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Book review: Tribes and leadership

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us

By Seth Godin

Portfolio

$22

Getting out of the office and into the classroom is one of the perks of my job. Last week, I got to meet with the next generation of PR pros (PowerPoint is posted on Slideshare). When meeting with students, I offer the same advice and tell the same story.

While your diploma, degree or certificate will get you the interview, it's what you do while you're at school that'll get you the job.

So be bold. Take risks.

Failure isn't an option, it's a necessity and proof that you're hard-wired for innovation.

Step up. Go first. Don't wait for permission. Take the initiative to do something where you can make a difference and make your mark.

Remember that you and hundreds of other freshly minted grads will all head out into the workforce at the same time with the same piece of paper. You'll need a story that's all your own.

And that's when I tell the story about Colleen and Diana, two poster children for active citizenship.

The dynamic duo were the first to do field placements at a North End community centre. They started an after-school program and helped out with a mom's group.

Of all the things they did, their Halloween party stood out. The weekend before Halloween, Colleen and Diana decorated the community centre gym and foyer. And, without being asked, they cleaned the boy's bathroom without wearing hazmat suits.

The night before Halloween, Diana baked and decorated 100 cupcakes. On Oct. 31, they showed up at 6 a.m. They continued to decorate, talk with the press and co-ordinate a small army of student volunteers who showed up throughout the day. Colleen and Diana didn't call it a night until the last family left the community centre loaded down with candy.

More than 300 kids turned out for the Halloween party. Parents and grandparents couldn't believe the event was free and that students would choose to spend time in their neighbourhood instead of a pub. The crowd-pleasing event wouldn't have happened without Colleen and Diana's leadership.

I don't just share this story with students. I tell it to employers who call for reference checks on Colleen and Diana.

So you can talk about your leadership potential during job interviews.

Or you can show how you led and made someone's world a better place.

The good news is it's easier than ever for anyone to lead, says author, blogger and marketing guru Seth Godin. Student or CEO, young or old, new hire or workplace veteran, everyone can lead a tribe.

Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea. And those tribes are led by passionate, engaged and driven heretics.

Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, Slideshare, YouTube, blogs, e-mail and other web tools, it's easier than ever to connect with like-minded folks at work, in the community and halfway around the world.

"There are literally thousands of ways to co-ordinate and connect groups of people that just didn't exist a generation ago. All of it is worthless if you don't decide to lead. All of it goes to waste if your leadership is compromised, if you settle, if you don't commit," says Godin.

Yet lots of us balk. We believe we have to be ordained to lead. We have to get ourselves an MBA. Have the right job title on the office door.

No authority, no leadership. Better to play by the rules than try to bend or break them.

Fear's a big factor for many should-be leaders. It's one of our strongest, oldest and most hard-wired emotions, says Godin.

"What's interesting about the folks I meet who are engaged and are clearly heretics is that they've actively talked themselves out of the fear. The fear is still there, but it's drowned out by a different story. It's the story of success, of drive, of doing something that matters. It's an intellectual story about what the world needs and how your insight can help make a difference."

Leading is uncomfortable, says Godin. Standing up in front of strangers, proposing ideas that might fail, challenging the status quo and resisting the urge to settle are uncomfortable. "If you're not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it's almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader."

Yet it's worth asking what's the worst thing that could happen and what's the downside of doing nothing. And should we really lose sleep over critics, cynics and the forces for mediocrity?

What's it take to lead? Godin says leaders challenge the status quo, create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture. They have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they're trying to change. They use charisma to attract and motivate followers.

Leaders communicate their vision of the future, commit to that vision and make decisions on that commitment. They also connect followers to one another.

We need leaders and tribes to create opportunities out of seemingly unsolvable problems in our community, from the kids who go to bed hungry, the teens who drop out of school, the highly skilled immigrants who can't find work. And these problems aren't just opportunities. These challenges are obligations that require leaders who'll inspire tribes to change the rules, raise the bar, play a different game and play it better than anyone else.

So get up, stand up and lead. Your tribe is waiting.

(Originally published in the Nov. 3 issue of the Hamilton Spectator)

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