The Tribal Effect

featured photo credit: jimmy nelson,

Humans are hard-wired for connection.  Brene Brown’s fantastic work continues to dig into this truth.  The purpose of connection is not to simply fit in; it’s to belong.  The difference is immense.  Fitting in is adapting to others — being who they celebrate and want you to be.  Belonging is being accepted and valued for who you are.  It is a mutually positive relationship that benefits both sides.  The trick is, you first have to know who you are to determine where you belong.  Committing yourself to a group may or may not help this journey of self-discovery.   The question becomes, is the tribal effect producing minions or complements?

There’s a lot of competitive noise beckoning people to join their tribe.  Strength (and money) comes in numbers.  A tribe is simply defined as ‘a group that shares an occupation or interest’.  More contextually,


A tribe is a “social division of people with a common culture, among whose leadership is neither formalized nor permanent”.


A tribe does not consist of a leader and a bunch of followers.  A tribe is a community in which all members have the same ability as the leader to contribute.  They are all doing the same work.


Individual thought is the most important kind of work.  When doing, head down, surpasses thinking, a dangerous precedent is set, for both the group and the leader.  The identity of the leader becomes one of omnipotence through lack of challenge, and the applauded character of a member is one who can shout yes the loudest.  The leader should encourage ideas to come from the group, and each member of the group should feel that they can give and receive without judgement.

A leader is someone who holds themselves accountable for finding the potential in people or processes.


If the process is valued more than people, though, the leadership fails.  We should not be looking for admirers to extend our cause.  The people we serve/lead should be our cause.  They need to end up better and more autonomous so they can, in turn, lead others into becoming confident beings.  A cycle of cultural empowerment is the end result of any self-fulfilling system.  The group dictates the direction of the culture.  The leader fosters an environment where people are seen, heard, and valued, and an energy is created between them.


Photo Credit:, Team Unique Cup of Berlin 2013


To determine whether the group(s) we have committed our work to is helping or hurting your sense of self, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How do you act without the group?  Do you feel stronger or weaker?

  2. Can you articulate how you contribute to the group?  Does this go beyond simply ‘showing up’?

  3. Do you feel comfortable disagreeing with the group?  Is there worry about voicing these disagreements?

  4. Are you a collector or connector of information presented within the group?  Are the decisions you make stemming from your own brain or that of the collective consciousness?

  5. Does the group have a tinge of elitism?  Are their barriers from others joining the group?  Is it exciting or off-putting to believe you are part of a select class or organization?

  6. When describing yourself, is the name of the group the first thing to roll off your tongue?

  7. Does the group make you think more or less?

  8. Is belonging to the group what sets you apart, or were you distinct in the first place and found a community of acceptance?

  9. Do you admire the leader as a singular person or because of their value to the group?

  10. How willing is the leader to share what he/she knows?  How accessible are they?  Is there typically a fee involved in creating a connection?


Honest answers to the questions above should tease out whether or not the tribal effect is enhancing or diminishing your individual identity.  Without knowing who we are, we can’t understand what it is we have to offer.  Without knowing what we have to offer, we can’t have a sense of contribution or purpose.  You do not have to become them to secure a sense of belonging.  You have to accept yourself before you can truly feel accepted by others.  Continue being fans and holding interest in other people’s work, but use it to create your own.  In our own endeavors, of our own accord, can we own our standing within our communities.   









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