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Iceberg theory: Different view of leadership, teamwork, problem solving

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Joe Heilhecker
  • 6th Maintenance Squadron commander
Imagine for a moment all of the unit's issues, concerns, problems, and upcoming events are an iceberg, a huge block of ice with multiple complexities representing everything, including relationships existing in our organization. In our world, 6th Air Mobility Wing and subordinate units, we are facing constant deployments, ORI/NORI and associated preparation, resource constraints, and personnel shortfalls just to name a few. The iceberg may be bigger in some units than others; however, everyone should being working to reduce the size of the iceberg.

If everyone was focusing and working toward the common goal of reducing the iceberg's size, ice chips should be flying everywhere. However, in reality that rarely happens. Our mission gets accomplished by a diverse group of people, some of which are more dedicated than others. There are always the few dedicated troopers working furiously to reduce the size of the iceberg. Then there are some sitting on the edge of the iceberg just kicking their feet in the water thinking life is great and we are wonderful. Some are fishing off the side of the iceberg, and others freakishly sunbathing. Then there are a few floating on the ice chunks around the iceberg, not quite with the program.

Now, you, as the leader (formal or informal), working furiously with the dedicated, are making some good size ice chips. In other words, you are solving problems and instilling solutions. When you stop to admire a few recent, healthy ice chips in your hands, your eyes focus on the iceberg in the background. It is much bigger than you want it to be. And the bad thing about icebergs is that they are bigger than they appear above the surface. So you shove your head under the water to look at the rest of it. Then after pulling your head out of the water, you notice that some of the chunks broken off earlier are beginning to refreeze back onto the iceberg.

You immediately begin to feel depression, frustration, or hopelessness settling in and you realize its time for a gut check and time to focus. You begin to analyze for faults and cracks of the iceberg and realize there is hope. You focus solution-oriented efforts on those faults and cracks where the unit will be the most effective. So, you have your go-getters concentrate on those weaknesses and flaws.

The folks that are active but happy with the status quo (the kicking their feet in the water guys) should be strategically placed around the iceberg, keeping the loose chunks from refreezing onto the iceberg. They can still keep doing what they want and be productive at the same time - that's your challenge as a leader! As for the individuals fishing, try to get them to snag the underlying structure of the iceberg by changing their lures to huge hooks. Challenge them to find the unobserved weaknesses (the underlying process problems) then dispatch them into attack mode. The ones who are freakishly sunbathing on chunks of ice, you move them to the shady side of the iceberg. They will have to make a choice to become active to survive or eventually freeze to the ice and become part of a piece broken away by the problem solvers. The few floating on ice chunks, give them a good shove and let the current take them away. There is always the bottom 10 percent needing to be trimmed.

The moral of the Iceberg Theory is that only solution-oriented leadership and teamwork solving problems together can get at the root cause of an issue or problem, and all of their combined efforts will then truly improve an organizations processes and mission effectiveness. Where are you on the iceberg?