3 Truths About Tribes & Why We Need Them

I didn’t invent the idea of tribes. But I’ve been using the term long before Seth Godin codified it in his book. Still, there are few resources that clarify the concept more than that one.

Why We Need Tribes
Photo credit: James Cridland (Creative Commons)

Understanding what a tribe is and how to leverage one is perhaps the most important lesson a leader (and writer) can learn. There are three truths I’ve discovered about the power of tribes, but before I share those, let’s define the term.

What is a tribe?

A tribe is a small but powerful group of people. It’s a fan base, a Bible study, a group of influencers. A tribe is small enough to feel personal but large enough to make a difference.

A tribe is not usually created out of thin air. More often than not, tribes are found. They are existing groups of people formed around very specific interests and passions. Many times, they’re leaderless — until someone has the courage to step up.

Here are some examples:

  • Trekkies are a tribe.
  • The Southern Baptist Convention is a tribe.
  • Vegans are a tribe.
  • J.K. Rowling readers are a tribe.
  • Your neighborhood may be a tribe.
  • Even a close-knit family can be a tribe.

All major movements begin with tribes, with a group of people who care enough to do something. And if your message is going to make a difference, you’re going to have to find yours.

Without a tribe, you’re irrelevant

You may have something to say, but if you open your mouth and there’s not tribe to hear you, what’s the point? If your words can’t spur people on, then perhaps your energy is better spent finding the people who will resonate with your message.

Because you can waste a lot of breath, spouting out a message nobody is listening to. But make no mistake: there are people who care about what you have to say. You just need to find them.

Without a tribe, you’re invisible

We all have talents and gifts that deserve to be noticed. Some of us are more comfortable with the spotlight than others, but all of us were created to live in community.

No man is an island…

But without a tribe, that’s exactly what you are: a loner, a rebel. Not a pioneer, a vagrant. As poetic as it may seem to go it alone, you need people to help you accomplish your vision (whatever it may be).

Without a tribe you’re ignorant

The surprising fact about tribes is not just that you get to lead one, but that it, in fact, leads you. The best leaders are servants. And when you find your tribe and take up the mantle of leadership, you will hear from people.

They’ll tell you what they need, what they want. They’ll share their dreams and aspirations and greatest fears with you. And if you truly care, you’ll listen.

You’ll do everything you can to help those people, and they’ll love you for it. They’ll want to reward you (of course, the irony is helping them is the reward).

But if you never take the time to find the tribe, you’ll never get the chance to listen. And you’ll always be taking a shot in the dark when you write, speak, or try to create something you think the world needs.

Time to find your tribe

The best thing I ever did as a writer was find my tribe. I spent years figuring out what I wanted to say and what I didn’t. Then I focused on a specific niche and wrote just to that worldview.

Along the way, I encountered people and listened to their stories, which helped me better understand the message I wanted to articulate (I am still learning this).

The result is a small, but powerful group of people who will follow me wherever I want to lead (which is not something I take lightly). The cool part is it’s not just me leading them; it’s us, participating in a movement together.

If you’re someone who has something to say but is still waiting for people to listen, you need a tribe. And if you’re not quite sure how to find one, start here.

Why else do we need tribes? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: James Cridland (Creative Commons)

58 thoughts on “3 Truths About Tribes & Why We Need Them

  1. I just wrote about finding mine at an Arkansas Women Bloggers conference. Incredibly important for moving forward, being challenged, and finding support. https://goodwolve.blogs.com/moxielife/2012/08/i-found-my-tribe.html

    1. Wow. Arkansas? Women Bloggers? This is the second time I’ve heard of it, but cannot find it. Please write me! And thanks so much for posting here! katharinetrauger.wordpress.com

  2. This really hit home. Spent the last 26 years speaking my vision to a “tribe” and left frustrated and disenchanted. Now looking to find another “tribe” and recognize how true your words are. Thanks and MacKeeper is worth it.

  3. Do we actually “find” our tribes? Or do they find us? It seems when I set out to find one, I end up frustrated and even confused. The best tribes I’ve been part of were accidental…but then became intentional, if that makes sense!

    1. good call. i’m honestly not sure. what I DO know is we don’t really BUILD a tribe. I’ve used this language before, and it’s inaccurate. a tribe is a group of people. you can’t really build that. the best you can do is facilitate it. sometimes we stumble upon these groups; other times, they come to us.

    2.  I agree.   Trying to find a tribe does lead to frustration. And,  I seem to end up feeling the way I did in middle school and high school when I just didn’t fit anywhere.  I like Jeff’s continued advice to just be generous, keep writing what you are passionate about, and let that do a lot of the leg work. 

      1. The best responses I’ve gotten for stuff I’ve written has been when I let my passion really out onto the page. I think people can detect that. It lacks the fake, “I’m doing this to get noticed” vibe that a lot of people go for these days.

        I’d say that’s a real key to finding your own tribe.

    3. It makes sense. But I do believe we find our tribes. I can’t recall in history or in my own life where people with tribes were found by their tribes. It was always the person who found them. It was the person who was looking to see “where they fit” in life. Does that make sense :)?

  4. As I read your article, I think of Jesus 40 days in the wilderness. That’s what developing your voice and message seem like before any tribe is formed, hammering away at a theme, an idea, a direction in obscurity. Finding the heart of your message is no easy task. Once found though it’s time to come out of the desert.

  5. Jeff

    Agree wholeheartedly.  One thing you’ve not touched on is what SIZE of tribe do you need.   The answer varies depends on what your end goal is….what I’ve found people are suprised by is how ‘few’ people you need to sustain a business that generates a good level of income. 

    Treated properly, and with the right sequence of products in place, you can generate a good living with just 500 or so people in your tribe.


  6. I like this statement you made:
    “You need people to help you accomplish your vision”.

    We had just learned in our sunday school lesson that we are God’s sheep.  We all know that, but then we had learned about natural sheep, and here are two things that stuck out with me about natural sheep:
    (1)  When natural sheep are sick, they isolate themselves.
    (2)  When natural sheep are sick, they stop eating.

    That’s natural sheep.  Like actual sheep that say, “bah”.

    First natural and then spiritual right?

    But we as God’s sheep, spiritually.  (Hope I’m not confusing anbydoy).  But just as with natural sheep, so it is with as being sheep spiritually:
    (1)  As spiritual sheep, when we are sick, we tend to isolate ourselves.  (For example, we stop going to church as often as we used to, let’s say, as much as we did when we first got saved).  (Another example, we quickly leave as soon as church service is over, no fellowshipping with the other saints). 
    (2)  As spiritual sheep, when we are sick, we don’t eat as much, or we lose our appetite.  (Example, we don’t read the Word as much as we used to or as much as we should).

    So anyway, just to reiterate what you said, we need people.  We need one another.

  7. Community instills a sense of permanence into our impermanent existence. Ideas that inspire spread throughout the world, are passed on through generations and help us all feel like we’re not alone, that we’re in this together and that, despite our mortality and individuality, there is something universal and immortal that binds us all. A tribe, or community, is what makes life meaningful.

  8. Still trying to find my tribe…I guess I’m where you were Jeff. Still spending time trying to figure out what I want to say and what I don’t want to say 🙂 I love what you said ‘that along the way you encountered people and listened to their stories, which helped you understand the message you wanted to articulate.’ Still learning to do that myself. Thanks for the great post:)

  9. It’s strange b/c I just read “turning pro” (Steven Pressfield) and he thinks the tribe doesn’t care about us, and the sooner we realize it the better off we are….

    Any thoughts on that?

    1. Yeah, I thought that was weird, too. I think what Steve means by that is that you have to EARN the right to speak to the tribe. at least, that’s what i make of that.

      1. I think Pressfield has it right—from the perspective of how our desire to belong to a tribe can cut off our ability to listen to our inner voice and speak the truth. But he openly admits that this way is the hardest way to go.
         Some thoughts I had on this subject a few weeks ago. I’m not immune from wanting to belong to a tribe either ;)https://fangmarks.com/2012/08/im-looking-for-my-tribe/

      2. I think you right in your view, Jeff. I’m not confident he meant that though. I think he just may not prefer the new (er) use of the term “tribe” …like a rebuff of the networking side of it perhaps….not sure of that of course. But, he also doesn’t have much love for twitter/social media.

  10. I think the key is message. That’s how I think a tribe is most effectively built – because they share a common mission and a common passion to take a common message to the world.

  11. I have this quote hanging in my studio, and I believe it!!!  WE NEED TRIBES!”Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”   —Jane Howard

  12. Your three reasons why we need our own tribe are compelling, leaving no doubt that it’s a “must have.” (And thankfully your podcasts have told me how to go about developing/finding/growing my tribe.)  Thank you!

  13. I think I first heard the word ‘tribe’ from you..in the American/western world context that is.

    In some parts of the world, e.g Kenya, where I come from, tribes are an actual reality. My nation is made up of 42 tribes – each speaking a different language, having different traditions and culture, beliefs e.t.c

    It’s an interesting parallel when it comes to building online following. One thing i do know is that  tribes appoint their leaders, share a language, been around for a long time (as it will take time to build an online one), are made up of different personalities  even though they are one tribe (so as a online ‘leader’ don’t try to please everyone).

  14. I have been thinking that I need to find a tribe to lead for some time now and I’ve recently realized that I have it all wrong. I make friends easily and one of the things I love doing with friends is sharing with them. I share my heart, my questions, and my discoveries. It’s so natural. But the Find a Tribe mentality is so UNnatural. Rather than share with friends who read my blog, I am thinking about Google analytics and Facebook likes and “content.” I may not need a tribe, but I know without a doubt, I need friends. From now on, I will write for them.

  15. I feel like I’m part of a few tribes (Tentblogger, Goinswriter, etc), but I’m struggling to establish my own.

    There seems to be a lot of simple guidelines for blogging best practices and my to-do list for SomeWiseGuy.com feels like it just keeps getting longer.

  16. I know I’m late, but we need tribesto force us to decide if we will go forward or not. We need to be depleted. We need to wake up the next morning and realize we gave all. We need to be worn and ground and pushed and shoved, in order to grow up. Or die. 

  17. I like your emphasis on small but powerful. When I hear “tribe,” I think “army” and can get easily overwhelmed. But the idea of a small but close-knit group is a bit freeing. 

  18. I love my tribe, as a Christian Musicianary it’s necessary to have a people group who understand your mission, and continually remind you that you aren’t nuts, you are simply doing what you’re made for. 

     It’s also a great way to collect people, not only in a close proximity, but all over!  Great post! 

  19. Jeff,
    What I really like about this tribe is the lack of diatribes!  Peaceful, thoughtful, caring discourse fosters a sense of community, like a glue that sticks us together.  James Carville has the term for it:  “stickin.”

  20. I found my tribe long ago. Heavy Metal fans, festival-goers, music lovers. We get a bad wrap and people look down their noses at us, but that makes the tribe even stronger. I write about said tribe in my blog, BetweenTheHorns.ca  Thanks for tackling the subject, Jeff. A good read.  

  21. Hi Jeff- I enjoy your thoughts and ideas.  Although I understand the purpose and intent of the “tribe” as you explain it, the word “tribe” throws me a bit.  I have seven brothers and sisters and we have always been referred to as a tribe — sometimes a tribe of “angels” ; sometimes a tribe “heathens”!  Always –even after sixty years …still a tribe..though I am clueless as to what the adjective the younger members of the family may be attributing to us now!  

    I had a spiritual director who once said that relationships with others are formed “through a creed to a person”.   I am not certain that the outcome of that approach is a tribe -at least not in the sense that someone wants to follow me — but it does result in a compassionate bond of caring and acknowledging that we exist to help each other be visible. 

    So just a thanks from me to you for putting this idea out there for thought.  Take  Care

  22. “I spent years figuring out what I wanted to say and what I didn’t.”It’s encouraging to hear that this is a normal part of the process, but  somewhat discouraging that it can take years.  

  23. When I read the line about the loner and the rebel, I couldn’t help but remember Pee Wee Herman. “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel. So long, Dott.” 😉

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