See Becky Update below

Today marks a milestone in a story of a woman whom many of us have come to know TEDGlobal2009and love. Mid-morning in an auditorium in Oxford, England, Becky Blanton will cross the stage and address the TEDGlobal conference about how she has gone from being homeless journalist living in van three years ago to being an invited speaker at TED.

The door opened for Becky to speak because she won the Johnny Bunko contest last winter. It was through the Bunko contest that I came to meet Becky. I was one of the three finalists in the contest. Becky, as an expression of the magnanimous person that is, secured an invitation for me to join an online social network of leaders started by Seth Godin, called Triiibes. That is a story in itself which you can read about here, here, here and here. Becky with Tribes book

Becky's story is more than Johnny Bunko and more than being homeless and living in a van. Here's how she described it to some of us a couple weeks ago.

The important thing is not the whole homeless story - but the fact that our reality is based on our perceptions. Any of us can change our situations, find our hope, change our circumstances. Few of us will do so in such a dramatic fashion, but I was hard-headed and kept "trying to make things work," and failed. My commitment to my pets is what kept me in the van. I refused to give them up and accepted a choice (keeping my animals) of living in a van rather than giving them up and moving into an apartment. All choices have consequences - and gifts. This choice had both. (emphasis mine.)

I'm very happy for Becky. She deserves this moment in the public eye as much if not more than anyone I've ever known. I'm grateful for her friendship, and wish her all the best as she speaks today. An early recording of her six minute talk had me in tears.

After writing the above, Becky sent a report to her tribe of supporters. Here's some of what she has experienced, along with some pictures. It captures part of the person that Becky is.

From Becky at TEDGlobal2009/Oxford:

This is the view from my room at TED! I know. I couldn't believe it either - but it's what Oxford - Becky 1 I visualized for the last six months so I guess the law of attraction works! ...

Okay. Bear with me....this is the TED experience beginning with arrival....

Spent the day sightseeing on a tour bus and talking to the driver, Alan. He's invited me back to stay with his family if I come back. I handed out cards to everyone on the bus who was curious about TED. My cards say, "It is not our abilities that define us. It is our choices." Alan drops me off at the door to Keble College, not on his regular round of stops, but he's a NUMBER ONE customer service oriented guy!!

Nick is a physicist studying at Keble College. He wants to be a journalist. We talk journalism and vandwelling as he carries my bags to my room overlooking the quad and the building that is the TED Global centerpiece.

Shelia Bailey owns Daisies Flower Shop in Oxford. She's responsible for the flowers for the TED party tonight. She loves Oxford and pointed out the best seating and the place where there's most likely to be a breeze. She gives me her card as well and shows me the inside of her flower van....since I love all things vans...having lived in one.

Miles is the IT guy who ""fixed my mac" but it broke again. I figured out how to reset it this time. He camps and we talked camping and vandwelling. Now I know where to go to park on 3,000 year old trails in England!

I arrived early and saw the guys with the hawk demonstration and asked to take photos...and to let the hawk land on my hand!!! THEY SAID YES AND I GOT TO PLAY WITH THE HAWK!!!!!! My TED experience is complete. I also talked to the Tom's shoes folks - they said "HI Seth." They said you told them you really liked what they were about and the shoes when they saw you in California.

Albara Alohali is here from Saudia Arabi. He has a new Canon camera. We talked about settings and then got shoes. He didn't want to play with the hawk.....He's the guy setting up Saudi Arabia TED. Lots to do after line! Pays to be early!

Then it's off to the TED stage! Got pictures of "Griff" sleeping. He started work at 4 Oxford - Becky 2 a.m. this morning and is "beat." There have been 24 presentations - practice, since they set up. Several other folks hand me off to various people until I arrive at the AV (audio Visual) room where I am told I am DEEPLY loved. I have no audio visual stuff so they get a 30 minute break. They need it. There is no air-conditioning here and it is HOT HOT HOT!!! My room is gorgeous....just the oldest wing of the school.

And lastly the story of the hawk...

Right off the bat stuff has been cool! I got to play with a hawk!! Hawks, the handler Oxford - Becky 3 said, are "Tribal animals." When they get used to human beings and learn to trust them, the human becomes part of their Tribe. More on that in a separate blog post, but here's a cool photo! Yes! I got to wear the glove and "catch" the hawk about a dozen times!!! FUN FUN FUN!!!

And in a follow up email she wrote...

I told Bruno at dinner that my TED experience was already complete - I got to play with the hawk! He said, "Yeah, talking tomorrow pales in comparison I'm sure!" Glad he has a sense of humor! I don't have room for ALL the stuff I did, but basically the locals here are really friendly and told me where to go to drink beer in the bar where Bill Clinton smoked pot, where to get the best photos of the boats on the river, where the best fish & chips are - (they were right)...all the fun stuff they don't cover in the tour books. And the bus drivers know my name! Talk about great customer service - these bus tour guys are awesome!

Becky Update

My TED talk is done. Parts went great, parts I forgot. I hope they can piece it together. As much as I practiced and memorized - it all flew out of my head halfway through. Thank God for notes. Actually, now that it's over, I think I've forgotten the whole morning. Not unusual. What shocked me so much about the experience was the kindness of strangers. So many smiling faces - so many people wanting me to do well. I hope I did. It was the hardest thing I've ever done - even harder than living in the van for a year. Too much to blog about, but it was intense. (emphasis mine.)

Dan Pink rearranged his schedule to be there in the front row cheering me on. He is amazing. Simply amazing. I walked over and shook his hand at the end of my was too emotional....I don't have the words to describe it. But something inside me changed. For the good! Lunch is in an hour. Amazing people. Amazing speakers. I can't believe I can't form complete sentences or function, but it is that powerful, and those are just the TED University folks.

I think I just want to go somewhere and cry. It's intense. So intense to be here. If you get a chance to go to TED - do it. You'll never regret it. And this is just the first day. wow.

Later that day ... Oxford - Becky 4

I must have done better than I thought. People came up to me all day and night, crying and hugging me. I spent almost an hour in the bathroom because as I was washing my hands women kept coming in the door and stopping to tell me their story and their feelings after hearing my talk. I'm stunned at how intensely people WANT to connect with other's experiences. A female doctor took a year sabatical to live on a boat and told me she got the same response. People saw her differently and treated her with hostility. When she moved off of the boat after a year, people went back to treating her like a doctor. It made her so angry. (emphasis mine.)

A woman who had been kidnapped and tortured, held hostage and raped for months - also identified with it. Non-Americans were more moved than Americans and identified more deeply. I've never been hugged and cried so much in my life. Everyone wanted a longer speech and more details. It was a great way to get stories. I asked what they liked best about the talk and wow! The floodgates opened! It was like getting my own personal TED experience hearing people's stories....just incredible!! What I saw as "forgetting my place," the audience saw as emotional, it worked I guess. Humbling. Totally humbling experience.

I remember about three faces on the front row. People tell me that there was a standing ovation, people crying etc. but I didn't hear a thing. I remember walking over and leaning off of the stage to shake Dan Pink's hand (he was in the front row) and then the moderator/host saying, "And that's what we call a "TED" moment." Apparently there were a lot of tears, but I remember a hug from the host and Dan.

Let the tribe be the tribe

Michaud - Afghan horsemen

Steven Pressfield points to Patrick Devenny who points to Charles Trower on how to  win the war in Afghanistan. The fact that Trower was a British cavalry officer in India over 150 years ago is a clue to why Pressfield's blog on the war in Afghanistan makes for excellent reading.

Intrigued by these two posts, I found Trower's book online and began to read it. The context for this book is the leadership of Afghan and Indian (including today's Pakistan) horse soldiers. The importance of this context is the recognition that the culture of mid-19th century England is not at all the same as Afghanistan then or now. My own experience with the Afghan people in the NWFP of Pakistan in 1981 tells me that little has changed since Trower's book was published in 1845.

Here is what Trower describes as the right kind of leader for what today we'd call a multi-cultural unit.

The selection of an European Officer to serve with Irregular Cavalry (re:non-British military), instead therefore, of being a mere matter of interest should be made with much circumspection. His standing in the Company's Army is of no importance so long as he possesses the requisite qualifications, which may thus be briefly enumerated. He should have a very considerable knowledge of Hindoostanee, more especially a colloquial knowledge, so as to be able to converse really fluently with those entrusted to him —not that bastard degree of acquirement contemplated by the Governor-General in G. O. of the 20th of April, 1844—he should be well versed in their customs, habits, and peculiar modes of thinking and feeling, which can alone be acquired by mixing much with natives. He should be a man of admirable temper, never hasty, firm, yet patient; for many things apparently trifling to our ideas, are of much importance in their estimation : and it is a great (although a frequent) mistake to judge of the conduct of natives by the standard which we have set up for our own. Physically he should be strong and of good constitution, of active habits of mind and body, and an excellent horseman. He should be one likely to excel in athletic exercises or feats of horsemanship; for, as with all demi-barbarians these physical advantages are held in high estimation by the class of men composing Irregular Cavalry, and the mixing with the men in their warlike sports creates affection, as the excelling them in their own line produces admiration. He should be of easy access, ever ready to hear each man's complaint. He should be a man of good nerves, and of a considerable spirit of enterprize ; generally intelligent and sensible ; for he is often placed in circumstances which call for the exercise of tact and great judgment.
(The emphasis in the quote is mine.)

Now consider this description of the qualities of leadership from a contemporary point of view. This kind of leader comes to his or her position recognizing that the people they lead are not necessarily from the same background or culture. Yet, for today's leaders to be effective, each of the qualities I emphasized in the paragraph above are needed. The basis for this leadership is the recognition that there are values that transcend cultures.

Pressfield quotes Devenny's reflection on Trower's philosophy of leadership. He describes this in two phrases "Let tribes be tribes" and "Work with tribalism, not against it." Devenny describes how this is done through three principles of Trower's.

Mujahideen camp - Chitral

1. Incentivize

Raising tribal forces is often confused with the purchase of mercenaries, part-time allies loyal only as long as the money lasts. Trower agreed: Simply lavishing gold on tribes was short-sighted. It was better to incentivize participation through a methodical, society-wide approach. This involved consultation with tribal leaders, targeted recruitment, the promotion of local elites, and a pay scale that rewarded good conduct and active participation.

2. Live and let live

The relationship forged through the incentive system led some British officers to believe they could Westernize Pashtun fighters. To Trower, this was arrogance of the worst sort. Pashtuns were fiercely independent, and any effort to treat them as "property" would be disastrous. Trower's colleagues were advised to ignore any impulse to "civilize" such units: "There is nothing as distasteful to the majority of natives as change of any kind, above all any change affecting their purse or prejudices."

3. Go native

Educated by years of living in the tribal areas of Pakistan and India, Trower argues that British officers should make every effort to blend in with their native recruits. This recommendation will ring familiar to American military advisors, particularly U.S. Special Forces. Officers attached to irregular groups should have "very considerable knowledge" of the native culture, and should rapidly learn their languages. I read or heard somewhere that the war in Afghanistan turned when the Allies deployed uniformed soldiers on the field. Prior to that combatants were dressed in civilian dress.

I find wide and specific application of these principles to business leadership.

If we approach employees as a tribal unit, we will recognize that they have a different focus and agenda than those who are in executive positions. They do not want to lose their jobs, or pay, but they also are not interested in making their job more than what it is.

Today, it is probably not necessary to "go native." Modern society with its universal education system has caused cultural differences to become fewer, and those that remain are more contentious and divisive. What Trower is telling us is that to be effective as leaders, we need to understand whom we are leading. And they need to understand that it matters to us. This is wise counsel that each of us should follow.

Tribes - by Seth Godin - A Leading Questions review

Twenty five years ago, I became fascinated with the field of leadership. Through the Tribes cover experiences I was having, I saw a set of principles and behaviors that are open to everyone. As I began to study and reflect on this phenomenon, I came to the realization that the prevailing notion of leadership was not what I saw it to be. Instead of it being a way for anyone to perform in the role that they have, it was a role that was limited to those at the top of the hierarchies of organizations. It was the triumph of the institution over the individual.

Since then, many fine books have been written about leadership that more accurately describes my first intuition about leading. Each in their own way pays obeisance to the institutional structures that essentially limit the advance of leadership in organizations. At least until now.

I've been reading Seth Godin's marketing books and blog for a long time. What he presents to me, a non-professional marketer, makes sense. I've sought to apply his ideas in my business, and will continue to do so with great benefit. Last year, Seth published a book that marks a shift in the presentation of his ideas. While his other books are certainly books that leaders can benefit from reading, his latest, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, is his first book that is truly a leadership book.

Let me say upfront that this is the first leadership book in twenty five years of reading them that accurately describes what I see leadership being. From my vantage point, it is the best book on leadership written this century. I'm not waxing hyperbolic. I'm serious in believing that this could be the most important book on leadership you'll read throughout the rest of your professional career. It is so because how you function in your role, wherever you are, can be transformed by applying the lessons Seth offers in his book. Listen to what he has to say.

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate."

"Tribes are about faith – about belief in an idea and in a community. And they are grounded in respect and admiration for the leader of the tribe and for the other members as well.

Do you believe in what you do?  Every day? It turns out that belief happens to be a brilliant strategy.”

“… it only takes two things to turn a group of people into a tribe:
·         A shared interest
·         A way to communicate
The communication can be one of four kinds:
·         Leader to tribe
·         Tribe to leader
·         Tribe member to tribe member
·         Tribe member to outsider
So a leader can help increase the effectiveness of the tribe and its members by
·         Transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change;
·         Providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and
·         Leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members.”

Can you see how this philosophy of leadership can be applied to every job that exists?

Okay, here's the hidden truth about leadership embedded in Seth's book. Leadership is about who we are as people and how we want to live. It isn't primarily about the role that we are to play within an organizational structure. It is about the person we want to be and the legacy we want to leave when our time is over. Listen to what Seth gives as the Elements of Leadership.

"Leaders challenge the status quo.
        Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
        Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they're trying to change.
        Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
        Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
        Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
        Leaders connect their followers to one another.
...  If you consider the leaders in your organization or community, you'll see that every one of them uses some combination of these seven elements. You don't have to be in charge or powerful or pretty or connected to be a leader. You do have to be committed."

Leadership is first and foremost about the person we are in relationship with others. It is secondarily the mechanics of leading within organizational structures.

The greatest hurdle every organizational leader has to cross is convincing the rest of the people in the organization to lead. The second hurdle that is parallel in importance is how to create an organizational structure that allows leadership to grow and spread.

Until now, the leadership literature has been an obstacle to fostering a culture of leadership in organizations. Wise CEO's will put this book into the hands of every single employee and tell them go lead. They will fund training that is focused on developing leadership in the lower half of their organizational hierarchy. They will challenge the status quo by turning their business into a leadership machine. CEO's can do it, but it requires them to first absorb Seth's philosophy of leadership into their own personal leadership DNA.

Ten years ago, after 15 years of "studying" leadership, while on horseback in the mountains of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I heard a voice tell me, "It is time to stop talking about leadership, and lead." The opportunities to lead have been many since then.  I wish I would have had Seth's book ten years ago. It would have been helpful as I began to learn to lead as a whole person, not simply as an idea monger.

The same can happen to you. All it takes is a commitment to build a following around an idea that matters, and the willingness to let people lead from their own passionate commitment to the idea that you share.

Go ahead. Stop thinking about it. Lead. We'll follow.

After I wrote the above, Seth's TED talk on Tribes was released. Here it is.

It's now your turn.

Quick Takes: How to be a tribal leader

Ed Welch at Tribe Building: Applying Modern Tribal Behavior to Business, Blogging & More.
writes an interesting post at the conclusion of a month long Triiibes blog project. Here's a summary of what he wrote.

It's not as hard as you think to be a leader. Here are my thoughts on what it takes to be a leader, based on my experience with this project.

1. Talk a lot.

2. Create a home for your tribe. 

3. Listen, then take decisive action.

4. Delegate.

5. Have fun!

Leading a tribe is not the same thing as leading an organization. A tribe is full of volunteers (free agents) who follow their passion into their tribal commitments. An organization can be a tribe.But you have to lead them there.

Read the whole post.