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Leadership and the Iceberg

April 5, 2011

I was recently reading the “Habitudes” study guide by Dr. Tim Elmore and a passage really struck me:

The iceberg represents your leadership. The 10% above the water is your skill. The 90% below the water is your character. It’s what’s below the surface that sinks the ship.

Isn’t that so very true?  I would even take it one step further and say our “action” or our behavior represents that 10% above the water…it’s what people see.  And, typically they see what we do, what we say, how we act.  The 90% — that “under the water” part is what drives the action, what motivates the behavior.

Because the character part is such a significant part of who we are, it’s important that this part be aligned in such a way that it supports “who” we want to be.  It’s been said that character is who we are when no one is looking, and I think it’s an appropriate illustration.  “Wrong is wrong” whether someone is there to catch us or not, right?  I mean, some people believe the 11th Commandment is “Don’t get caught,” but I don’t subscribe to that concept. And, I don’t think it’s a good idea to pass that idea on to our kids who, too often, operate under the idea that they can pull things off without the parents or other grownups knowing about it.  (Consider “anonymous” cyberbullying or via other means, if you have any doubts about what I mean).

But, back to that iceberg. In SocialSmarts, we teach our students more than just behaviors — we teach them the underlying foundations for positive behavior such as respect, consideration, compassion, empathy, trustworthiness and more.  While it’s important to teach “skills” for positive interaction and social conduct, it’s impossible to teach a student (or adult, for that matter) everything they’ll ever need to get along in business and in personal life.  But, if you work on developing positive character development — sometimes referred to the “virtues” — you’ll find that you are building strong underpinnings that result in positive behavior.

In contrast, just like the iceberg, if the motivators are not aligned with the desired behaviors, you can run aground on the 90% that’s not visible. For example, someone can be well-behaved, charming, charismatic, treat you well on the surface. Yet, if he or she is driven by poor character or intentions, you’ll be wrecked by the full force of their negative motivations.  Consider the scores of people tricked by shysters or con-artists out with the latest Ponzi scheme if you doubt what I’m saying.

I don’t want to be duped by someone who behaves perfectly proper on the outside, but is a proper jerk on the inside.  I want our kids character and behavior to mesh.

In leadership this is a very critical point to make: you don’t want to deal with a fancy facade — you want authentic and genuine.  And, that’s where your character comes in. A true leader uses more than just the 10% that’s visible to others; he or she is as strong in positive character as in action.  You don’t just expect others to “do as I say,” but they believe in leading by positive example and effective modeling. That’s what differentiates a true leader from a “wanna be.”

So the next time you wonder about the importance of character, think of the iceberg. Remember what part was responsible for the wreck of the Titanic — and don’t let poor character sink your best efforts.

For more on leadership, social skills and business, check out the acclaimed book “It’s Not Who You Know, It’s How You Treat Them: Five SocialSmarts Secrets Today’s Business Leaders Need to Stand Out and Be Successful” 
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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 6, 2011 8:53 am

    Excellent post Corinne. Character is indeed what can make or break a relationship. Love the work you are doing. ~M

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