportunity to change the world, they slide back down to four and if the opportunities continue to erode they’ll move to three and I hate to say this, because I actually like this organization a lot, but if you look at some of the tribes within NASA, they were stage five during the Apollo missions, let’s say. They were five, or some of them were, at the early stages of the Shuttle program. There’s a group that I know that’s working on,well I can’t say what the project was, but something that has been in the news recently, they were at five about that thing. But as a whole we see the world, the opportunities about space moving away from NASA, so what happens, they don’t have the opportunity to go back to five. What do you do about it? You’ve got a couple of choices; one is you can find a tribe that does have the opportunity or, the key, make the opportunity. Opportunities can be engineered, they really can, so that would be my challenge for groups that have gone from four to five, they’ve tasted it at the level, they’ve seen the joy and the discovery and exploration. They move back down to four they don’t know what to do. Well maybe there’s not a window that the world is giving you, create the window. You can do that.


10. That’s interesting. So stable at stage four is sort of the macro goal. Is it possible to be stable at stage five for an extended period of time, or do we need a cascading chain of world building opportunities to actually achieve that?

It is possible to be stable at five. So, when Tribal Leadership came out in 2008, we put a note in it in the hardcover book that if you know of any organizations that have as their dominant culture stage five, meaning most of the tribes were at five, and they’ve been there for a long time, let us know because we don’t know of any. And we got all sorts of people emailing, take a look at this group, take a look at that group, we took a look at a fair number of them, none of them held up. There would be individual tribes. Now here is the exception. Non-profit groups can often do it because there is not the focus on growth, there is not the focus on competitors, so when you’re playing the free market game then you’ve always got to make your margins, you’ve always got to make your earnings, you got to keep your investors happy. Investors can be individuals or they can be the market if you’re publically traded, but that really forces groups down to four and four is not bad, four is great, but it’s hard to get to five. But we found groups, as an example, boards of governors in non-profit groups that are focusing on kids or focusing on fundraising, or research, and it’s all about curing cancer, it’s all about giving kids opportunities, so that no kid grows up without access to education and those can often sustain themselves at five. That can be the same kind of goal. But a great example was March of Dimes.

So, that happened way before we collected any data on tribal leadership. But on the basis of historical evidence, they were probably stage five. “We are going to cure polio, we are going to do something nobody has ever done before, we are going to eradicate a disease that has been maiming and killing, mostly children, we are going to eradicate it from the planet”. And they did, and ever since then they’ve tried to figure out their new thing and haven’t really found it. They’re kind of floundering; they’ve been floundering ever since polio was cured. What they should have done, in my opinion, was not to move on to something really general like diseases or childhood diseases, but let’s focus on the next disease and do for that what we did to polio. So does that answer your question?

Dan : Yes, that’s cool. So, Dave, stage four tribes, “we’re great” parenthetical phrase, “they’re not, we’re great they’re not right, and we kick their butts right, we eat their lunch and we take food out of their kids’ mouths…”

You’re scaring me, Dan, you’re scaring me.


11. Now, theoretically, we squeeze all the waste out of our systems, we make lots of money because of that because we have high profit, low expenses and so on, and we go that way a long time, what’s the motivation and why do I care about going to stage five if I might make less money or more money after a delay?

The motivation to go to five is not money. This is key for everybody to understand. The key to five are core values, a pure values play, but it’s got to be core values. So money is a value, and Dan, if I put a bag of money here and said “Dan, this is not ill-gotten gain, this is not drug money, do you want this, yes or no and there’s no strings attaches, do you want this money or not”. Unless you are a weirdo, and you kind of are so you might say no, but, just kidding, but you’re going to say yes, so you value money. But money is not something that you are going to die for, money is not something that is going to change your life, I mean for most of us that have our basic needs met, so it’s got to be something that’s deeper than money, and a core value is something like, again, it’s probably innovation at Xerox PARC, we’re going to do something that changes the world, so it’s a pure commitment to that values, you suspend temporarily the values issue, pardon me, the profit issue and you focus purely on the values. But that’s the key, it’s temporary. Now, what a lot of companies are doing, it’s been very interesting, one of my mentors at USU, he’s a guy named Larry Greiner, and he talks a lot about, among other things, innovation in companies, and for years the way to innovate is you create a skunkworks, a group that’s separate from the main company and it’s their job to innovate and then we’re just going to focus on efficiency and production.

Dan : They’re isolated.

They’re isolated. A skunkworks can go to five and stay there and for a long time, because they don’t have the profit motivation, but a company put together does. So it’s possible to have a tribe focus on five and stay there for a long time, even though the whole company isn’t there. Does that answer your question?


12. [...]You mentioned that stage three tribes are the dominant statistical tribe. So does this mean that our world is filled with a lot of stage two people who are that way because they report to stage three people?

Dan's full question : Thank you. One last question, a parting shot. We’re going to downshift and talk about stage three- stage two. You mentioned that stage three tribes are the dominant statistical tribe. So does this mean that our world is filled with a lot of stage two people who are that way because they report to stage three people?


Dan : So, “My life sucks because you’re great”?

Yes, that’s right.

Dan : Thank you, Dave.

You’re welcome, Dan.

Oct 31, 2012

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