Does Your Tribe Support You or Own You?
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
My closet is filled with costumes. If I am visiting Disney, I wear a nice shirt and khakis. In the event I’m seeing HBO, a t-shirt, high-end jacket and my best watch will do. Going to JP Morgan? Suit and tie, lace-ups (never slip-ons). A lot of people characterize the new workplace look as casual. Nope! It is more complicated. When we are visit a tribe and don’t show our respect, we look like an outsider.
My professional life has given me the rather moving privilege of observing thousands of people access and define their truth. In most cases I get to watch and even help as they pursue the work they were born to do, or, at the very least, the work that matters. This experience has brought me to the conclusion that until we examine our lives, to varying degrees, we are living someone else’s life. This is where we often find that our tribe has influenced to the point that we are not honoring what we most want to do with our lives.
Americans like to think of themselves as fiercely independent. But, humans are the most dependent species on earth. We rely on others for our food, safety, comfort, and especially, our success. Today, people don’t fail because they didn’t do enough, they fail because of isolation.
Most often, humans long to become part of a tribe. It is programmed into us. But, there is a fine line between a tribe owning us or supporting us. Because, all tribes have rigid rituals and expectations. When we break the house rules, the pushback begins with some version of, “You’re crazy.” Tribal types are far more extensive than simply family.
We find the dynamic of tribes in religions, employers, sports teams, private clubs, political parties, and more.
This is why I keep a closet full of costumes.
In the early days of delivering The Inspired Work Program, a group of men returned from a lunch break. They were laughing. One of them asked to share with the rest of the participants the “Jewish mother’s hierarchy of acceptable career choices.” The selections were based on how one mother’s eyebrows reacted when the other indicated what her son did for a living. There were 3 possibilities. A minor rise was given for an accountant. Half-way up the forehead? This was reserved for attorneys. Up to the hairline? You know the answer. And, a physician with a specialty provoked a natural facelift.
Just the awareness of this pressure gave them enough room to laugh about it. But when we are operating in a less conscious state, that pressure can keep us from taking the very actions that lead to fulfilling careers.
One of the men was a successful attorney with an international law firm. But, he never wanted to become an attorney. He wanted to work in a creative setting. He loved bringing beauty into people’s lives and homes. But, as many well-meaning parents do, he was told repeatedly that it was a bad idea and he wouldn’t make a living. Becoming an attorney seemed like the least repugnant choice. That weekend, he came back on the 2nd day and told us he had just purchased a florist shop. Thanksgiving was a week away and I asked how he was going to tell the family he was leaving the law firm to sell flowers.
He said, “I’m just going to tell them and ask them to support me.”
“How are they going to react after investing $200k to put you through law school? How many friends have they proudly told, ‘Our son’s an attorney?'”
Even when tribes are giving pushback, one of the worst attempts at getting support is in becoming righteous. Here’s why. We have delivered a sales training program that ditches pitches. The curriculum was developed on one fact that was defined by behavioral scientists:
Human beings are capable of thinking about something other than themselves for only 15-seconds.
If all that we have is 1/4 of a minute, making pitches or demands on others simply doesn’t work. We significantly increase the probability of success by finding and speaking to the needs and expectations of the buyer.
“I know that you love me and that sending me to law school was and continues to be a a great gift. But, I also know that you want me to be happy. I come to our dinners with a cloud over my head. I want to bring joy to this family. I also want to bring flowers! In the event this turns out to be a bad idea, I can always go back.”
There is an interesting dynamic that happens when someone integrates their previous work with the work they most want to do. The skillsets they learned before allows them to produce unique results. This young attorney used his business skills to leverage that one store into a chain with over 20 locations. His parents receive flowers every single week.
Tribal pushback occurs with leaders who are about to drive major change through their organizations. In an era of accelerating change, we can no longer motivate and engage workers through fear. When we ask teams that have already been impacted by change, telling them what to do only makes matters worse.
Here is an example that speaks to the needs and expectations of a team,
“I know that all of you are still reeling from the loss of colleagues and friends. But, we have come up with a plan to turn our business around. We need your help. This is what we are going to do. I’m asking all of you to schedule a one-on-one meeting with me. I would like to hear your best ideas in how to make our new direction as successful as possible. I would also like to hear what you want to accomplish as we progress. By letting me know what you want, I will do my very best to reward your support with specific value for you.”
There is one big pink elephant in the room. Sometimes, it is necessary to leave a tribe. In fact, our lives might depend on it. For example, if an alcoholic wants to be sober, he or she will need to stop hanging out with other drunks. Alternatively, if it becomes clear that a group will not support our most cherished dreams and ambitions, than it is time to move on. There is a profound old quote about success.
It is, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
In closing, love your tribes. But, when it comes to happiness always bring in the people who will raise your average.
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