The Real, and Only, Problem with Rhode Island's Economy

by Jeffrey S. Deckman 23. August 2011 10:42

The real, and only, problem with Rhode Island is that the dominant political culture of leadership that has pervaded the state since Roger Williams left his lively experiment is primitive.


Contrary to what many may think our problem is not the power of the Democrats and the public sector unions or the lack of power of the Republicans or even “apathetic” voters. In fact those are merely symptoms of a deeper rooted problem because none of that would matter if the predominant level of consciousness of our leaders was higher. 

Roger Williams left us with it and we lost it.

There is a ground breaking book called Tribal Leadership that just happens to define what is ailing Rhode Island. This best seller, authored by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, is the result of a ten year field study of more than 24,000 people in two dozen organizations. 

The essence of their findings are that there are 5 Stages of Tribes and Tribal Leaders and that there exists a correlation between the culture of tribes and the individuals who lead them. For instance, if the leadership consciousness is high the tribe advances and prospers. However, if the leadership consciousness is low it is only a matter of time before calamity ensues or a collapse occurs. 

The following is how they describe the 5 stages: 

Stage One cultures have “the mind set that creates street gangs and people who show up to work with shotguns. If people at Stage One had T-Shirts they would read ‘Life Sucks’”. People at this stage are despairingly hostile and band together to get ahead in what they view as a violent and unfair world. 

Stage Two people believe “My life sucks”. While this is an upgrade people in this stage are passively antagonistic, feel oppressed and lack passion. They are sarcastic and resigned because “they have seen it all before and nothing ever changes.” 

The Stage Three dominant theme is: “I’m great and you’re not.” Still another upgrade but very problematic because it is ego driven with leaders who seek great individual successes while taking care of “friends” at the expense of other tribe members. 

Stage 4 cultures speak the language of “We are great.” This culture is very focused on helping everyone around them to improve and fosters cultural “stewardship”. Stage 4 leaders strengthen bonds and compete only with other tribes. The chasm between Stage 3 and Stage 4 cultures is enourmous! 

And Stage 5 culture’s T-Shirts would read “Life is Great!”  Their language revolves around infinite potential and they focus upon making history not enemies. They are in competition only with what is possible as opposed to battling other people or tribes. Roger Williams was a Stage 5 leader.

Another interesting dynamic the authors discovered was that since Stage 3 leaders are self centered they tend to create alienated and resigned Stage 2 tribes. They also learned that 76% of the cultures they studied were stuck in Stage 3 or below.

But they also make it clear that it doesn’t have to be that way and give many examples of former Stage 3 leaders having transformational epiphanies that led them to realize how much more they could achieve for themselves and their tribes by elevating to a Stage 4 consciousness.

Perhaps the best example involves one of the most powerful and intimidating union leaders of our time: Bob Tobias. 

In 1970, when Nixon was president, Tobias was a self assessed bad ass who was “living in the wild world of Stage 3 and loving it.” He made history when, as general counsel of the National Treasury Employee Union, he won a staggering $533-million US Supreme court case against Nixon for freezing federal employee pay. In Tobias words: “It was an ego hit of the highest order.” After that success he spent the next 13 as a highly aggressive and domineering force until becoming union president in 1983.

It was then that his Stage 4 epiphany came. The authors note that these epiphanies normally involve realizations such as: Stage 3 has no legacy; I now see I have been a manipulator, not a leader; to win at Stage 3 is to win small and I see myself through others’ eyes and I don’t like what I see.

In Tobias’ words, “Once I got it, I got it, and then I was relentless.” From that point on Tobias began collaborating. He both embraced and espoused a vision of how much more could be gained through cooperation and by working with opponents as opposed to trying to destroy them. He then drove this new thinking deep into his tribe and changed the way local union bosses negotiated. While still an incredibly formidable opponent Tobias built a negotiating culture that focused upon creating new possibilities and visions as opposed to punishing opponents while satisfying egotistical and short sighted desires.

Tobias’ transformation, while impressive, represents what happens to anyone who chooses to rise above the primitive level of being a Stage 3 ruler to become a true leader at Stage 4. 

So, if that can happen to one as rabidly Stage 3 as Tobias surely it can happen to any other political or union leader who chooses to truly serve their Rhode Island tribe by raising their leadership consciousness to the next level.

For our sake, and out of respect for Roger Williams, I hope they do it soon.


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