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Leading, Tribes and Groupthink

One of the more popular terms within the circles I run is the word “tribe.” Simply put, tribes are groupings of people who share common values, goals, beliefs, etc. Overall, they can be very beneficial to be a part of. They can multiply effort, consolidate resources and achieve goals that, if left to the individual person or church, would essentially be unreachable. So, let the record show that I am all for tribes.

However, as with most things, there are potential pitfalls associated with tribes. Most attempt to make your leadership qualities grow dormant. For example, take the tribal phenomena of groupthink.

Tribes tend to have a small number of high-powered, hyper-influential leaders who not only frame the conversation for the rest but, because of their position and/or intelligence, are seen as the leading-edge thinkers whose thoughts everyone must at least know, if not replicate. Now, this isn’t a bad thing in itself. I believe God uses “thought-leaders” to bless his church. I know that’s been the case for me.

But in some cases, the thinking of a few is good enough for the rest of the group. Thus a tribe is vulnerable to groupthink where innovation gets replaced by regurgitation. You can tell this is happening when all of the individuals in a tribe become monochromatic with how they look, talk, lead, etc. Unfortunately, this type of herd mentality may quickly become a dominant part of the tribe’s culture, quickly suffocating even the best and brightest new ideas of younger leaders.

Groupthink also produces blind spots. Tribes usually have a “Chief” (or “Chiefs”) and you can guarantee that individual, if he’s human, has a personal brokenness about him which deeply impacts both his personal and professional life. This shouldn’t surprise us. All of us have this. But if you’re the chief, often your sensitivities and reactions inform and influence the tribe’s sensitivities and reactions. Is that bad? Not necessarily. But it can be when there is a dogmatism behind those emphases which invalidates legitimate differences seen in other tribes. In other words, one group may see their pendulum on an issue as being in the middle when, in reality, it’s just swung to the other side because of the  chief’s reaction to address  (rightfully so) that specific brokenness. The truth may be that there is more room biblically over a specific issue, but the tribe has become blind to it.

Beware, groupthink makes an idol out of a tribe. It’s foregoing the blessings of a tribe for the curse of tribalism – a curse that will degenerate your leadership.

True leadership rises above the suffocating smog of groupthink by listening well to the tribe and yet thinking for themselves. That often means coming to different non-essential decisions than the tribe…and being perfectly okay with it. It means you’re comfortable with graciously asking questions that many in the tribe think they’ve already answered. It means that, as a leader, you’ve given yourself permission to get smarter.

So, join a tribe. Find a group of like-hearted, like-minded individuals to accomplish more together than you could alone. Leverage the power of a tribe, but always be aware of the potential pitfall of groupthink. Don’t abdicate your leadership to it. Lead…and lead well.

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

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