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The Iceberg Principle

Jun 11, 2021 | Leadership Thoughts (Blog) | 0 comments

We’re all familiar with the idea of the Iceberg Principle, which has its roots in the fact that 90% of an iceberg is hidden under the water, while just 10% is visible above the surface. But how can the Iceberg Principle be applied to business, and more specifically to your organisation?

Two things determine the direction in which an iceberg moves: the winds that blow across its visible surface above the water and the strong currents below the waterline. Think of your organisation as an iceberg, with various factors pushing and pulling it in different directions. Some of these factors will be “visible” and easier to quantify, while others will be hidden deeper within the organisation and may be much harder to define.

In an organisational context, the winds are our strategic plans—our visions, goals, structures and various systems. These concepts will be easy to identify and quantify because they will have been carefully thought-out, planned and disseminated throughout the organisation. They’re based upon the science of business, which in turn is based upon logic and reason.

The currents that flow through an organisation, on the other hand, are often silent and slow-moving. They’re the result of culture, habits, attitudes and traditions. They’re people’s fears, prejudices, beliefs, values and patterns of behaviour—often deeply held, deeply ingrained patterns. There might be habits that have been built up over a lifetime, so entrenched that we don’t even realise they’re there. Put simply, the currents pushing and pulling your organisation are driven by what people feel.

Leadership challenges can occur when the winds and currents of your organisation are not moving in the same direction. In fact, in many cases they may well be moving in completely opposite directions.

If the winds blowing over the tip of an iceberg are going from east to west, but down beneath the surface, the currents are flowing from west to east, which way do you think the iceberg is going to move? Of course it will move with the currents. Now, taking the analogy back to your organisation, this can cause major problems with moving forward in the desired direction and creating a common sense of purpose.

Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar on a smaller scale in your personal life. How many times have you enthusiastically made New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions, only for them to have fallen by the wayside a couple of weeks into January? Your own deeply held habits, beliefs and patterns come into play here, pushing against your vision and goals. In order to move forward with your plans, you’ll need to identify and address the things holding you back, and the same is true for an organisation of any size—just on a larger scale.

As a leader, it’s vital you have a handle on what’s going on beneath the surface of your organisation. As well as being clear about the big things you want to keep, you’ll also need to identify the things you want to eliminate—or at least neutralise—so that they don’t become part of your organisation’s future. This is where insight comes in: you’ll need to take a deep dive and start working with not only the obvious strengths and weaknesses above the surface, but what’s going on down below. What are the deficiencies that you really need to pay attention to? By first identifying and then addressing these, you will be able to move your organisation forward in the desired direction.

While any manager can manage the winds—the visible influences that impact on an organisation’s direction—it takes a leader to create a real breakthrough and change the powerful currents flowing beneath the surface. A successful leader has the ability to understand people even when they are not being logical or reasonable and to implement changes that will align the wind and currents. This is a must for any organisation to thrive in the complex modern world.

Author: Brian Bacon, Edited by: Jenny Leigh

AuthorBrian Bacon
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