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What Tribal Leadership Can Teach Us

When you goal is to change the world, you need more than clever, caring people – you need a tribe, writes Jan van der Merwe.
Angels team 20 September 2022

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Over the past few years many individuals have inspired us with the passion and resolve they show for the benefit of their patients. But often we have also been reminded that improving stroke care cannot only be the work of brilliant, passionate individuals. When you goal is to change the world, you need more than clever, caring people – you need a tribe.

The success of a company depends on its tribes. The strength of its tribes is determined by the tribal culture, write Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright in a book about tribal culture that is based on their 10-year study of 24,000 people in more than 2 dozen organisations. In their bestseller Tribal Leadership, they describe the five stages of tribal culture that help or hinder our progress towards our goals.

Stage one tribes are hostile and dysfunctional, their attitude summed up by the idea that “life sucks”. Prison gangs are stage one tribes, but you also find them in civilian life where they may create scandals, steal from their employer, or threaten violence.

Stage two tribes are typically found in low-performing organisations or dysfunctional government departments. They also believe that life sucks – but only for them. Others, they think, are better off than they are. Often sarcastic and passively antagonistic, they can be counted on to resist new management initiatives.

Stage three is where some level of success becomes possible. Stage three tribes make up 49 percent of the population and are typically composed of smart, driven people working in environments that reward individual effort. “I am great,” members of stage three tribes believe, but they also tend to think they would achieve so much more if only they were surrounded by people who were equally gifted. They desire success but will soon hit a glass ceiling – unless they can move from being great individuals to becoming great teams.

Stage four tribes value teamwork and creativity. They have replaced the language of “I am great” with the idea that “We are great”. This is where talented individuals realise that they can achieve more when they work together. Only around 22 percent of tribes reach this stage.

If you want to taste real success, then stage four is the place to be. But if you want to change the world you must aim to become a stage five tribe. Only about 2% of tribes reach this stage, but when they do, they change the world. Stage five tribes are made up of highly intelligent people who have moved beyond stage three and realised that by working as a team they can achieve more. But what sets them apart from stage four tribes, is that they all believe in a higher purpose. This purpose is what drives them to change the world.

According to Logan et al, there are two important factors that allow tribes to move from stage four to five – identifying and leveraging core values and aligning on a noble cause. They write, “Every else the tribe does should be sandwiched between these constructs. Projects, activities, initiatives, processes – unless they are fuelled by values and reach toward the tribal vision – should either be rethought until they are consistent with these guiding principles or pruned. By definition, core values and a noble cause can never be ‘checked off’ the way that companies complete an upgrade to computer technology.”

In the latest issue of The Angels Journey you can read how a stage three tribe became a stage four tribe on a tiny volcanic island called El Hierro when core values aligned, and a new noble cause was accepted by all. You can see another stage four tribe at work in Péterfy Hospital in downtown Budapest where a belief in teamwork helped doctors maintain their quality of care even under the most trying circumstances.

There’s no better lesson about core values than in our report on the first ever FAST Heroes awards event. As one of our honorees, Elbieta Januszkiewicz of Poland, said, “The FAST Heroes programme allows children to experience the values we want to encourage in them. They learn that courtesy, helping others, gaining knowledge, and sharing it are ‘superpowers’ that could save someone’s life or health.”

A noble cause drives Dr Claudio Jiménez, a neurologist at Bogotá’s Simón Bolívar Hospital, who tells us, “When at last we understand that by working together ... we will achieve much more than a centre of excellence in neurology – then we will build a place that is ours and belongs to everyone.”

A commitment to making the complex simple is a core value at Angels – and you’d be hard put to find a better example of this than in our story about prenotification in Poland.

We also talk to ESO present-elect Simona Sacco about her vision for stroke care in Europe, and introduce two new members of our tribe. So-called Baby Angels Inês Carvalho (Portugal) and Eleni Panoutsopoulou (Greece) share their thoughts on their first couple of months as Angels consultants.

Your stories about change, which it is our privilege to share, also change us. It is being part of your success that leads to better outcomes for patients – the purpose that drives our tribe to change the world.

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