Leaders can be viewed from three viewpoints, using the iceberg analogy.
The tip of the iceberg – the most prominent level, visible from afar – is what they know. Assuming that they are educated workers, the skills necessary to perform their work are intellectual. He or she may be an excellent lawyer, an expert Excel user working as a financial controller or a software developer with an in-depth knowledge of a programming language. It’s good to be knowledgeable!
The second level – the one between the tip of the iceberg and the water surface – is less prominent, but the tip is built upon it. This is what leaders can do. These are the skills they can bring into the role, position and work they perform. They might have mastered communication skills. They will certainly make a good use of these e.g. in an organisation or outside of it in personal relationships etc. It is good to be skilled in this area. Roles, tasks, challenges are all changing rapidly and it is virtually impossible to go through life with just a few learnt skills and information obtained years ago. Our environment is ever-changing. In the face of new challenges what one can do is more important than what one knows.
The contemporary world is helping us tremendously with the two levels described above. We have the Internet, applications and tools aiding our knowledge. We find ourselves working more and more often in clearly defined frameworks and models imposing good practices and a code of conduct on us, such as Agile, Scrum, Kanban.
They are all important, but do not provide a centre of gravity to ground the leader.
Throughout my work with hundreds of young business leaders, I have asked them for their idea of a perfect leader they would like to follow.
Usually we develop a set of character features covering the entire sheet of paper. It fascinates me that its content is always the same and has nothing to do with the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t refer to the skills either. Importantly, it is universal. If I were to add the “perfect nurse” heading, the list still checks. The same goes with the perfect doctor, minister, teacher, social activist etc. Why? Because the list includes adjectives belonging to the third level – the one that is invisible to the eye, but also the largest and crucial for the stability of the iceberg. This is the area that defines who you are. The sheet of paper always contains a formula for a mature, consistent and self-aware person. This is what leaders look for in others; this is what you look for and what others look for in us.
We should therefore strive to improve our characters. Above all, leadership is not what you can do, not what you know, but who you are!
The founder of Leaders Island obtained his management skills in the IT area, where, among others, he was the managing director of a listed company. He combines his work in business with his role as a trainer, in which he shares his knowledge. As a marathon runner, he knows how to be persistent, and as a sailor, how to choose the appropriate direction.