Reimagining Leadership: A Snapshot of Seth Godin’s book “Tribes”

A friend of mine sent me a present in the mail at Christmas. He sent a copy of the same book to 12 peoples, and I was one of the chosen 12. It was a small book, easily readable, and by the looks of things I would be done reading it rather quickly. Little did I know that I would be reading it over a three week period, and that I would be re-reading it, over and over several times in that time.

Seth Godin published his book Tribes in 2008, and within it is a goldmine of insights that really compel people to re-evaluate leadership and to distinguish it from management. Most of us have known or are bound in what is called leadership, but it is management, it is management of the status quo and conformity. We see it in our working lives, in recreation, in religion, and dare I say it, in some of the house churches we have experienced.

Godin speaks often on the subject of religion. He states in a section (pages 83-84) entitled “Switching Religions Witout Giving Up Faith,”

“A recent study by the Pew Research Center for the People and Press found that about a third of all Americans have left the religion they grew up with. The study mistakenl uses the word faith, but in fact, few of these people have lost faith. What they’ve done instead is change the system they use for reinforcing their faith.
“When you fall in love with the system, you lose the ability to grow.

Faith Is What You Do

“If religion comprises rule you follow, faith is demonstrated by the actions you take.

“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.

A Word For It

“Religion and faith are often confused. Someone who opposes faith is called an atheist and widely reviled. But we don’t have a common word for someone who opposes a particular religion.
Heretic will have to do.
“If faith is the foundation of a belief system, then religion is the facade and the landscaping. It’s easy to be caught up with the foibles of a corporate culture and the systems that have been built over time, but they have nothing at all to do with the faith that built the system in the first place.
“Change is made by people, by people called heretics because their faith is never in question.

On page 126, Godin goes on to describe the Elements of Leadership:

Leaders challenge the status quo.
Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change.
Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
Leaders connect their followers to one another.
Sorry for the aliteration, but that’s the way it worked out.
If you consider the leaders in your organization or community, you’ll see that every one of them uses some combination of these seven elements. You don’t have to be in charge or powerful or pretty or connected to be a leader. You do have to be committed.”

Godin addresses “belief” (page 138).

“People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.
What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.

These are but some of the sections of his book Tribes. I highly recommend it. It will challenge everything you have been taught, heard, and experienced about leadership. It is the kind of book that we on the frontier, the pioneers in this house church movement, need to review, evaluate, and in some instances embrace.

Godin quotes Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” He goes on to say, “Leaders create things that didn’t exist before. They do this by giving the tribe a vision of something that could happen, but hasn’t (yet). You can’t manage without knowledge. You can’t lead without imagination (page 137).”

With all the changes taking place in the wider body of Christ, everything from reactionary forces within right wing Evangelicalism, to the varied streams in the Emerging waters, to the other streams that comprise the house church movement, there is a definite change taking place, at least at how the church constitutes itself and does ministry. But what about the “leadership” of all that we do within the body of Christ? Are the various forms of leaders from hierarchal to free form, elder driven, congregational, to those who would deny they use “leaders” and only depend upon the Spirit, really the only options we have? I venture to say that if we are at the cusp of something big, as many are sensing it in both the popular culture, but especially in the wider body of Christ, then if there is ongoing reformation taking place, then we need to take a fresh look at leadership and see what is going on within our society and within the various streams lof life within the body of Christ.

We cannot wait for others to lead. We need to step up and move forward in a radiant faith that God has called us into this enterprise. It is His thing, not ours. We have been invited along to participate and co-labour with Him. We need to re-examine the relational aspects of leadership, intuitive forms of leading and the egalitarian aspects that are tied in with leading by community agreement, and consultation with those being led. We need to look at how important each person is in the process, and what each person actuall contributes (read here “lead”) to the direction in which people are moving.

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Reading Godin’s book has really opened my eyes to the reality that we need “leadership”, but it will not look like what I was taught in the military, in university, bible college, seminary, or in the work place. It is going to look radically different, and I believe God is in the centre of a more relational, cooperative effort that utilizes the leadership qualities of all the persons who have an interest in the process and the direction of a particular people and the concensus of where it is they are going, and how they are going there. I see very much the “spirit” behind much of what Godin highlights and calls upon us to see and to do as we move forward to do our part in the “missio Dei.”


About Sam Buick

A lover and disciple of Jesus Christ. Married to my best friend, Lori-Anne. Father to 3 incredible daughters, Carragh, Caitlin and Erinn, and sons-in-law Alex, and Stephen Davis. An avid reader, a Droid user, a Mac addict, a lover of footy ball and football (there is a difference), and hockey. Once a soldier. Once a youth worker. Once an ordained minister. Once a claims adjuster. I don’t mind labels, labels define what type of Christian I am: I am a creationist I am a monergist I am a Trinitarian I am an imputationalist I am a Calvinist I am a cessationist ~ Samuel M. Buick
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