Storms, Icebergs and Leadership

As I’ve suggested for many years, the iceberg is a great metaphor for leadership… the 10% above the waterline represents the skills of the leader and the 90% below the water represents the character of the leader. In an attempt to learn more about these unique products of nature, I ventured with my family to Antarctica.

As the picture above illustrates, icebergs are amazing! The scale is this photo is deceiving - this iceberg is about 100' tall and 600 feet long! We saw all shapes, sizes and a variety of colors – the minerals in the water give them many different hues in the pure, pollution-free sunlight.
One of the things I learned was the critical role storms play in the formation of an iceberg. You may have thought about this, but I had not. Icebergs are formed over decades of snow and ice storms. The more storms, the deeper the snow, the deeper the snow, the more pressure, the more pressure, the more the snow is compressed - to form ice. This process repeats itself over and over again until the weight of it all forces a break from land and the newly calved iceberg is launched into the sea.
Here’s something to consider, could the iceberg as a metaphor for leadership extend to the way leaders are formed? What role do storms play in our formation? There are several ways I believe storms shape our leadership.
Storms strengthen us. Think about the hard things you’ve encountered in your life – at home, at work, with your health. If you and I have learned from these experiences, we are stronger. Whenever I find myself in a storm, one of my first questions is always, “What can I learn here?”
Storms deepen our experience. One of the more treacherous features of many storms is the element of the unknown. And certainly, every new storm can bring its own surprises. However, I’ve been in numerous situations in which past storms provided insight regarding how to survive a current storm. Experience matters.
Storms shape our character. This is where I want to stretch the metaphor just a little. If storms form an iceberg and if the amount above the waterline is directly proportional to what’s below, storms shape and deepen our character. I believe this to be true. When you and I move through a storm in our leadership, our resolve and our beliefs are impacted in a profound way. How we react under pressure is a true test of our leadership character.
Here’s a footnote to consider: We only learn from the storms we survive. So, if you find yourself in a storm – and you will - hang on and learn all you can from the experience. It will serve you well when the weather clears.[GLS_Shield]
The inspiration for this post was my friend Steven Snyder’s new book, Leadership and the Art of Struggle. Jim Kouzes said Steven’s book is the “must-read leadership book of the year.” I've just started reading it myself. Thanks, Steven, for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us!


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