tribal leader

Tribal Leader, Movement Leader, Thought Leader? Which Are You?

Do you consider yourself a leader? Do people follow you? Even if it is a small group? Have you ever considered whether you might be a

  • Tribal Leader
  • Movement Leader or a
  • Thought Leader?

Is there a difference and why would it matter which type you are? I think it’s important to consider what type of leader you are so that you can be more effective in your own style of leadership. Let’s look at what each one entails. Keep in mind a couple of these definitions are mine. So this isn’t written in stone.

Tribal Leader

Seth Godin who wrote the book Tribes, defined a tribe this way

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” ― Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

So a tribal leader is someone who has a shared interest with a group that they’ve gathered. And they have an active way of communicating back and forth with this group. Members of the tribe also have ways of communicating with each other and with their leader.

Movement Leader

tribal leader

A Movement Leader would be someone who is creating a shift in thinking in order to create change. A Tribal Leader could be a Movement Leader if the shared interest with their community is about facilitating some kind of change.

President Trump is a great example of a Movement Leader. He frequently says it’s not about him; it’s about the movement. He has continued to operate as a Movement Leader and not just a President of the United States.

This is one thing that distinguishes his presidency, besides his “get it done” and “keep campaign promises” philosophy. Then, again, even his follow-through is an outgrowth of having built a relationship of trust with his tribe. He wants to maintain that trust by following through on promises.

I think it would be difficult for an effective Movement Leader to not also be a Tribal Leader. Effective Movement Leaders have two-way communication with their followers. You also see sporadic groups popup for tribal members to communicate with each other. For example, there are several “Women for Trump” Facebook groups you can join.

Because he considers himself a movement leader, President Trump continues to conduct rallies long after he’s won the election. He still wants to be among the people and listening to them. This is also why he conducts meetings where he listens to educators, police chiefs, business people, etc. and incorporates their feedback into his policies.

Thought Leader

Tony Kershaw wrote in his article, “The 5 I’s of Thought Leadership:”

“To me, thought leadership is the process of combining your professional and personal experiences to explain a big idea. The process should influence how people perceive the world they live in and should help them re-imagine it from a different point of view. Thought leadership connects seemingly disparate ideas together and inspires new ways of thinking and behaving.”

“To become a thought leader, you must build a reputable brand around your ideas. The difference between regular leaders and thought leaders is that thought leaders have a large following while their regular counterparts don’t.”

A Thought Leader is someone who teaches, informs and educates around a concept or idea. Thought Leaders have lots of people reading their books, following their work, and listening to them. But they don’t necessarily create a community or two-way communication between themselves and the people who follow them. They don’t necessarily facilitate ways for their followers to communicate with each other either. If they do, then we’re back to Tribal Leader. 🙂


The average leader is not a Thought, Movement or Tribal Leader. To be a Thought Leader you need scale. You need lots of people following you. But leaders show up in all aspects of our lives. Parents are leaders. Teachers are leaders. My husband who is a School Resource Officer is a leader and mentor for youth. Never under-estimate the impact you can have on the lives you touch.

Do you consider yourself a leader? Which type are you? And are you happy with that type or would you like to morph into another?

About Marnie Pehrson

Marnie Pehrson is a best-selling author and marketing and social media consultant specializing in digital content creation and Facebook Ad Management. Get a FREE 20-minute strategy session with Marnie here.

Posted in Light Bearers, Tribe Building.


  1. Hey Marnie. Great post! I’ve been all three in my life. I’ve trained organizations to create small community leaders in their industry. In the entrepreneur world I’ve created small groups called masterminds. Having a tribe is so much fun for me, and is also very lucrative when you’re in business. Today, I’m primarily a Tribal leader. I speak in churches, and all faith-based organizations, on the subject of creating small groups and loving people to Christ. I also absolutely love it.

    • Thanks for chiming in Kellie! So I’m curious if you think a Movement Leader could be of a small group – like a mastermind? You’re creating movement for those people – right? So it doesn’t necessarily have to have the larger scale associated with a Thought Leader.

  2. To start a movement….look for the first follower.
    I believe that leadership is actually over glorified. Its the followers who create the movement. As my friend Derek Sivers taught me;
    1. You must be easy to follow and make it about the movement, not about you.
    2. It takes the first follower who calls to his friends to join him, so someone must be the first follower. A movement is public and the followers follow the first follower. As more people jump in, they won’t stand out or be ridiculed.
    3. Eventually those who don’t join in will be asked why they’re not joining in. Hence, a movement is born.

  3. Before I read the article, I thought I was a movement leader. I am out to start a movement to support chronic illness sufferers, but I am also one and I certainly don’t have a tribe following. I have been passionate about starting a movement bringing effective and grace-filled communication back, but mostly I educate.

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