Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work – Piyush Patel

Piyush Patel is the founder of Digital-Tutors and a seasoned entrepreneur who’s built a career out of providing training and guidance through digital animations. After starting out with just $54, Patel built a multi-million-dollar business that worked with clients like LucasArts, Pixar, Electronic Arts, Blizzard and Disney.

His visual background shines through in this book, because it’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing business books I’ve ever come across. There aren’t too many charts or diagrams because there isn’t a need for them, but things like pull-out quotes and the orange chapter headers look so good that you could take them out of the book and hang them on your wall.

The idea behind this book is to help people to rediscover the passion that they once had when they started out. When most of us enter the workforce, we do so hoping to make a difference to the world around us. Sometimes, along the way, we lose that passion and end up just carrying out “business as usual”. Sometimes we don’t even realise it.

In Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, Patel helps us to rediscover that lost passion, but he also helps us to bring out that passion in others. “As a business owner, you have more power to create change in people’s lives than you realise,” he explains. “You can make money and make a difference.”  (Check out the latest price on Amazon HEREOpens in a new tab.)

Let’s find out how Patel suggests going about that.

Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work – An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating a Culture That Matters

Patel starts his book by telling the story of how he discovered that he’d lost his passion, ending up “trapped in a prison of [his] own making.” His wake up call was when he was in a meeting and he started to think about a simple question: “What are your core values?” He realised that his company didn’t have any, and that was at the heart of the problem. “Once you find your genuine, bedrock beliefs,” Patel explains, “you can transform your culture from daily survival into a thriving culture. Values aren’t something you declare; they’re something you live.”

For Patel, putting his company values down on paper was the easy part. The hard part was identifying a goal to work towards. “We want to belong to something greater than ourselves,” Patel says. At the same time, though, companies need to look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to identify where they can best meet their employees’ needs. Every company provides financial security, and food and shelter are more freely available than they have been historically.

With physical needs and safety and security – the bottom two tiers of the pyramid – taken care of, that leaves three more tiers:

1. Belonging: “We’re hardwired to belong to groups. We want to belong to a tribe, something greater than ourselves. We want to identify with the people with whom we spend most of our day.”

2. Affirmation: “We want to be individually recognised and appreciated in a way that means something to us. We desire something that strikes a chord deep inside us…not a gift card that reads, ‘Thank you, [write name here]!’”

3. Meaning: “We want to know that what we do makes a difference. [At Digital-Tutors], we showed artists around the world how to channel their passion into something that could put food on the table, give them a career, and put them on a path to greater success. That’s the mission we infused into our culture.”


These three key tiers are what the next three chapters are dedicated to, starting with the sense of belonging. Patel points out that at this very moment, millions of people around the world are at a sporting event. “If a sports team can provide this for people who may never have the chance to participate in the game,” Patel says, “imagine how powerful it is to offer a sense of belonging to your tribe – your company’s players who are physically in the game.”

As for affirmation, Patel suggests that simply giving people more money is an ineffective way of fostering a sense of belonging. Instead, he talks about how he came up with the idea of “raise dinners”. He explains, “Instead of giving a raise every year, I waited a year-and-a-half or even two years to give someone a raise. While $5,000 is a nice raise, getting $10,000 or $15,000 carries a much bigger punch. Instead of having them come into the conference room, Lisa and I would take them and their significant other out for a very nice dinner.”

And then there’s meaning, which is becoming more and more important in our modern world, with millennials in particular increasingly looking for work that feels as though it has some deeper meaning. “Don’t look at your company just for what it does,” Patel explains. “Sure, if you’re a pharmaceuticals company, it’s easy to find meaning in what you do: you save lives. But what if you lay flooring? What if you manufacture plastic bottles? What if you own a string of car washes? Meaning goes deeper than just what you do. Meaning goes down into the heart of why you do it.”

Patel suggests that it’s your responsibility as a business owner to create daily BAM. He did this at his company by giving everyone a pack of Post-It notes which were colour coordinated by teams. “Every morning,” he says, “each team of five to eight people would take a few minutes to jot down three things that made them happy in the last twenty-four hours (or whenever they’d last been at work). Two had to be work-related; the third hard to be personal. Each person would read them out loud. [They] provided daily affirmation. Every day, each person would self-affirm exactly what they wanted affirmed.”

Play by Your Own Rules

Once he had the basics in place, Patel thought that he’d finally figured out how to “play the game”. Then he realised that he was still a newcomer, and that he was just doing what felt right at the time or what he saw other successful entrepreneurs doing. The problem with that is that he was playing by someone else’s rules when he could instead create his own rulebook.

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing, and he illustrates this with an interesting story about a new product launch that misfired and caused a whole heap of internal problems. One of the main problems was that the company’s focus shifted away from what made it unique in the first place – its BAM methodology. Instead of putting his employees first, Patel was focussing too heavily on the product.

“A few hundred years ago,” Patel says, “the factories of the Industrial Age were massive. The start-up capital alone kept production in the hands of the uber-rich. Who could afford to buy the enormous machines to run an assembly line but huge corporations? Those days are long past. In today’s economy, your most important assets get up and go home every night. Every morning, your product lines reassemble themselves to start churning out widgets (real or intangible) for your customers. Some days, some parts and pieces of the production line don’t show up. Some days, those assets even get up, walk out, go down the street, and walk into the doors of one of your competitors.”

Getting back to values

Next up, Patel takes us back to the subject of values, explaining, “When taking on a new coaching client, a red flag goes off in my head when they say, ‘Okay, these are what I want my core values to be.’ They’ve lost the game before it’s even begun. Values are not something you decide or declare; they’re something you discover.” In many cases, it’s the employees themselves who are at the root of your values.

To help you to identify your values, Patel also provides a useful little thought experiment. “You’re already living your values,” he says, “and by extension they should already be a part of what you’re doing in your company, even if you haven’t taken the time to write down how your values are impacting your company. There’s power in making conscious decisions around them so you can clarify the expectations with your tribe.”

To get started, he suggests completing two short tasks:

1. On a sheet of paper, write down some of the events or activities you do at your company.

2. Next to each event, write down the value that event or activity embodies next to it and why you think it embodies that value.

He also points out that not all events or activities are positively associated with your values. For example, if your values revolve around keeping overheads as low as possible but you’re spending huge amounts of money sponsoring the boss’s son’s football team, it suggests that there’s a potential misalignment.

Hiring, Onboarding and Firing

One of the major advantages of getting your values right and creating a workplace that people love is that it helps you to attract the right people. Patel says that he’s never had a plan for finding new hires, explaining, “That might be because I never had a problem finding great people. Our company – our tribe – just seemed to attract them.” The good news is that he does still share a few tips and tricks to help you to get started.

After hiring comes the onboarding process, which Patel compares to being lost in an airport in an unfamiliar city. Companies can combat this by going out of their way to make new members feel as though they already belong. At Digital-Tutors, they started to mail new hires a black box with all of their HR forms, along with a small book about the company and a branded t-shirt. “What we found people loved most was the bright orange picture frame we’d included,” Patel says. “We attached a printed note to it that encouraged you to put a picture of your family or friends in it, then bring it to work when you started. That way, your desk would be personalised from day one.”

But all of the onboarding in the world won’t stop you from occasionally having to let someone go. Patel gives the example of a former employee of his who was guilty of subtle racism. When confronted, the employee tried to pass it off as harmless fun, but Patel was having none of it. “His black co-worker didn’t think it was funny, his other co-workers didn’t think it was funny, and I definitely didn’t think it was funny,” he says. “I cannot and will not allow any member of my tribe to be belittled, mocked, or the object of someone else’s prejudices. In a short span of time, he was no longer working at DT.”

There’s plenty more for you to learn here, but we’d be here all day and honestly, Patel’s writing is succinct and to the point with no extra fluff. If we were to summarise everything that he has to teach us, it would be longer than the book is. And if that’s the case, you might as well go ahead and pick up the book.

Still, we hope we’ve given you plenty of food for thought and that this has helped to whet your appetite. If you can get a hold of a copy then it’s definitely worth a read. It’s also less than 200 pages long, so if you’re quick then you can blaze through it in a day or so. It’s even available as an audio bookOpens in a new tab., read by the author. (Check out the latest price on Amazon HEREOpens in a new tab.)

But even if you don’t get a chance to read it, you’ll be kept busy enough just putting what you’ve learned today in action. Get started by drafting a list of actions and be sure to hold yourself accountable for accomplishing them. You’ll be falling in love with your work again in no time. Good luck.

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