The Seth Godin Interview:
How to Become a Leader

Seth Godin - Tribes

Seth Godin needs no introduction to this crowd. And there’s a good chance many of you already have a copy of his latest book, Tribes.

If not, Tribes is all about leadership in a post-geography world. The Internet allows anyone to become a leader of a tribe big or small, with members from across the planet. And people want you to lead them in all sorts of contexts.

But how does one become a leader? What’s the process and why does it happen?

I asked Seth 5 questions about the dynamics of tribal leadership, and here’s what he had to say:

1. How does a member of any particular tribe know she’s ready to lead one of her own?

Seth: Well, everyone is a member of a tribe. A community tribe, perhaps, or a spiritual one. The time to go start your own tribe is when you realize the obligation you have to contribute your leadership and when you are passionate enough about a goal that you will make the commitment the tribe demands to get there.

In other words, do it when you care.

If you don’t care, don’t whine, don’t complain. But if there’s change you want to make happen (business change, social change, any change) then this is the way to do it.

2. You’ve stated that the most interesting things happen at the edges, and I suspect this is true with tribes of all types. I think it’s also true at the intersection of neighboring tribes. Are the edges and intersections the most fertile ground for new leaders?

Seth: If you look at the innovations that we’ve seen online, they’ve all been at the edges. No one wins by saying, “this is a better version of AOL” or “this is a better version of Yahoo.” Google won by finding an edge that Yahoo cared little about (search) and embracing it.

With tribal behavior, we see that most people aren’t interested in joining a new tribe. So who does? Fringe types. Restless folks. Dissatisifed seekers. That means that your earliest members are fellow travelers, people willing to take a leap. THEN they bring in their friends and the growth happens.

It’s rare that we have a schism between different tribes (Arabs and Jews, Shiites and Suunis, Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich). Far more likely is apathy. Far more likely is that most people are just sitting there doing nothing. The big middle. Your opportunity is to peel folk away from the middle and give them what they want, which is movement and connection.

3. We here at Copyblogger are obviously big proponents of using quality reader-focused content to become an online leader. Where’s the fine line between giving people what they want and leading them where they need to go?

Seth: Most people have no clue what they want, and if you ask them, you’ll get a lame answer. Most people don’t know they want Pretty Woman or Slumdog Millionaire. They don’t know they want Purple Cow or one of your killer articles. So if you want to have an impact, all you can do is lead. You can’t ask.

4. You mention repeatedly that Tribes is not a “how to” book, since all tribe-building is unique and context-dependent. Are there any universal principles you can share?

Seth
: There are many:

  • People want to belong, they want to be missed when they don’t show up.
  • Charisma doesn’t make you a leader, leading gives you charisma.
  • Most of all, people care about themselves.
  • Faith is belief in the future and it is critical. Religion is a set of rules designed to amplify faith at the same time it guarantees the status quo. As you can guess, heretics have a lot of faith, but not so much patience with religion. And heretics are the ones who make change.
  • When in doubt, work with small groups. If you can’t find 5 followers, how will you find 1000?
  • Talk to people with respect, don’t advertise at them.
  • Transparency is your only option, because the tribe will smell artifice.

5. Does a real leader make moves that the tribe may rebel against, even if only to understand the tribe better?

Seth: It’s not a democracy. It never is. It’s about acting in a way that you’re proud of, that the tribe can interact with. Often, the leader’s job is to come quite close to destroying everything but she does it to get to the end goal that everyone needs.

Many thanks to Seth Godin for his time. Pick up a copy of Tribes at Amazon today, you won’t regret it.

What about you? Do you consider your current online publishing and marketing efforts to be a form of leadership? Why or why not?

About the Author: Brian Clark is Executive Editor of Copyblogger and co-founder of DIY Themes. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Seth Godin rocks :) It’s funny to me how “tribes” are obviously part of our DNA but online people seem to try to go solo at every opportunity, or even worse reject connections (eg. anonymity, fake avatars, etc).

  2. I really enjoyed this interview, and decide to come out of the shadows to leave a comment to say so! I love Seth’s take on leadership not being a democracy, and not asking, just leading.

  3. A thought-provoking interview. “Talk to people with respect, don’t advertise at them.” Now that’s a fine line I have trouble riding. Whenever I contact a potential customer, I have to run it by my partner to make sure I don’t sound too “salesy”. But Seth’s right – when I tell it like it is, I get their attention (it’s all about transparency). Hmm, now I’m going to have to buy this book!

  4. Seth is a great tribal leader of us marketers.

    Good interview, short and to the point!!

  5. I like the ‘work in small groups’ principle. If you can get something that works going in a small group it will spread out from there – provided it’s good.

    The group equivalent of a sneezed idea :)

    The trick is to recognise that it will grow and change as new inputs and ideas are inserted. And not try to hold on to the original.

    Cheers,

    Martin.

  6. Seth, as always, is poignant and sharp. Good questions too Brian. You’re an ace interviewer!

    However, Seth should get his p’s and q’s straight. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are good friends, and actually much closer on many issues than people might think. He pulled that schism thing out of mid-air.

    When you’re a big hotshot celebrity writer you get to do that though.

  7. Just vocal thinking…how do you become a leader when you are not “teaching” but selling a product or a service? I think in this regard customer loyalty becomes the yardstick.

  8. Amrit, good question, but I think you reveal the answer. What’s the best way to market and sell a product or service?

    Educational content… or teaching. I don’t think I’ve sold a thing online in the last 10 years that wasn’t due to content. And when you use content marketing to not only educate people about benefits, you also become a leader… you’re a media personality now, and that can be very powerful.

  9. Oh now this is the second tribe referance in a 24 hour period so can anyone say: Oh Oh

    quick go get a domain with tribe in it!

    I am cynical, I know

    But thats the creed of my tribe of One

    Be cyncial, tribe-less and live long!

    Love & Respect, Peace out!

    ZuD

  10. It is interesting how this fits every tribe, and is depicted in shows like the Sopranos, the Godfather and Dead Poets Society.

  11. It would be a shame if we ended up thinking that “tribes” were the next trend, like some kind of iPhone. Tribes aren’t a fad or something new created by social media technology. We are tribal critters. It’s deeply coded in how we think and how we process information. Don’t mistake it for a herd mentality, it’s much messier and more interesting than that.

    Tribes was a terrific book. Like so much of Seth’s stuff, a deceptively simple read, with sneaky little brain bombs contained within it.

  12. Your point about it not being a democracy – love it! The person who is passionate about something is the person who will eventually make the changes.

  13. “So if you want to have an impact, all you can do is lead. You can’t ask.”

    Good holy Lord, I am spray painting that on my desk. Awesome.

  14. Another important and provocative post. Seth touches on so many critical points I feel like my head’s about to explode.

    For many years, I’ve been studying the habits, techniques and actions of the world’s most enduringly successful business (and other) leaders.

    But I pay closest attention to the mindsets and attitudes behind their behaviors.

    There are many attitudes that denote truly great leaders. These are some of the key mindset distinctions I’ve gleaned over the years:

    Abundance versus Lack: They maintain, add to and fully leverage all of their personal and professional assets. They stay vigilantly focused on all they have, with no thought or energy wasted on what they don’t [yet] have. Because they think, live and give richly every day in every way, they effortlessly create wealth.

    Accountability versus Blame: True leaders realize that choice more than chance determines circumstances. Rather than sitting back and pointing a finger at others, they are willing to do whatever they believe is right and accept responsibility for the outcome.

    Authenticity versus Airs: They’re aligned with and true to every aspect of themselves and it shines through in everything they think, say, do and create. Their wealth is built on authenticity and transparency, not pretentiousness.

    Courage versus Cover: Rather than running for shelter when the going gets tough and hard decisions must be made, great leaders step forward and make the call they think will best serve all involved… despite their fears or discomfort.

    Discernment versus Judgment/Bias: They make responsible, informed and appropriate choices with clarity and wisdom, without a need or desire to rate or rank other people, situations or themselves.

    Empowerment versus Power Plays: True leaders define success and happiness in their own terms. They are self-empowered and face the challenges of life and business head on. They have neither the time nor the inclination to stoop to social or business “climbing,” manipulation or other political games.

    Enrichment versus Value: Their actions are focused on giving something of benefit to every situation, product and service for the pleasure of it, rather than being focused on value for a payoff. A great leader enjoys both providing and receiving enrichment and does so naturally and effortlessly.

    Expansion versus Limitation: True leaders do not seek to limit either their own success or the success of others. They receive great satisfaction from helping to develop others as well as themselves.

    They’ve not only identified their personal and business goals, they take time to find out the personal and professional goals of those around them and then provide opportunities that will enable these people to achieve them.

    Gratitude versus Resentment: Powerful leaders maintain an “attitude of gratitude” for all the things they have, and everything they encounter and experience… not just the good things. They know that even the most challenging situation or experience is an opportunity “in disguise.”

    Here and Now versus Past or Future: They learn and grow from the past, envision and visualize the future, and live in the moment because they understand that their power and choice exist only in the present.

    Inspiration versus Management: They have the ability to envision, clearly articulate to others and take actions that create a clear path toward a worthwhile, desirable future for everyone involved.

    Integrity versus Impropriety: Great leaders do not pursue or accept business or personal gain at the expense of others, or their own core values – ever.

    Interdependence versus Independence: They realize that great success isn’t borne from the “I can do it myself” attitude. They’re fully aware that they don’t, and couldn’t possibly ever know how to do everything required to run a profitable, growing business all by themselves.

    They allow neither their fear nor pride to stop them from engaging the expertise of other professionals, or from asking for the support of others in every area of their life and business.

    Open-mindedness versus Narrow Thinking: Successful leaders are innately curious about and receptive to new ideas, strategies and tools, and new ways of thinking and behaving in order to achieve their desired outcomes.

    Whether or not they personally like, agree with or approve of certain people, ideas, situations or circumstances, their orientation of openness enables them to see and appreciate the inherent value of these people and things.

    Ownership versus Victimitis: When they make a mistake, they have the strength of character to own up to it, do what it takes to make it right and move on. True leaders understand that mistakes provide lessons and reveal opportunities to be leveraged.

    Perpetual Student versus Self-Proclaimed Sage: They are active learners who read, attend classes and seek advice from coaches, mentors and others whom they hold in high regard. They are keen observers of people, behaviors, environs and strategies.

    Persevering Optimism vs. Defeatist Pessimism: Great leaders are optimistic survivors, not pessimistic quitters. Rather then bemoan life’s difficulties, they seek solutions, spot and make the most of even the smallest opportunities and fully apply themselves in the face of adversity.

    Self-Belief and Self-Trust versus Self-Doubt and Fear: Because their thoughts, words and actions are fully aligned with and focused on expressing, leveraging and sharing their unique talents, perspectives and voices in ways that allow them to fulfill their passions and purpose, great leaders operate with an attitude of complete self-confidence in themselves, their products and the success of their business.

    Service versus Self-Serving: They operate from a mindset of service and are dedicated to the best outcome for all, not [just] for themselves. True leaders appreciate their clients and customers, their business team, their vendors and service providers and their business partners.

    They see to it that others are fully credited for their contributions because they understand this is a direct route to the greatest possible personal and financial reward.

    Trust versus Suspicion: They believe in the innate decency, honesty and goodness of people. Business associates, partners and team members are trusted because great leaders understand that far more often than not, people live up to that trust when it is placed in them.

    Trustworthiness versus Unreliability: They are unfailingly dependable. Their deadlines are met and promises kept without hesitation. They know that their word is the foundation upon which credibility, trust, reputation and their businesses are built.

    Wholeness versus Separation: They honor, align with and consciously integrate all aspects of themselves with their businesses in order to achieve their highest personal as well as professional potential.

    Great leadership isn’t the privately held domain of a chosen few. Though every great leader brings his unique persona and approach to the process, leadership principles are universal, timeless and applicable to each of us.

    When you seek to develop leadership in others as well as within yourself, remarkable things happen in your business and in your life.

    Uh oh–a post within a post. But this was a lot less painful and messy than a head explosion. :-)

    Thank you Seth and Brian for helping more people begin to see themselves as the leaders they were born to be.

  15. Whew, Mary Anne, that was amazing! Thanks much for sharing it with us. I’m going to need to come back and read that through a few more times.

  16. An interview with two of my favorite bloggers. Joy!

  17. Hell of an interview, Seth really gave some great answers. He’s right, people don’t know what they want.

    Revolutionaries make change, everyone else watches.

  18. I’m not going to follow the crowd of praise on this one. I’ll lead the opposition instead:

    I read the book and found it to be incredibly lacking in good content. It’s meant to inspire you to be a leader – and if that’s what you want to be then you will be inspired. But it doesn’t really show you any useful steps to help along the way…more of a “dive in, learn how to swim later” theory.

  19. Great. Really great. Awesome!

  20. I never considered myself as leader so I wasn’t sure if this article was for me, but it is! I guess I’m accidentally unintentionally becoming a leader of a very special and wonderful tribe . . . it all started when I honestly shared what I found in my Akashic Record Reading service and my teacher barked at me.

    Now I’m the only one who can talk about Ascension from the Akashic perspective.

    “So if you want to have an impact, all you can do is lead. You can’t ask.” Love this. Thank you.

  21. Seth Godin has influenced a lot of marketers because he has good books and a popular blog, which has more than 3,000 post as of this moment.

    But more than that, he is very consistent in what he believes in even if not everybody is convinced. I think that’s the best quality of a leader.

    Anyone can oppose the leader, but not all leaders can handle opposition – and this is what Seth Godin is very good at.

    Thanks, Brian for sharing this one of a kind interview.

  22. I’ve been exploring an idea Seth just put into words I relate to, “Transparency is your only option, because the tribe will smell artifice.”

    I’ve been working on total transparency. It’s difficult and when people start acknowledging it, it’s even harder. To be authentically transparent takes work and self control. Myself, I am afraid I will “sell out” and stop being authentic.

    If I do, either I’ll end up with the wrong people in my tribe (which wouldn’t be an effective tribe at all) or anyone who might otherwise become part of my tribe will disappear.

    It’s also interesting I had mentioned Seth Godin’s book on my blog this morning as well. Do great minds think alike, or what? ;-)

  23. We actually had a discussion about leadership at one online forum I frequent. I’m pasting my thoughts below, since I think it’s pretty relevant here:

    I usually lead when I want to get something done.

    For example, there was this one time back in high school. We had an hour-long test in our chemistry class. The teacher was standing at the door, talking to some past student, and they were being really loud and giggly and everything. I honestly couldn’t concentrate on the test.

    I was hoping somebody would do something about it… but when I looked around the class, I realized none of the alpha guys were there. Since I couldn’t expect any of the girls to stand up to the teacher (she was damn strict), or any of the other guys, I had to do it myself. At this point, I felt exactly what Dr. Paul talks about – just before the act of courage, you are completely alone in the world.

    So I called the teacher’s name and asked her if she could please step outside because she was disturbing the class (or something along those lines. I know it came across more offensive then I intended). Well, the teacher replied back with some nasty comment… but she did quieten down their conversation after that, so we could concentrate on the test.

    Over the next two days, at least a dozen people came up to me at random times and thanked me for telling the teacher to quiet down, or congratulated me on being sassy to her (the teacher wasn’t very popular), or similar. And I felt exactly what Dr. Paul talks about – right after the act of courage, everybody wants to be your friend.

    That’s my roundabout way of saying I lead when I want to get something done. Either because others don’t have the balls to do it, or because they simply can’t be bothered since they don’t care as much as I do.

  24. Very good! Seth put into words a concept that I had been dwelling over for a long time. Very well written – straight and to the point. I think most of us are on the “edge” of one tribe or another.

  25. It’s not primarily about your “tribe”; the tribe is just a system. I think we all know “tribe leaders” who can barely scrape together a handful of change, even though they have thousands of subscribers.

    A tribe is just a tool, a system. That’s it. Your tribe isn’t a god. Your tribe isn’t necessarily “payday”. Your tribe is a system.

    If you want to make the best use of your “tribe”, then understand it’s just part of the picture. Get your business model together and factor tribes into your business, rather than your business into tribes.

    ::shrug:: It’s worked for me so far. “Group think” is a fact of life, of course. But it doesn’t mean it’s all there is.

  26. Also, a “tribe” is a descriptive word. It’s a way of describing how individuals interact with each other. In the end, tribes boil down to real individuals doing stuff.

    So, I’ll add on to what Seth said: when in doubt, work with individuals. If you can’t find 1 follower, how will you find 5?

  27. Nice point, Shaun.

  28. Brian, One very imp. thing about Seth is that he spreads new serious concept in tribe in a very effective and Funny way. That’s the way he reaches to his readers mind …FAST!

    Thanks for tweety Interview. Should we expect Part-2??!?!?!

    Ali.

  29. Inspiring interview, thanks for bringing it to us.

  30. Seth knows what he is talking about.I especially liked his book “Meatball Sundae” where he talks about getting your marketing back in sync.

  31. A very interesting and thought-provoking read. I found the proposition that charisma is not a prerequisite, but a result of, leadership, rather interesting, and certainly a break-away from regular management theories that you will often see repeated in a corporate environment.

  32. Hi Brian,

    The 5 question really open my eyes to a new perspective into this marketing world, great question, powerful answer!

    The Bad Blogger

  33. I think Seth Godin is a marketing genius. I read all his books and can’t wait until he writes another!

  34. Seth’s stuff just makes perfect sense to me.

  35. Very interesting, I have had Seth’s book on my iphone, and haven’t gotten to listen to it yet- now I am even more eager to read it!!

    I do think that we can all be leaders in the areas we are interested in and I think it brings a great reward to be a leader and teach others. Being real and sincere is a critical part of being a leader in my opinion!

  36. Very good interview.

    I’ve not bought his book yet but it is on my list of books to buy. I’ll have to get it this month as people are urging me that it is a great read.

  37. At redpepper, our agency tribe is very focused on studying Seth’s principles in Tribes and we’ve built our web platform (redpepperland.com) around engaging our followers in a conversation, instead of selling ourselves to them. Our hope is that this type of connection fosters a relationship and gives added value to this relationship. So far, our tribe is growing!

  38. Great interview. It’s nice to have Seth summarize his own stuff. He uses a nifty way of promoting the book. You can download the entire Tribes audiobook, which Seth reads. In closing, he asks you to pass your copy on to others.

    New Seth Godin – Tribes – Hear It For Free

  39. Mirroring Rachael’s comments – our Web site (www.redpepperLand.com) has caused me personally to have conversations with perfect strangers, all based on articles I’ve written. if that’s not adding to the tribe, I don’t know what is!

  40. Indeed Seth don’t need to be introduced, and new book sounds really promising :)

  41. What I love about these ideas is a decentralization of power, and how power is to be had in the doing, provided there’s value and authenticity. And it appears to be good for business. A chef friend who partners with a local farm calls it “Doing well by doing good.” If this is the new success model, I can happily get behind it.

  42. Great work, concise and effective at conveying the essence of leadership, a topic of great interest to this blogger!

  43. I really enjoyed this interview, and decide to come out of the shadows to leave a comment to say so! I love Seth’s take on leadership not being a democracy, and not asking, just leading

  44. The interview was excellent and Seth’s responses make it clear why he is so highly regarded. BUT, the serendipity was MaryAnne Fisher’s reply post. MaryAnne, I have printed it out and intend to commit it to memory. Huzzah!

  45. The more “advanced” civilization gets, the more we hunger for the ancient . Tribes are about as ancient as humans can get. Awesome post!