Leading Your Tribe

Leading Your Tribe

As it grows, it's best to think about your tribe as a living, breathing, and complex entity. It's not something that exists in a vacuum, and it will rarely (if ever) behave exactly as you expect it to.

On top of that, various forces in the world, plus member's individual personalities and egos and desires, will act upon the tribe in ways that you can't predict yet.

If you're not careful, or if you're not paying attention, you can lose the tribe. It can fizzle out if people stop caring. It can get hijacked by a member who has a different agenda. Any number of things can happen that will diminish the value of the tribe for you and the other members.

This, my friend, is why the tribe must be led.

Leadership is not optional. It's an essential piece of the puzzle that must be in place in order to reap the rewards that can come from a great tribe.

So that's what I want to talk about in this lesson. How can you effectively lead your tribe and create the kind of culture that will produce the kind of results you're looking for.

What is leadership, exactly?

It's easy to hear the word "leadership" and freak out. As creatives, most of us don't intuitively think of ourselves as leaders.

Even worse, a lot of us have this misconception that leadership ability is something you're either born with or you're not.

Don't get me wrong, some people definitely have natural charisma and authority. But very few of us are born with all of the qualities and skills of a great leader. Just like everything else in your personal and professional life, you can develop those qualities and build those skills.

So what is leadership in this context?

It all comes down to three things.

  1. Creating a compelling vision of the future

  2. Getting people to believe in that vision and take ownership of it

  3. Guiding the tribe to make sure it stays moving towards the vision

See, not too crazy, right? It's not about ruling with an iron fist and micro-managing and being "the boss."

Instead, it's about creating a culture where everyone is empowered to do what they do best in pursuit of the larger vision. It's about taking responsibility for the wellbeing of the tribe, and making decisions in support of that goal.

Plus, by working through the other sections in this course, you're already doing a lot of this important leadership work without even knowing it.

You've already created a compelling vision for the future. By inviting people into your tribe, you've already gotten them to buy into the vision.

So a lot of the hard work of leadership is already done by the time you've built a tribe of likeminded people, with similar values, and a commitment to a shared vision.

All that's left after that is getting tribe members to take ownership, and continuously being present to guide the tribe to make sure it doesn't go off the rails.

Which begs the question, but how do you actually do this stuff? Glad you asked.

Leadership Essentials

Here are a few of my favorite leadership strategies and tactics for creating long term buy-in, as well as continuously keeping the tribe moving forward on the right path.

Leading by example

There's no better way to lead than by example. What this really means is getting in the trenches with people and getting your hands dirty. It means taking responsibility for the wellbeing of the tribe and doing the work to improve it.

When people see you consistently giving value—by helping with other people's projects, sharing stuff in the online hub, organizing events, etc—you're showing that you're truly invested in the success of this thing. You're showing people that you live by the values and vision of the tribe. They're not empty idea to you, but guidelines for your actions and life.

That's so, so important, because it not only engenders true respect from your tribe members, but it inspires them to act in a similar way. By putting your values into action, you create a culture where that's the norm.

Here’s a great quote from Seth Godin about this.

"When you lead without compensation, when you sacrifice without guarantees, when you take risks because you believe, then you are demonstrating your faith in the tribe and its mission. Of course it's difficult. But leaders will tell you that it's worth it." -Seth Godin

Consistently reinforce the vision

Your tribe members should never forget that you're collectively working towards something awesome, something that everybody wants deep down.

After all, that's what makes leading a tribe like this possible—you're leading people where they wanted to go all along.

But even the most compelling and exciting of visions can get lost and forgotten amidst the minutiae of everyday life. We all get busy and stressed and tired, and it's easy to forget about the big picture.

That's why you need to consistently remind the people in your tribe what you're all working towards and how awesome it's going to be.

So, use all of the communication tools and avenues at your disposal here to do just that.

  • Keep the vision as a "pinned post" in the online hub so people see it often.

  • Bring it up in messages and in conversations with individual tribe members.

  • Talk about it during tribe events, production meetings, and even on set.

  • Put it front and center on the tribe website (if you have one).

You don't want to sound like a broken record, of course, so find new ways to say the same general things, and mix it up.

More than that though, you'll want to focus less on what the vision is, and more on how achieving it will improve the lives of tribe members. It's about painting a clear picture about what the future could look like, and why it'd be amazing if the vision came to fruition. And even more than that, it’s about connecting that future to something happening in the present.

That way, there's a perceivable gap between where people are right now, and where people want to be. That's an intrinsically motivating thing, especially when people know that what they’re working on will help close that gap.

Create leaders, not followers

If there's one single most important thing to learn about leadership, it's this: Your job as a leader isn't to create followers and micro-manage them. It's to create more leaders and enable everyone around you to take ownership of their work.

This is true in the process of making films, and it's true in the context of building a tribe.

Quite simply, the more ownership individual team members take over their slice of the process, the better everything will be. There's just something inherently motivating when you feel ownership over something. And that type of motivation spurs passion and drive and produces high quality work and long term drive.

Here's what happens when you feel ownership over your work.

Instead of doing something because you're told to do it, you choose to do it out of your own autonomy. Instead of doing a half-assed job because the work itself isn't sexy or interesting, you'll focus on doing it right and not miss the small details.

Trust me here, this is the key to getting everyone to do their best work. You can manage and order people to do things all you want, but if people don't feel any kind of ownership, they won't give a shit about the ultimate quality of what they're doing. They're more likely to do the bare minimum and call it good.

So again, give people in your tribe something specific to work on, whether it's in the context of a project or work that maintains the tribe. Then do everything in your power to give people ownership over whatever they're working on. Let them know they're responsible for the results. Let them know their insight and creativity is truly valued.

Here are some practical suggestions for how to do this. Basically, you'll want to start unloading your initial responsibilities on future tribe members.

  • Put someone in charge of organizing the tribe's events.

  • Give someone the responsibility of managing the tribe's online hub.

  • Same goes with the tribe's website, portfolio, etc.

  • During tribe meetings and get-togethers, crowdsource ideas for how you could all move towards the bigger picture vision.

  • Switch up responsibilities every now and again, so that people can experience new aspects of ownership.

Through all of this, there's one important thing to remember. You may be leading the tribe, but it's not about you. It's about building an organization that supports the wellbeing and career aspirations of its members. So by reinforcing that helping the tribe means helping yourself, you can get people to take even more ownership.

Once you give people that authority, your job is to reinforce it every chance you get. If someone comes to you seeking advice for how to solve a problem of some sort, ask them how they'd solve it. Give them the ability to solve problems themselves and take credit for those solutions. Continue to engage in a way that shows them they have true ownership over whatever they're working on.

Sidenote: Giving people control and autonomy over anything, especially something you've worked so hard to build, can be utterly terrifying. But it's essential for the long term health and vitality of the tribe.

Remember, even though you may have started the tribe, it doesn't belong to you, and it won't benefit from you holding on to an idea that it belongs to you and no one else.

Instead, the tribe will thrive most when everyone feels like they own it—when everyone feels a deep sense of responsibility for it.

So remind yourself often that the tribe will grow well beyond your control, and that that's a great thing, not just for future tribe members, but for you as well. Because the healthier and more active the tribe is, the more everyone (including yourself) will benefit.

Creating a culture that reinforces itself

There's one last idea I want to leave you with in this leadership lesson. And it's all about the idea of creating a culture.

When you have a culture where everyone takes ownership over what they do, and where everyone is consistently giving value to the tribe, that's when you start to reap the real benefits. That's when the tribe starts to feel like a family (a very functional one) that works together towards the bigger picture without drama and ego backstabbing.

When the culture is in place, and members are consistently reinforcing that culture through their actions, the amazing benefits that come with a well-oiled tribe take care of themselves.

Now here's the cool part.

By working through this course, focusing on vision and values, inviting only the right people into the tribe, and constantly working to add value to their lives, you're already doing the work to build culture. That's what I've been teaching you all along.

So that's what I want to leave you with, as we wrap this course up (the beta version, at least). If you follow this path and do the work, you'll get amazing benefits from the tribe. And it will provide those benefits to every single member.

So, get out there and build something amazing for your community. Good luck, and godspeed.

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