Tribal Leadership with Lian Li

28 March, 2023

Lian Li, developer advocate at Loft Labs, discusses her passion for the book Tribal Leadership with DevRel Book Club regular presenter Ramón Huidobro and guest host Kristof Van Tomme.

Thank you to Common Room for sponsoring this episode!

See the video on YouTube.

About the book

Tribes are naturally occurring groups of people that make up every company or organisation. This month’s book for the DevRel Book Club, ‘Tribal Leadership’, teaches managers to harness the power behind identifying and developing those tribes. It shows leaders how to evaluate and improve their tribes’ cultures with the intent of developing a loyal, productive, and innovative team that can weather troubles of various kinds. 

Authors Dave, John, and Halee, draw on their work together at management consulting firm CultureSync, which specialises in strategy, cultural design, and high performance. Over 300 pages, they set out the idea of a five-stage system through which a workforce can be guided, leading to self-improvement and focusing on the unique characteristics of each tribe to achieve better control of an organisation.

Lian reflects on her experiences of working with people in all five stages described in the book, touching on the importance of language choice when encouraging a team through each of the stages. For Lian, the book’s advice was mind-opening advice, changing her life both on a personal and professional level.

Show notes

  1. Communities are different and made up of people with varying mindsets (03:20)
  2. Five stages of culture within a team or leadership group (04:50)
  3. Language creates reality, which can change mindset and move a person to the next stage (08:56)
  4. A tribal leader must speak the language of all the tribes (12:57)
  5. The importance of understanding what people’s pain is (13:40)
  6. Trust the process (20:31)
  7. Sense of abundance significant when reaching the higher stages (21:35)
  8. Crucial to coach speakers well at events (26:18)
  9. How do we get the DevRel community to advance? (30:05)
  10. Mutual transformation when helping someone else (35:05)
  11. Focus on others and the space created for them (38:40)
  12. Diversity of perspective necessary to achieve a higher stage (40:58)



Ramón: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the DevRel Book Club. I’m Ramón and I’m joined today by a very special co-host, Kristof. Hello. How are you?

Kristof: Very good. I’m really excited to be here, Ramón. It’s something we’ve talked a long time about, and finally it’s happening. So really, really happy to be here.

Ramón: I’m super happy too. This is a conversation I’ve been really excited about. And before we bring in our guest and tell you what book we’ll be reading about today, I just want to give a quick thank you to our sponsor, Common Room. Go to common – that’s one word, common – to check them out. Without further ado, let me bring in our guest Lian Li. Hey, Lian, how are you?

Lian: Hey! I’m doing very well, thank you. How are you guys?

Ramón: All fine here. Thank you so much.

Kristof: Likewise. So we’re really happy to have you come and talk about this book and we’re really excited that somebody else also got so excited about this book, because it’s been an inspiration for a very long time. So I’m curious to hear what your key takeaways are and where you’ve been applying it? Very much looking forward to it.

Ramón: Well, let’s not beat around the bush here. Lian, why don’t you tell us, please, a little bit about yourself and what book you’ve brought for us today?

Lian: Excited to do that. So, my name is Lian Li, and I am currently a Developer Advocate, as I think most people are who will be tuning into this. I work for a company named Loft Labs. We are building developer tooling for Kubernetes. And I have brought the book, I don’t have it with me because I only have a digital version. It’s called ‘Tribal Leadership’ by Dave Logan and other people, I don’t actually know who they are (!), but I’m sure we’ll find that out later. I was first introduced to this book when I was working as a consultant, also doing cloud native transformation stuff, maybe five years ago or something. The book completely changed my life and my outlook on a lot of things, both professionally and also in my private life. So yeah, it’s one of my favourite books.

Ramón: That’s wonderful. Thank you. Since this is a special occasion where Kristof, you’ll be helping me co-host, and you were also super excited about this book, I’d also love to hear from you. How you came across this book and how it’s affected you.

Kristof: I found this book many years ago and it became a really big influence both on how I work with groups of people, with the teams that I work with day-to-day, with customers, and also how I express some of the things that go wrong. Before, I would say: ‘yeah, this doesn’t feel right’ and now I have words for it and that was really useful. But also, and this is probably related to DevRel, I think what is really, really important is how it helps to express how communities can be different. And that is, I think, a really huge one because we are community builders and doing so in a healthy way that’s great space for more people to feel like they belong, and that they can feel good. I think it’s really important and this book gives a language for expressing that. So yeah, that is why I’m so excited about it.

Ramón: So, for folks who haven’t read this book yet and are keen on doing so, the big – correct me if I’m wrong – the big chunk of what this book is trying to tell us is that there are five big stages of culture, and this is within a team or a leadership group. But, as you hinted yourself, this is also applicable to community, which kind of blew my mind coming into this conversation. Lian, could you tell us a little bit about what those five stages are and a little bit about them?

Lian: Yeah, sure. This is one of the great things about the book. I think, just to add onto what Kristof was saying earlier, it gives us language to use when talking about the specific cultural stage that these groups are in. And it also – and that’s what changed things for me, especially as a consultant – it gives us a way to move people along those stages and to change things for them, and for the better. They’re basically five stages, they don’t really have names, but the stages are defined by kind of the atmosphere, the vibe, the kind of main way that people feel, I would say. The first stage would be people whose outlook on life is just that life sucks and it’s that life in general is just terrible.

I would rather not engage with this because it just completely sucks. Stage one, it’s a fairly small group of the population and it’s mostly pretty extreme circumstances. The example that they’ve given in the book is for example, people who are imprisoned. They don’t see any kind of way to escape the situation that they’re in. The next stage, stage number two is dominated by the thought of ‘my life sucks’. So it’s slightly different as their life might suck, but they can see that the lives of other people don’t suck. So there’s a slight difference as they see there is another kind of life, it’s just not theirs. And I think that is quite a bigger portion of the population. You see it a lot in people in dead-end jobs, especially people who hate their jobs, who can see that their bosses have great lives, but it’s just that their own lives are not what they would want it to be.

Then the third stage, that’s probably the biggest group of people – this is dominated by the thought ‘I am great’. ‘I am great and you are not’, this kind of implies. SoI’m sure you know, these people are very proud about what they have achieved and accomplished. While they brag about their own achievements, they might be putting down other people a little bit – sometimes intentional, sometimes not. It’s just the mindset that is in the foreground. The next stage, the fourth stage, is kind of where the authors are trying to us to get us to. That stage is the ‘we are great’ stage and again, this sort of implies that everyone else isn’t. So this is kind of like the third stage, but in a wider context where it’s not just about me, ‘it’s about my group and my tribe, and we are awesome’.

‘We’re much better than this other company or this other country’ or whatever, which is a step up. But you know, there’s still a fifth stage, which is that ‘life is great’. So we’re coming full circle to the first stage again, where all life is horrible, but in stage five, all life is great. So the group that I’m in is not just my own tribe, it is the whole of humanity. Examples of these groups given in the book are social justice movements maybe, or the group that brought us to the moon, you know, where they represent the goal of moving humanity along and there is no real adversary. So yeah, that’s the quick runthrough of the five stages. Kristoff, do you have anything to add?

Kristof: I also loved these stages. They’re really interesting. But what I also loved was that they were saying that people can be different in different stages, depending on the context that they’re in. So they might be in one place and they’re behaving like someone whose life sucks, and then they go to another place and they become somebody else. And that was really, really interesting because that shows that the context in which people are living influences them and can have a really big impact on how they’re experiencing things. And then the other part was that it’s all about language. It’s about the language that we’re using in those contexts and how that changes and affects us, and that’s fascinating.

Lian: Yeah, absolutely. Language really shapes our reality. And I think that is one of the key takeaways from the book. How do you change the language that you use to describe your daily life? How do you talk to other people? That can already change the mindset a little and move you to the next stage. My former boss always used to say: ‘if you put an onion in a pickle jar, the onion gets pickled. And it’s not that all the other pickled onions get unpickled.’ I’m generally maybe a stage three person, but if I go into a situation where all the people are stage two around me, then that will slowly suck me into the stage two mindset.

I’m sure you’ve also experienced something similar, right? When you go into a group of people who just have no hope. Especially when I was a consultant, there were so many… obviously as a consultant, you go into dysfunctional teams most of the time. There’s this vibe of: ‘oh, it doesn’t matter if we change anything. You’re like the 50th consultant who’s come through here trying to change stuff. And I mean we’ll play along, but in the end, you know, all the plans that we make that just get shelved’ That just really drags you down. It’s really difficult to maintain a stage three or stage four mindset if you are with this group of people for a long, long time.

Kristof: The other thing is that if you’re a leader in a group or a consultant, you are carrying a giant responsibility because of the language that you’re using with those people. If you go in, this is typically what often happens with consultants, knowing all the answers. ‘I’m just going to tell you now what you’re doing wrong’. And basically what you’re doing is ‘I’m great, but all of you are not’. And you’re basically perpetuating that situation.

Lian: Yeah. I was consulting for a German company for some time. My approach personally is to be more of a listener, to be more curious, to always listen more than I say. And interestingly, some of the people there, they just couldn’t deal with that. They needed me as a consultant to come in and tell them: ‘this is how you do things, right’. They expected that. I was asking so many questions that it led some of them to doubt themselves. ‘Maybe I just don’t know anything, maybe I’m just not very good at what I do and that’s why she’s asking so many questions’. So yeah, that’s very interesting. And I had to have this conversation with these people. ‘Listen, I just wanna know how this thing works for you so I can make the best recommendations based on what you’re doing right now. I’m not going to come in and just change everything’. But that’s kind of what they expected. They wanted this kind of expert leader to rally around. They didn’t really want to do that themselves. They didn’t want to become stage three themselves. They wanted a stage three leader to tell them what to do.

Ramón: That’s really interesting. When you mentioned that you sort of adapt, you’re at different stages depending on the context coupled with, for example, if you’re doing something like consulting, you are diving into teams at different stages, I hadn’t realised how important it is to have that language to navigate it. And I’m curious to hear something. In a line of work where core skills are one of the cornerstones of what we do, like developer relations, how has reading this book affected your outlook in working in this field?

Lian: One thing in the book that’s highlighted a lot of times is that if you are a tribal leader, you don’t just speak the language of the tribe you’re in, you speak the language of all the tribes. You need to. And that’s also why you can’t jump from stage one to stage four. You have to go through all the stages. You have to own all the stages because you need to be able to really understand and have the confidence of that prior stage. And then once you feel like: ‘I’ve got this down, I own it now’, then you are kind of ready to move onto the next one. I think this is something that we can talk more about in depth later. I’ve noticed with different communities that I interact with as a developer advocate, that it’s really important to understand what people’s pain is.

In the end, you’re trying to help them and you have to be very careful not to be dismissive of their problem. A lot of people, they are kind of scared to tell you about a setup that they’re not proud of: ‘Oh, I know we shouldn’t be doing it like this’, so they’re just going to sugarcoat it or something. So you need to be able to build that trust and show them: ‘I understand what you’re saying, I’ve been through that, it’s not your fault’. It’s a lot of things that come together that kind of keep people in this stage or in this mindset. So that’s something that really kind of helps me understand why it’s so important to speak that particular language, even though sometimes it’s really uncomfortable. I don’t want to go back to the times when I felt like a stage two or stage one even. Now with the book, I feel like I know there’s a way out. There are techniques and tools to get out of there. So it’s only temporary. You only temporarily have to go into stage two.

Kristof: I don’t know if you’ve also experienced this, I need to go back to the book because I read it a long time ago, but I’ve been in places where I’m talking to someone and I’m talking from the ‘we’re great’ kind of position, but they’re totally not there. They’re, you know, ‘my life sucks’ and then they actually get upset with you. They get really, really angry when you’re trying to say: ‘Come on, you know, pull out, we’re gonna be okay’. It’s like: ‘No, it’s not gonna be okay. You know, life sucks’. Have you actually been able to talk in the appropriate language level to help to lift them up? Have you actually been able to do that?

Lian: I tell myself that I have been able to! I don’t think I’ve managed to pull someone from stage three to stage four with my clients, but I would venture to say that I managed to create a stage three kind of culture with its individual teams. So, just to give more of a context, one of the things that we built was a CICD platform for this really big company in banking IT. So they have really old Legacy software that no one wanted to touch. This was a huge project where they were asked to rebuild their entire thing in microservices. A very, very challenging task actually. There were a bunch of people in stage three who were maybe experienced or just really excited about doing this, and they really believed in themselves like: ‘Yeah, we can do this’.

And then there were some people who were like: ‘this is like the 20th transformation that I’m part of, and I just don’t see how it’s actually helping me. It’s just more work because now I have to do all this, and in the end it’s just stuff that doesn’t really help me at all’. First of all, exactly what you said. If you tell someone like that: ‘Oh no, we’re great, let’s do it’. They they won’t trust you. They will hate you. They will not talk to you again. So, the first thing was to try and find an in, and the easiest way to do that is to go to after work things, maybe have a drink, and then you just start the B word about, you know, all the stuff that’s terrible at work and the bosses and just let them rant for a bit.

Just give them some space to really express their frustrations. Then you can ask questions, maybe don’t push them too much. I think that’s the most important thing. The best way to get people to move to the next stage is for them to have the epiphany, right? The epiphany is something that they talk about in this book a lot. So when you go from stage two to stage three – there’s a couple of tips on how you can coach people from one stage to the next – just show them how they can be great themselves. Show them some people who are great, give them some resources to learn, but let them come to you. Don’t tell them: ‘Oh, you need to do these things and then you’ll be great’. But more like: ‘You can see that there are other people out there who are great and you could do that if you wanted to, and I’m here to help you. But if you don’t want that help, we can also just continue complaining about stuff’.

Ramón: When practising mentorship for someone, what resonates a lot with me is how important it is just to listen. A lot of the time these folks just need someone to listen to their after work banter, their after work misgivings, and to just have a platform so they can let it all out. And then just to be like: ‘Hey, wow, okay, now that I’m saying it out loud, I think I know how to, I know how to fix this’.

Lian: Yeah. 100%

Ramón: You know what I mean? Of course that applies differently to different stages, but already figuring out a way to give someone the space so that they can figure out how to be great and then go from there because then you get to a stage where you’re like: ‘I’m great. I want others to be great too’. I mean, we call that paying it forward in more informal contexts. It’s really interesting how this book sort of structures all of those so that you can have that framework to navigate that.

Lian: In my private life, I apply some of the same principles now. It’s sometimes so painful if someone you care about goes through this stage of ‘everything is just terrible’, or like: ‘Everything that happens to me is so terrible’, and you don’t know what to do or what to say to them. You don’t know how to help them. So, I think that’s why I love the book so much. There are things that you can do and eventually you have to trust the process. I think that’s kind of the best advice, just trust the process and people will get there. Have I mentioned that I love this book so much?!

Kristof: I think for me one of the hardest parts was this ‘life is great’. It’s kind of the ultimate thing that is being projected and we thought that we were done, that we are great. Then suddenly ‘Oh, look, there’s new data. There’s these weird people that are even more and they’re still talking differently. What’s going on here?’ And then it’s like: ‘Oh, there’s a whole new category that we hadn’t even thought about that exists’. When you read that and then you’re like: ‘Okay, how can I bring the teams that I work with or the communities that I work with, how can I get them there? Or how can we go there? And then the realisation, or at least for me, this realisation came that this is about having abundance. To be able to talk in the ‘life is great’ stage or ‘life is great’ language, I think people need to feel that there is an abundance and there is no more competition.

You don’t need to be worried about other groups that are going to come and take your business away or that are going to compete with you, your company is going to go down, your stock is going to be taken away. You can just be blissfully productive and part of the community, and everything is just awesome and joyful. But there are preconditions that language alone is not going to get you there. That’s the hard part because they talk about how teams yo-yo between ‘Oh, things are amazing, like nothing to worry about. Everything is awesome’, and then ‘Okay, we’re in competition now, we’re great, but they’re not’.

Lian: I think they also say in the book that stage five is nothing that you will have for a long period of time. It’s more event based. There’s some transcending goal that you’re working towards, and once you achieve that goal, it goes away. You go back to stage four.

Ramón: Yeah. As soon as you said ‘event-based’, that immediately clicked to a DevRel experience of mine, which is when you’re at a conference and it’s going really well or it ends really well, there’s that sort of euphoric ‘We did it, everybody!’, like ‘This event was a success’. I was about to ask if you’ve had any stage five experiences in your DevRel work? Would it be safe to assume that we’ve all had that with say, a really good event like a conference?

Lian: I guess you could say that. Do you remember when we did Global Diversity CFP day? I think that was a stage five experience because it was people all around the world, it was actually global. We weren’t thinking: ‘Oh, we are better than this other workshop’ or whatever. It was just: ‘We are doing great things for all of humanity, all of the tech industry’. I think that felt really great. We should probably add that global diversity CFP day is a one day workshop to help underrepresented folks get into public speaking and do their first technical talk.

Kristof: Thank you. I also think in open source communities it’s more likely to happen. I’m a business owner, so to some extent I represent a group that is competing with other groups and I need to be thinking: ‘Are they gonna take our business away?’ In the Drupal community, for years it was just ‘share everything you’ve got’. It’s like: ‘We are all awesome here together and we’re just lifting the tide that lifts all the boats’. And I think that open source, where people – as long as it doesn’t become competition or a tool for competition – can be this thing that is like a cultural good for all of humanity, then when people really believe that, that’s amazing. That is my stage five experience, I think, or a lot of it has been in those kinds of communities.

Lian: Yeah. I do think that stage five is very, very hard to get to, and I’ve never planned for it, it just happens, you know? I can’t manufacture all the things that need to happen for it to be a stage five experience, but I think when the value you are creating together as a group is not monetised in any way, it’s really just for the betterment of the community, it’s really all about giving back, I think that’s the closest that we can get to creating the circumstances. I do hope we get to spend a little bit more time just talking about stage three and stage four, because I feel like that is where most of the work we can do is. Especially as developer advocates, I feel like stage four to stage five is really, really difficult.

Kristof: But I think that in the communities we create, we really should not settle for ‘I’m great’. And this is the thing that we try to do with speakers where we say: ‘You’re not supposed to go in and compete with others. We are all great here together and we’re here to do something amazing together’. And then hopefully sometimes you bump into the ‘life is great part’. I think that, for me, for DevRel, it’s so, so important how we coach speakers when we do events, so that they’re not like: ‘I’m so much better than you and I know all this stuff that you don’t know’. Or where it’s like: ‘Let’s see. Are you also great? Let’s see”.

Lian: But I mean that’s also stage three, right? If you think you’re great and you meet another guy who thinks he’s great, and maybe you think he’s great as well, that doesn’t mean that ‘we are great together’. It just means that ‘we are two people who think they’re great’, right? And I think that there’s a very nice example in the book where there are three doctors talking to each other, and then one guy is like: ‘Oh, I did like these many operations’ or whatever. The next guy is like: ‘Oh, while you were doing your operations, I was teaching the minds of the next generation of amazing doctors’. And then the third one is like: ‘Oh, while you were doing this, I was doing some groundbreaking research’. They are all laughing and patting each other on the back. And it’s like they each respect each other for their stage three-isms, right?

They’re not graded together as a group, it’s just that ‘I’m better than you and you say, you’re better than me’. Then ‘that person says this better than both of us’, and we’re all kind of like ‘we can all give each other the feeling of yeah, we’re all better than each other as it still works out’. That’s kind of like the paradigm on which we value our work. Everyone can be the best in their own thing, I guess. I think that maybe it is about time to break into the juicy part of community work and stage three, and developer advocacy in stage three. I’m just gonna stoke the fire now. I do feel in the past couple months, and I’ve not been a developer advocate for very long. I’ve been doing it for about a year.

I would argue that – I have been working with the community and giving talks and doing educational stuff for a long, long time before that, but the official title I’ve had for about a year – And what I’ve seen has always been a lot of people out there as developer advocates who operate solely on ‘I’m great and you’re not’. It’s solely about self branding and creating content that is marginally helpful. It’s not not helpful, it’s just that the focus is clearly not on helping, it’s more about saying: ‘I know everything. I’m the expert on this topic, and you should do exactly what I tell you to do’.

As I said before, like some people really want that. Some people like it when someone just tells them how it goes, but that again, doesn’t bring them forward, right? A person who is told what to do, doesn’t learn and can’t adapt and become better, really. So the question really is how do we get ourselves as the DevRel community to move on? In many ways, we are the role models, we are the tribal leaders. We speak for others, we speak to others, we have authority in what we say. So how do we make sure that the message we spread is like: ‘Hey, we’re in this together. Everything I create is based on what people give me. I’m not coming up with all my ideas just out of my own brain, but it’s influenced by what other people tell me and what I’ve learned from other people’.

Kristof: Very good stuff. I think one of the best ways is to create a place for other people’s voices. When you do a conference, you create a space for everybody to have a voice and where you encourage them and say: ‘You’re okay’. What you were saying about the diversity RFP, that is about creating more space for more people to have a voice. It’s creating more power for people, so that everybody can feel powerful. ‘My life sucks’ means ‘I feel powerless’, and ‘I’m great’ means ‘I have power over you because I know more than you’. So I think that trying to create more power in the group is important. Setting the expectation too. If you do an event say: ‘We are here to learn together. It’s not about listening to some gods that know everything. You know, you also know stuff. Even if you only have questions, you have questions, and those are probably more valuable than any answers. I think that’s the path.

Ramón: Yeah. I’ve been spending some of my free time working with emerging developers or people who are interested in joining developer relations as a field. A concern that’s been in my head a lot, especially lately, is how to navigate that, to put it mildly, double-edged, sordid nature of hero worship that we tend to see in developer communities. At its core, this book describes having, especially when you’re starting out and you don’t know where to go, somebody to lead you in the right path, but without doing so in a heavy- handed way, rather saying: ‘Listen, these are your options. This is what worked for me in my context, given my position of privilege. Keep that in mind as you move forward. I’m here for questions if you ever need me’, for example.

But at the same time, I know that I’ve been guilty perhaps when working with people who are getting started with public speaking. Going back to Global Diversity CFP Day, one of my favourite experiences that I learned from, giving a presentation there two years ago, was to realise that no matter how long you’ve been doing this – this being public speaking, text speaking rather – that you still get nervous in your own way, relative to going up on stage. I always like to say that mine’s like a tent graph, like a tangent graph, you know, stress, stress, stress and crash. Then I’m on another plane of existence as I speak.

And to realise that no matter how long you’ve been doing this, your nervousness and/or excitement, depending on how you want to frame it (by the way, that framing is super important). My point is how good it feels to be cheered on by someone else when you’re starting out. One thing I sometimes do at a conference – don’t do it always, wish I did it more – was when somebody goes up on stage I run around and take pictures from different angles. And I do that to give them that, that good feeling of like: ‘You’re doing this, this is awesome’. How can we mitigate that turning into, I don’t even know what the term is, but you know what I mean?

Kristof: I think the problem is, do you see yourself as a saviour that is going to help the other person?

Ramón: Yeah. Yeah.

Kristof: So I think that the key is that you cannot help someone without being transformed yourself. So if you really, truly want to help somebody, you have to help yourself also in the process. It has to be a mutual exchange of transformation. That’s the only way that this works. And, yeah, there are other books about that, but that’s maybe for another time.

Lian: There’s one thing I find super good about the book. When they describe how you can coach someone from stage three to stage four, it’s to show them why they can move ahead. So a lot of stage three people, and if you are on stage three, well, if you’re exhibiting behaviour of stage three, you’re not supposed to say you are on stage three because we’re not labelling people like this. But while I was rereading this book for this podcast, I also realised that I was firmly stuck in stage three behaviour, while thinking I’m so awesome because I have stage four, which is already exactly what stage three is about. So, one of the things that a lot of people who are in stage three feel is: ‘I work so hard and everyone else is just not as good as I am. They can’t pick up my slack. I’m just doing everything for everyone and I just can’t move further. I can’t be more successful no matter how hard I try’.

The way that you’re supposed to coach them is to tell them: ‘Hey, you’re amazing. Look at all these things you’ve done, it’s fantastic. But to move to the next level to be more successful, you now have to look at the bigger picture. Now it’s about empowering other people’. One of the things that they describe that you should encourage people to do is moving from dyadic relationships. So it’s just the two of us. I need something done. I’m just going to go to you, I’m just going to talk to you directly. In stage three, everything’s about information. Power and information. Those are the currencies and they’re limited.

If I give you power, my power is gone. Right? If I give you information, I’m not as valuable anymore because now you have the information. Whereas in stage four, power is an infinite resource. The more power I give to you, the more you give to me. One of the things that I love, it was described in the book, and since then I’ve heard of it happening, is that you’re supposed to create three triadic relationships, I think. So three personal relationships. So instead of me going to you, I’ll connect to people. Since I read the book, I’ve been doing this pretty much all the time when I go to events. ‘I know that you like this and I know another person who likes this, so I’m gonna go through hell to get the two of you together so you can get to know each other’.

In the book they say when you do this and you leave, the first thing they will do is talk about how great you are. You don’t even have to be the stage three person telling everyone how great you are, because people will tell each other. I don’t want to pat myself on the back too much, but I did a livestream with Nancy from the Women in Cloud Native group, and she was telling me that she knew of me because at DevRelCon in Prague, which I unfortunately missed, apparently people were talking about me not being there because you were doing karaoke. And people were like: ‘Oh, it’s so sad that Lian’s not here’. And I was like: ‘Oh my God, it’s happening. This is so great’. So yeah, if you want to move to the next stage, don’t focus on yourself, focus on others and the space that you’re creating for others.

Ramón: I really like that because I think that that also extends into our technical DevRel work that we do of being like: ‘Oh, I know somebody who you could collaborate with to work on solution X, Y, Z’. Just want to take a small opportunity to say Nancy is awesome, so I’m gonna do that here on the podcast. She’s amazing! I think that sort of very innate DevRel nature of connecting people to solutions, to do collaborations, to opportunities is something that really is important. And then perhaps as a DevRel community, it takes us to a potential higher stage.

Lian: Yeah. Stage four is all about values. You’re committing to the values of the tribe rather than your own values or your own goal. And I actually gave a talk about this, about community building and diversity. If you haven’t seen it, I’m going to give it again in Vancouver at Open Source Summit. So if you’re there, check it out. One of the examples I give is that I am one of the organisers of ServerlessDays Amsterdam. When I started, more or less I was doing it by myself, and it was really tough. And it’s exactly what I said. It’s: ‘I’m working so hard and no one’s helping me, and if someone’s helping me, they’re all doing it all wrong’ and everything. And then after a while, there were more and more people interested in helping, and I switched kind of the way that I went about it by just putting all the information out there, but not restricting anyone to what they can or are allowed to do.

It’s just like: ‘Here’s all you need. Here’s some run books, here are the credentials to social media. Let’s discuss. Let’s say these are all three values. What can we do to make sure that they are incorporated in, in what we do’. I really noticed the thing that you get to at the end might not be exactly what you imagined, but it is so much better because there are so many people with better ideas than you could ever have by yourself. It’s really just letting go and trusting the process, trust the values, trust the people that you work with. You get to somewhere much better than you could have by yourself. And it’s also not as much work, right?

Ramón: I really appreciate that whole point about how that diversity of perspective is also really significant towards getting you to that stage where you’re just like: ‘Look, the values can coincide, but they’re also not gonna be all of the values that I brought to the table’.

Lian: Yeah. And they shouldn’t be.

Ramón: Absolutely. Well folks, as we are coming up to perhaps winding down this conversation, I’d love to check, do either of you have anything else from the book that you feel really needs to be talked about, or that we might have missed?

Lian: I think we didn’t talk that much about stage four itself. More about how we get people into that stage and how we get people out of stage two, stage five. I think most of us, in tech I mean, are somewhere between stage three and stage four most of the time, I think. And that’s great. I think that the gospel of stage four, in community work mainly, I think that’s where we see it the most, we just have to be very careful to create a space where people are welcome to do it, but they’re not overworking themselves. They’re not pouring too much of themselves into that. Right now, it’s shortly before KubeCon and I am basically working two full-time jobs. One is my regular job and the other one is community work.

And I feel so responsible for creating a great experience for the community. You know, I’m a local in Amsterdam, so when the CNCF calls me like: ‘Hey, do we have some recommendations?’ Yes, a hundred per cent, if I have information that could help someone else, I feel obligated to give them that information. I don’t like sitting on it, but, and it is not in the book, I feel we have to be very careful not to burn out or burn each other out by placing that high of a value on community work and giving back. You can only give if you have something. I don’t know if you have any opinions on that?

Ramón: Oh, absolutely. I think I have two thoughts that come to mind. I think first of all, one thing that I learned quite strongly when I had my burnout back in 2018 is the quality of what I can offer is only as good as I’m capable of giving it. So if I’m taking on too much, the quality of what I will offer to my community work, etcetera, will suffer, first. Second, if I’m doing my job of being a community member and climbing those stages of culture correctly, then I would be able to delegate or connect, say like: ‘You know what, I really can’t think about a good suggestion for local stuff here, but I do know this other person who’s really into this stuff, who has some time. Cool to connect you to’. I feel like doing those sorts of things and, as we were talking about before, not removing myself from the picture per se, but playing that role of connecting, I feel like that’s a good indication of a healthy culture.

Kristof: I think that’s when you go in martyrhood mode and you’re the single saviour who needs to solve all the problems alone, basically you’re in ‘my life sucks because I’m the only one who can do this stuff’. You’re working really hard to try to convince yourself that actually you’re great because you’re able to do this stuff. That is actually a bad place. So I think learning to listen and to hear the language and recognise when you are taking too much of the space. I have this a lot, I talk too much. Recognising that and being like: ‘Okay, I’m trying to reduce it and trying to create more space for others’. I think that’s a long journey. It takes a long time to learn this stuff.

Lian: I love what you said, Ramón. I think now that after you said it I realised, yeah, this is typical stage three behaviour. When someone asks you for help and you are immediately jumping on it and trying to do it by yourself, stressing yourself out, maybe even going: ‘Why can’t they ask someone else to do it?’ That is so classic stage three. Instead of connecting with the right people, just creating the space for someone else to do it, maybe let someone else shine for a while. That is a very, very good point. I’m going to call the CNCF now and say no!

Ramón: I’m sorry, CNCF!

Lian: That’s really great. I love this conversation. I love how this book is so great that even while we’re talking about it, I’m still learning new stuff and new perspectives when looking at the stages, right? It’s not like everything that’s in the book is a hundred per cent exactly how the world works, but it gives us, as you said, a framework to talk about these things, and we can disagree and that’s fine.

Kristof: It is a model, right? And every model is wrong.

Lian: Some are useful.

Kristof: Yes, this one is actually pretty useful.

Lian: I would also like to recommend some other books in a similar vein that really helped me. So one is ‘Team Topologies’, which is maybe more interesting for like really tech people or people who are very interested in tech organisations. It’s more hands-on, I guess, it’s less philosophical. The other one is one of the Brené Brown books. Brené Brown is an amazing speaker and author talking about vulnerable leadership. Its called ‘Dare to Lead’. It’s fantastic and one of the things that I really like about this book is it gives you a rational reason why working in a group and helping others is good, period. It’s better, it makes more sense, economically makes more sense if you just want to grow. I think these other two books are a good addition to expand on that idea.

Ramón: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Unless I’ve missed anything, I’m going to start saying thank you both so much for joining me today. This has been really, really eye-opening. I love a conversation where I get called out on my stuff, so I was like: ‘Yeah, like I’m learning stuff. It’s cool’. Thank you. Thank you both. I want to give Lian and then Kristof the opportunity – if folks want to get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Lian: Yeah, you can find me on Twitter, Mastodon, LinkedIn or Instagram. It’s lianmakesthings, so l i a n, that’s my name, and then ‘makesthings’, that’s one word. The one thing I would like to plug is if you are at KubeCon, we’re going to have an amazing karaoke party on the Wednesday and you can check it out at So that’s ‘kuber’, like Kubernetes, and then ‘oke’, like karaoke, love. Check it out. I would be so happy to see you there. Thank you.

Kristof: So, people can find me as K Van Tommo, which is the first letter of my first name, then my family name with a double M on the regular platforms. Mostly active on LinkedIn nowadays, still peeking in on Twitter. A little bit in between platforms at the moment, but that’s where you can find me.

Ramón: Super fair. Well, once again, thank you both so much.

Lian: Ramón, where can we find you?

Ramón: I’m hola_soy_milk on pretty much most of everything, hanging out on LinkedIn, Twitter, that sort of thing. I’m having a good time doing some learning initiatives, just taking it a little easy as well. It’s good. So thank you both so much. Really loved this conversation. Folks, if you’re listening, if you want to join us with a book that you’ve read that has affected your DevRel career, please do feel free to get in touch. And have a wonderful rest of your day everybody.

Lian: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. Have a great day.

Kristof: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

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