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Five Ways to Find Out If You’re in the Wrong Tribe

by Helena Bouchez  |  
July 3, 2012

We all are members of multiple tribes---family, work, spiritual, and professional---with members and leaders connected both offline and online. Affiliation with the right tribe can result in access and support that would take years to develop on your own. Joining the wrong tribe, however, can result in significant unwanted consequences. 

I got to thinking about the importance and impact of tribes during John Falchetto’s session “From Being Hunted by Tribes to Building One: Lessons From the Desert to Build a Tribe Online,” which he presented recently at BlogWorld and New Media Expo 2012 in New York City.

John is an expert in building and branding location-independent businesses and in navigating the complexities of expat life. He also has deep insight into tribes, gleaned from direct experience with the real thing.

What follows is a mashup of my notes from that session and his blog posts on the topic, as well as ideas gleaned from my experiences with modern-day tribes. But first, here's John’s story.

John’s first business in 2003 was a program designed to re-energize tired executives by taking them out (way out) of their current situation and leading them through outdoor activities. In the desert. In the United Arab Emirates.

To gain access to houses to use as base camps, John spent months gaining the confidence of tribal leaders, reassuring them that the houses and land would be not only respected but also (vastly) improved. With approval, John rebuilt the entire camp. A week before launching, however, the whole place was burned down. To the ground.

Unknowingly, John had made a deal with the wrong tribe. John went on to form an affiliation with the appropriate tribal leader, and together, they have accomplished many common goals. But an important lesson was learned: Join the right tribe.

Here are five ways to find out if you’re in the wrong tribe.

1. The main objective and purpose of the tribe is to promote its leader. A tribal agenda that only benefits the leader or a small group of “elite” members is a clear sign that you need to move on. Also, if every communiqué from the tribal leader is a request for you to purchase something or distribute information to your channels---and the favor is rarely, if ever, returned---you need to find a more supportive tribe.

2. Member goals are ignored. A tribal leader is responsible for maintaining an environment that assists members in reaching their goals when individual success will advance the tribal goals. If your goals are aligned with the tribal goals on paper, but you are not receiving consistent and tangible assistance from the tribe in moving towards achieving the goals, it’s time to make a change.

3. There's no room or support for member growth. Members should be acknowledged as already being whole and independently capable. Beware of tribes whose leaders expect you to remain forever in the “student” or “disciple” role with no hope for promotion.

4. Individual personalities are encouraged to dissolve into tribal uniformity. Dysfunctional tribal leaders will work to squelch dissenting voices. They may even use psychological manipulation to shame members into compliance or silence. Wise leaders are willing to hear you out, especially if the purpose of your challenge is try to improve things for everyone. (To transfer this consequence to online communities, where you see “tribal leader,” read “moderator.”)

5. You are continually paying the unpleasant consequences of the leader’s decisions. John’s camp was burned down as a result of the actions of a tribal leader whose petty ambitions caused him to start a feud with the leader of another tribe. In the online world, a forum member  can lose a great marketing channel or revenue stream because of the irresponsible actions of the forum owner.

The best thing to do, of course, is to keep from joining the wrong tribe in the first place. John says that to ensure this, you have to be very clear about who you are. What do you love? What do you hate? Successful tribal leaders aim to evoke one of those two emotions.

Wise tribal leaders also don’t accept everyone---and that’s a good thing. Says John, “Tribal leaders must keep some people out. If everyone can belong, it’s not a tribe, it’s a crowd.” Leaders are responsible for ensuring (as much as possible) that all members are willing to contribute to the collective good in addition to reaping its benefits.

The right tribe can enable you to make an meaningful impact on a big idea or to further a noble cause. The above tips should help you to join the right one---the first time.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Tribes)

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Helena Bouchez is principal and owner of Helena B Communications ( Reach her via or follow her on Twitter (@HelenaBouchez).

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  • by Gina Fri Jul 6, 2012 via blog

    These are smart tips, or red flags, whether your tribe is an online community, place of employment, school or church. Follow these tips & trust your gut.

    On the flip side, tribe leaders should reflect on these tips and put them against their own goals and approach.

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