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Build Your Tribe - 8 Values for Leadership Success

This piece was written by Mariana Alvarez Parga, AIA, Director of Architecture + Sustainability at MADI Architecture + Planning. It was inspired by a few books and videos listed at the bottom, as well as a conversation with her best friend and colleague, Jorgelina Roset, General Manager at Blaisten SA in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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As soon as I started reading Tribe, a new book from Sebastian Junger where he explains our evolutionary heritage from tribal behavior, I couldn't help but think about his message applied to a firm’s leadership. As I read along and realized that his message was about our society’s flaws, it made perfect sense to interpret it for the small scale society that is work.

In his book, Junger explains that a big struggle for returning war veterans is their reentry into society (or lack-of). This is because they are coming from a “tribal” environment where they had a defined role and responsibility towards the group, but that vanishes when they can't clearly see how they're needed in the society they are returning to. Their sense of belonging and self-worth is almost non-existent when they return, and Junger explains that it's not the veterans but society that's the problem.   

This idea made me analyze my work experiences through the years and I found that those moments where I felt the most demotivated were the moments were my role in the “tribe” was not clear. The key to resolving this is communication. Both leadership and members of the team need to have constant communication for a clear understanding of a project, its milestones, priorities and the roles of each member. 

Becoming part of a firm’s leadership is an endeavor that is personal and unique to each individual. We all have different qualities, goals, and motivators. As I continue to learn about my own, I recognize that by doing a better job in understanding our human nature, we can start to correct global problems with our society one firm at a time. Here are 8 values I've identified that will help strengthen leadership skills:

  1. Build work environments where there is a predominance of trust, happiness and commitment within the team. These are first affected by structure, culture and strategy of a firm and its leadership - invest time on defining and developing them. Next, embrace what is needed for your team members to feel trust: team support, fair work, equity, team work, participation, belonging, and good communication. 
  2. Communicate. Good communication can be achieved by being impeccable with your words, speaking with integrity, avoiding assumptions, respecting all voices, recognizing others, and encouraging group participation and creativity
  3. Build sustainable teams by understanding people’s personalities and the basic things that keep most of us content. In the big picture, we all need to feel competent at what we do, authentic, and connected with others - competence, autonomy, and community. In Junger’s words “these values are intrinsic to human happiness and far outweigh extrinsic values such as beauty, money and status.”
  4. Frequently check the climate, that is, how people feel. It's not enough to setup the system and let it run. Things will break down overtime. Make it a habit to review and make adjustments as needed.
  5. Stay relevant, be visible and approachable. Transparency, openness, and approachability will ensure good communication is reciprocal. You need to not only be a good speaker, but an excellent listener.
  6. Take care of your own happiness first. If you're unhappy, others will feel and reflect unhappiness back to you. So seek out what you need to feel good: inspiration, freedom, friendship, being yourself and feeling valued.  Express gratitude and make time to laugh.
  7. Travel abroad. It will give you a broader perspective on things and help you reset priorities (both in business and in a personal level). 
  8. Perform periodic self-evaluations and remind yourself of what you think a leader should be. Look back at leadership models, your sponsors, mentors.Ask yourself what legacy you want to leave, and assess whether you're on the right path. If you aren't, make adjustments. If you are, keep moving forward!

I believe these values can greatly help everyone because they reinforce the sense of community we all need in our core - a tribal structure, one which has been all but lost in modern society. These values create healthy organizations that give individuals a purpose while also strengthening the whole - when your people thrive, your tribe thrives.