More than half of Americans say the 2016 election is a major source of stress.
- American Psychological Association 10/13/16
Much of the stress associated with the Presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can be attributed to how two different types of groups — teams and tribes — have run-amok. In fact, much of employee disengagement in business, church defections from denominations and institutional distrust emanates from dysfunction within tribal and team-oriented groups and their leaders.
Leadership guru and former Navy Seal team-leader Clint Bruce describes four levels of group organizations: gaggle — no identity or order; group — some identity but minimal commitment or orchestrated effort; team — highly committed and orchestrated effort to accomplish a shared goal; tribe — very loyal and committed to shared value(s)/identity. The differences between these two highest group-forms, teams and tribes, help explain the chaos in today’s politics.
Teams are designed for performance — working together to do whatever it takes to accomplish a worthy goal. Teams become dysfunctional when their focus on accomplishing or winning causes them to abandon their values, ethics and loyalty. Wells Fargo’s selling of phony accounts and NBA superstar Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for Golden State stand out as examples where winning trumped ethics or loyalty.
By contrast, tribes place commitment to values, beliefs and loyalty above everything else including winning. Tribes become dysfunctional when their commitment to rigid, uncompromising beliefs feed never-ending conflict and warfare. In some strong tribal cultures — gangs, mafia, ISIS — loyalty is so sacred, that members are prevented from leaving.
Team or tribe — we are hard-wired for groups. They offer belonging, safety and help to accomplish big things we could not do alone. Our migration from local tribes into nation states and global unions is by historical standards recent. But lately in the 21st century there is evidence of a retreat from economic unions and nation states to more tribal groups: Brexit from the EU, the rise of ISIS and domestically the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter. Even Millennials with their strong beliefs about work-life are seen as an emergent tribal presence by some.
Most groups have elements of both team and tribe. Great leaders — think President Abraham Lincoln — and high-performing groups combine the best elements of both.
Leaders: Trump and Clinton Hired to Do Different Jobs
We all join or “hire” (Clay Christensen) — teams and tribes to have very specific jobs done: perform a task, express an emotion, reflect a certain identity. Just as car buyers hire a Prius to provide substance and image for environmentally-friendly transportation — voters hire political parties and their leaders for a specific purpose. So, what has Donald Trump been hired by to do and how is that different from Hillary Clinton?
It appears Donald Trump has been hired mostly by angry Republican voters to boldly and bluntly express their desire for change regarding such issues as immigration, loss of blue-collar jobs, healthcare and the “rigged system” that favors the culturally elite and politically correct in Washington D.C. His followers could have chosen Ted Cruz the staunch ideologue or Carly Fiorina a business executive outsider. But over 14 million voted for an in-your-face, self-promoting pugilist — a tribal leader who has called people ugly names, demeaned whole groups and made venting his tribe’s frustration a priority over everything else — including winning the election.
Tribal leaders get hired to protect and galvanize group identity and beliefs — and to punish those who would attempt to dilute them. Absent enemies, they may manufacture them in order to ignite the passion of tribe members. Donald Trump’s attack on Senator John McCain and Speaker Paul Ryan are examples of tribal leadership attacking and punishing “disloyal” internal adversaries. While leaders of teams retain their position by winning, leaders of tribes keep theirs by keeping the group pure, intact and waging valiant battles against their enemies, even if it costs them the war. The exodus of churches from “permissive” mainline denominations is often a tribal movement. At their worst, tribal leaders stand for conflict, exclusion and separated purity.
Hillary Clinton has been hired to do a different job. No matter what it took, what she had to say or hide, or how contorted her answers became — she had one job only — to win. If she had to tack left to accommodate Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and change positions on Obama’s trade agreement and repudiate Wall Street club that paid her millions, no problem. She did not need to stand for anything more than becoming president. Her followers could have chosen Bernie Sanders, a forthright progressive, even socialistic tribal-styled leader. In Hillary, they chose a “team-focused” leader — abetted by party leaders willing to place a hand-on-the-scales as needed — who personally impassioned few, but attracted many who wanted to win.
Leaders of teams are hired to enable diverse members to win. It is all about results. At their worst, these leaders stand for winning over everything — ethics, beliefs, loyalty — thus philosophically standing for nothing. Just as Wall Street and big business are often accused of profits without regard to ethics and values — large donations to the Clinton Foundation from highly suspect foreign governments, including $12 million from the King of Morocco, reinforce soulless winning.
The Media Joins a Tribe
The media, once seen as an impartial, have loudly, sometimes stealthily — joined a tribe. This new brand of political media has been hired as “dealer” of news to drama-addicted viewers. Surely, talk radio and cable news — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Rachael Maddow, Chris Matthews — have monetized tribal conflict into power and profit. But the Media Research Center reports that the three major networks ABC, CBS and NBC made 623 (91 percent) negative statements about Trump versus 63 (9 percent) percent about Clinton in the 12 weeks since the political conventions — amid numerous sexual and pay-for-play revelations about the candidates. That’s what you get from a headline-seeking, right-leaning, reality-show tribal leader and a drama-selling, left-leaning, tribal press.
There is a lesson for all of us in this. Teams and tribes are our most valuable and highest form of group. But, when we as members become singularly obsessed with winning or our own “rightness,” our groups become dysfunctional and everybody loses.