(Editor’s note: Javier Rojas is a managing director leading U.S. investment activities for Kennet Partners. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

There’s a central theme to “Tribal Leadership”: Change language and relationships and you can change your company.  By studying how teams interact socially, authors Dave Logan, John King, Hale Fischer-Wright outline common patterns of success, why they work and how they can be developed.

When all’s said and done, though, teams and organizations can only deliver exceptional results by shifting their focus from individual success (or failure) to shared values and common aspirational goals.

“Tribal Leadership” has some notable fans, including Zappos founder and serial entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, who credits it for some of his success.  It’s a great aid for managers and entrepreneurs that want to build teams and cultures with a transformative impact.

Big ideas from “Tribal Leadership”

Tribe theory – Companies are collections of small tribes – social groups of 20 to 150 people that band together.  They pick leaders, set the culture and determine performance based on social, not commercial, goals. Behavior determines success.  (This idea is shared in Malcom Gladwell’s “Tipping Point,” another great business book.)

Language and relationships determine tribal culture – Study how a tribe describes members, leaders and goals to understand its relationships and potential.  Changing the language means changing the culture.  Great leaders improve tribal cultures by changing language.

Graduate to higher tribal stages – Tribe cultures evolve through hierarchical stages in sequence. One builds requirements for the next. Great tribal leaders guide members through each stage by taking action on “leverage points” – the “how to” of implementing the actionable lessons in the book.

The five stages can be identified as follows:

1)      Language: “Life sucks.”
Percentage of total workforce: 2 percent
Examples: Prisons, gangs

2)      Language: “My life sucks.”
Percentage of total workforce: 25 percent
Examples: Dilbert

3)      Language: “I’m great. You’re not.”
Percentage of workforce: 49 percent
Examples: Lone warriors such as accountants, attorneys and doctors

4)      Language: “We’re great. They’re not.”
Percentage of workforce: 22 percent
Examples: Great companies that rise to challenges.

5)      Language: “We are changing history.”
Percentage of workforce: 2 percent
Examples: Market transformational companies.

Culture growth from stage two to stage three – Tribes advance when leaders take pride in successes. Encouragement leads to the “I am great” stage.  Stage three tribes are typically characterized by dyads or a series of one-to-one relationships. The more dyads the better, particularly in mentoring relationships.  The language focuses on “I” and “my,” as in: “I think,” “I did,” “I accomplished.”   When tribe leaders see themselves as great, organizations are ready to move to stage three.

Culture growth from stage three to stage four – The shift to stage four happens when the tribe leaders focus on the team being great versus individuals.  Relationships shift to triads – leaders can connect two other members or team leaders through shared values.  Everything the organization does should be measured and driven by its values and cause. If so, every team and leader has a common basis for interacting and decision-making: Conflicts are subjugated to the shared goals and values for attaining them.

Culture growth from stage four to stage five – Here team members are on a mission to change history.  Amgen, for instance, is conquering cancer – that’s the enemy and focus.   Team members at this stage are full of “innocent wonderment” at the possibilities to change the world. They are driven by both their aspirational cause and the transformational success they are achieving.   Language reflects changing the world and building inter organizational relationships that are global.

Applied knowledge

The patterns identified by researchers resonate with many entrepreneurial experiences.  Bill Edwards, one of our advisors from the founding team of Siebel, speaks to entrepreneurs on managing businesses to rapidly scale from $10M to $100M (Siebel grew from $0 to $2 Billion in six years with very modest outside funding.).  It comes down to two core tenants: have a big ambitious, motivating vision and well-defined values to assure that new members align.

At a glance:
TitleTribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization
Authors: Dave Logan, John King, Hale Fischer-Wright
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Length: 320 pages