Lots of folks interested in Tribal Leadership wonder if it is possible to create a stable S4 subculture inside of S2/S3 tribe. Perhaps my leadership story can help support those who would try.
My conversion to the Tribal Leadership model came when a group of us began to partner around creating a high quality learning culture supported by curriculum reform and fueled by reflective assessment. This led to us creating an pilot initiative that perhaps b/c it was a BIG IDEA led to the evolution from S2 to S4 of a team of 6-8 core faculty (perhaps at that size it would be more properly called a clan). We were transformed by working closely and collaboratively with one in an attempt to make our world a better place.
We went from being victims to being empowered in ~90 days. Using tribal leadership triads + Oil Changes helped connect our values with a noble cause. They were really key tools. In tight resources, these wonderfully talented and committed folks did a great job of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear and loved doing it (or, perhaps like childbirth, they sortof forgot about the times they hated doing it)…despite the fact that it was a lot of work to set up. They often commented on the sense of empowerment and meaning-addedness that working together on the noble cause and seeing tangible accomplishments related to the core values of the organization.
One of the threats to staying at S4 is that the empowerment of the new S4 clan leads to lots of friction (hopefully it is short-term) with the larger tribe. In our case, the larger tribe was only small tribe sized (~80 faculty). In times of tight resources, S3 behaving managers in other parts of the organization and using the only language they know seemed to work hard to discredit and marginalize any group asking for additional assets to expand what it saw as successful work. It’s hard emotionally for an emerging S4 team, one that has rapidly risen to S4 from low S3/high S2, to bear up to the sniping of S2 colleagues following their S3 managers and to have their results downplayed at the Sr. mgt level. This is natural and to make the transition, we need to recognize it as such.
In the early stages, when we knew things were really working, but when that was not apparent to others yet, it seemed that we were the only one’s who could see our halos, dadnabit! I think it is important to recognize this as an expression of the dark side of S4 tribalism. It’s wonderful to move from the deadening and draining daily experience associated with “My Life Sucks” (S2) and “I’m Great and YOU are not” (S3) to the empowering experiences associated with life at “We are Great” (S4). It’s euphoric almost. But the shadow of S4 that we drag along behind We are Great is “…and they aren’t.” While it may seem fine to say that in football, the reflective S4 tribe wants to ditch that shadow and move to the wholly affirming cultural state of Life is Great when engaged in the real business of life.
I would say that some of this friction could perhaps have been alleviated if, as a leader, I had been more aware of the need to spend time creating triadic partnerships up the chain, while simultaneously working to upgrade this faculty team. I spent a whole lot of time working on upgrading clan culture, teaching my own classes, etc. Naively, I thought that would be enough. I didn’t see that I had to be working to upgrade the tribal culture above my level.
I would say that it is true that dyadic S3 leadership is way more work than triadic S4, but in the early days working at upgrading S2s to S3s, getting S3s to be willing to work triadically, etc. seems to take a lot of energy, too. The success at the end is that S4 teams are power multipliers and some things get easier.
At this point in time, it seems that the scales have fallen off the new S4 eyes and people start asking the question: if our clan is great, but our tribe thinks we suck, shouldn’t we find a new tribe? So for a small group of unstable S4s in a predominantly S2/S3 culture, things seem to teeter between moving forward into more stable S4 or looking for a better tribe. In degrees, everyone in the clan sees the potential for and no one wants to fall hard back down into S2-hood. At this critical stage, it seems to take a lot of passion, almost cheerleading, on the part of the leader to keep reminding folks that we are great, keep folks talking about the fact that we are great, and to keep folks focused on the noble cause rather than the intermediate setbacks, which take an emotional toll.
While I think the quickest way to help stabilize a nascent S4 team is to get some real affirmation from the top, sending the message “Yes, somebody else recognizes that y’all are great,” affirmation from an S2 leader just doesn’t cut it; talk about inauthenticity. It would also help if organizational resources were committed to expanding the program. That would help create critical mass, but that won’t happen in the next budget cycle…and it will take staying S4 and getting even better results to meet the bar for real budgetary inclusion. For long term results, maybe the better way is to identify a couple of emerging leaders in the clan and put more energy into supporting their stability…. The Tribe is always a work in progress I suppose.
For those interested in the particulars of this project, there are a couple of general blog posts related to the it at http://excelned.wordpress.com/