One Man’s Thoughts on a Great Book
By Christian Ehrhart
A few weeks ago I finished one of the best books I have recently read, Tribe by Sebastian Junger. At its heart, the book illuminates the need to understand people. We are a social animal and each of us has a need to have interactions with other members of our society. The book reminded me of my favorite part of sales – people’s stories. I learned so much from each person and organization I met. In many cases, I feel I took a part of their story with me as perspective to help shape my journey. The book does a brilliant job of explaining successful cultures in terms of its most powerful resource, it’s people.
Any organization is only as effective as its teams. Only in the rare cases of a market niche, or an extremely skewed supply and demand curve does a company grow without understanding the human resources available within. In the book, Mr. Junger references self-determination theory. He states that people have three basic needs to feel content, all of which deal with personal value and connection to others within the organization. As you explore your organization’s people consider an assessment of how content they are in your organization. Reframing the assessment as an evaluation of your leadership creates a dynamic that makes the data more useful. Most concerning, is the trend discussed within the book that modern society is moving towards an extrinsically motivated society. I feel that, if this is true, an extrinsic motivation is inherently counterproductive to the main points of self-determination theory. Being content requires an individual to connect to a team that has a vision greater than the individual. The organization is a collective sum of all the individual contributions. Someone who is extrinsically motivated may never find a true connection to team, because success of team is more important than success of the individual. I challenge your organization to identify what motivates your people. Are they truly content and connected to the organizational vision, or just satisfying a disconnected and selfish want? To determine the person’s level of contentment, you must first understand the person’s personality and the values they feel the company is connected too. Junger suggested in his book that the people who moved to Native American tribes from European society were seeking values similar to their own. Once they found a team they connect too, there was a sense of loyalty to the collective mission and they did not want to leave the tribe. The Europeans who left their tribe for another were searching for an organization with which to connect. They were searching for a set of values with which to connect, providing personal fulfillment as it relates to the collective tribe’s values.
I would suggest that moving towards an extrinsically motivated society is similar to moving towards an individualized society. I have yet to find a highly functioning team in which all its members are extrinsically motivated, mainly because the only way they will work together is if the team achieves all of their individual goals. A team that has intrinsically motivated participants are more likely to find satisfaction in the achievements of the team. I believe that how an individual finds motivation within their job, task, career, or process often relates to how they define success. A person who seeks personal success to satisfy their motivation, will do so without being part of the team. Said differently, they are satisfied if the team struggles, but they personally did well. Ironically, team success without personal acknowledgement will be met with disdain by this type of person despite the outcome. The opposing mindset is personified in the final pages of the book in the example about Mr. Bauman’s sacrifice for his business. After asking his employees to give up some of their salary, he took no salary without telling anyone. His sacrifice was for the team and did not need personal recognition. He understood the power of his organization was the people. This struck me especially in times when it seems that corporate greed is constant problem for our society. Above all, Mr. Bauman’s success was defined by the success of the group, regardless of his personal success.
Woven throughout the book is a story that the author had experienced in his life with a man who the author originally thought could be a real threat to his life when traveling. It turned out the man simply gave him his lunch because he was not able to work that day, wouldn’t need the lunch, and thought at the time the traveler (the author) could use a meal. At the end of the book the story is revisited to make a profound and power statement that will stay with me for a long time: regardless of how much struggle is endured, refuse to be dead inside to the society, the culture you are a part of – maintain an element of being human. Originally, the story reminded me of how many times I must remind myself and others the difference between perception and reality. Our perception of our environment creates our reality. This does not seem to be an issue, until others who experience the same environment have a different perception of what is occurring, which inherently creates a different reality. This dichotomy has the potential to destroy and team. The connection between perception and reality of the individuals of a team exponentially reinforces the need to deliberately practice effective communication skills. Communication must be planned and understood in order to effectively heard. Communication begins with understanding oneself and your wants and needs to hear a peer. As individuals become more effective communicators they transition away from an individualized perspective and begin to apply the wants and needs of communication to others within their team. Communication does not always need to be positive, communication is about the appropriate message delivered in the appropriate manner for the appropriate outcome best suited for the success of the team. Until team members are able to effectively communicate they will only view others for what they perceive them to be instead of the potentially they could be.
My perception of the book is that the book is about people, it’s about society and how by improving the morals of the people we can improve the societal team. So naturally this observation leads to a question; how do we go about changing the societal team? I believe it occurs in the same manner we would change any team – by beginning with ourselves. I know this sounds very Ghandi-esque, becoming the change you wish to see in all, but I would suggest we take a different interpretation. We begin by holding ourselves personally accountable for our actions in regards to the team. Accountability is typically received as a negative term – I challenge you to consider the opposing side of it; accountability as a positive, proactive, deliberate, and purposeful process. What that means is as people we can plan for positive outcomes and consciously behave in a manner that moves us towards the outcomes we wish to achieve. Continuing this line of thought, if we are following a deliberate process of our own design that has demonstrated positive outcomes, we can use this process to influence others – influencing change on the team we wish to see! At this point we are leaders, leaders focused on the group, focused on people, deliberately creating a process to improve our tribe.