The Iceberg of Ignorance
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Do you feel like the people in your company are connected with one another? Leaders, do you know what issues are arising in the everyday work of your front-line staff? The iceberg of ignorance is a theory that proposes that executives often lack knowledge about the everyday problems the business faces.

the iceberg of ignorance Sidney Yoshida graphic

What is the iceberg of ignorance?

The iceberg of ignorance is a theory that is based on the idea that there is a lack of meaningful, shared knowledge between executives and front-line staff. The idea was developed by Sidney Yoshida in 1989. Yoshida worked as a consultant for Calsonic, a Japanese car manufacturer. In his work, he discovered that the leadership had very little knowledge about what was actually happening on the front line. The managers and executives were hardly aware of the actual problems that the company was facing. From his studies, he believed that while the staff saw 100% of the problems, team leaders only saw 74%. Even more concerning, team managers saw 9%, and executives saw a mere 4% of problems.

Is the iceberg of ignorance still accurate?

How much has leadership design changed since 1989? Can these numbers really be true? Of course, it depends greatly on the company. For a small business with five employees, the concept may not be very accurate. For a large-scale corporation operating in different parts of the world, it probably holds more weight. Either way, whether or not the numbers are exactly right, the concept is often true.

What is at the root of the iceberg of ignorance?

Management style, company structure, company size, the nature of the field, and technology are all influencers of the problems included in this concept. However, at its core, the key to overcoming this breakdown of communication is humility. Humble leaders – whether executives, managers, or team leaders – are the ones who will melt the ice.

Why is the iceberg of ignorance a problem?

The iceberg of ignorance isn’t all bad. There is a reason why each person has a specific role in each specific business. If everyone was an executive or if everyone was a front-line worker, well, you can imagine how badly that business would function. (It wouldn’t!) Obviously, executives don’t need to know every single problem, and staff need to have the freedom to be able to problem-solve on their own in many cases.

Front-line workers usually know the work at hand the best. When an issue arises, hopefully they can assess and fix the problem in most situations.

The trouble happens when leadership is so far removed from the staff that they’re not aware of many of the struggles at hand. How can a leader steer the ship of the company when they’re not aware of the everyday obstacles?

There are numerous problems that occur when an executive or manager is too far removed from his or her staff.

First, a breakdown of leadership can cause a lack of motivation in staff and front-line workers. Staff who have little to no communication or relationship with leaders tend to feel frustrated and unimportant. This leads to discouragement, higher turnover rates, and lower-quality work.

Secondly, leaders lose the ability to problem-solve for their own company. Executives and managers should have depth of knowledge when it comes to succeeding in their field of business. Unfortunately, without being aware of the problems the business is facing, it can be impossible to problem-solve and implement good business strategies. This ends up costing the business time and money in the long run.

How to overcome the iceberg of ignorance

Humble, servant-leadership is the key to overcoming the problem of the iceberg. Leaders who show true care and lack of pride will be successful in motivating others in the company. They are the ones who can break down these communication barriers and implement a managerial model that will benefit not only the individuals, but also the entire company.

7 ways to show humility in leadership

Not sure how to implement humility in your leadership position? Here are some examples of how true servant leaders show humility.

1. A humble leader doesn’t think too highly of himself/herself.

Humble leaders know that every position is important. From the highest executive to the person who takes out the trash, every member of the team is needed. True leaders understand that the value of each job, and seek to treat everyone with the kindness they deserve.

2. A humble leader admits when he/she is wrong.

Humble leaders know that they make mistakes, and when they do, they don’t try to cover it up. A leader who is humble is willing to learn from others and take responsibility for their actions.

3. A humble leader shows employees that he or she cares.

Of course, this will look different in different organizations. Executives over billion-dollar corporations obviously won’t be able to get to know each employee by name. However, in smaller organizations, learning and remembering names is an excellent way to start. When possible, showing care may mean asking employees how they’re doing, remembering details about their personal lives, or simply asking if they have any suggestions on how the business is operating.

4. A humble leader isn’t afraid to do the less glamorous jobs.

Humble leaders show that every task is important. If a floor needs to be swept or the trash needs to be taken out, they know they’re not “too good” for the job.

5. A humble leader finds joy when others succeed.

They want to invest in the members of the business and are excited when someone else is successful. Their goal (both in business and personal life) isn’t simply to make themselves look great.

6. A humble leader is confident.

Being humble doesn’t necessarily mean being insecure. In fact, humility takes confidence. You can be confident in your mission and goals and still be humble and kind.

7. A humble leader isn’t offended when he or she doesn’t get the credit.

Instead, they delight in the good of the entire company. They love to credit others when others succeed. A humble leader doesn’t need to constantly be told how great he or she is.

Practical ways to connect within a company

1. Encourage regular communication within the company.

Team meetings are a great way to do this. Make asking employees how they are doing a regular occurrence. Don’t overcomplicate it!

2. Find/create a helpful system for sharing information.

Make it easy for all levels of management to talk to one another when a problem (or a success!) comes up.

3. Respond to concerns promptly.

Help everyone to know that they are important by being a good communicator. As much as possible, be available for emails, messages, or personal meetings.

4. Get together.

Enjoy time together when you can, whether it’s monthly or only once a year. Plan an activity or event that helps everyone get to know one another and just have fun.

5. Put people first.

A business would not succeed without each member of the team. Don’t treat people as indispensable. Of course, you should want the company’s success, but remember that you should want people’s success, too!

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About the Author

Oscar Quesada

Oscar Quesada


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