Paul Raggio | The identity iceberg

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One of my many significant assignments in the Army was as a commander of a basic training company. Post-Vietnam volunteers, fresh out of high school, looking for a purpose in their life and a new identity, decided to enlist in the Army. They entered an environment never exposed to before, indoctrinated with the Army’s seven core values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Over the next three months, their belief system expanded to include the Army’s rich history and purpose. 

Additionally, all were taught a basic set of survival and coping skills foundational for the advanced skills training next to come before their first assignment. I recall many a graduation where parents of new troopers, tears streaming, thanked me and my cadre for the identity change made in their sons or daughters. The parents left believing that their daughter or son possessed the right set of values, beliefs and skills to behave responsibly, make good decisions, take the right actions and achieve outstanding life results. 

Edward T. Hall was an American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher. Of his many concepts, Hall used the iceberg as a visual context for explaining the depth of culture. He contended culture is much more deeply rooted and interconnected with our sense of identity and self-understanding than people imagine. Thinking about what we can see and understand regarding a culture, not our own, is somewhat similar to how we perceive an iceberg. About 10% is observable above the waterline, and the other 90% is unobservable and below the waterline.  

Brad Sugars, founder of ActionCOACH, mirrored Hall’s visual context of an iceberg to describe a business owner’s ability to change. The tip and exposed part of the iceberg represent the owner’s outward display of behavior, the actions and decisions he or she makes, and resulting gains or losses. The tip is observable to others but only embodies 10% of the owner’s being. The other unobservable 90% is below the waterline and represents the business owner’s identity, values, beliefs and skills.  

Using the model, if you’re dissatisfied with results, whether personal or business, first traverse the tip of the iceberg. Change your behavior and the decisions and actions you make and take. Be self-aware of how you project yourself to others. Work on leadership and management fundamentals. Understand, leadership is about communicating a vision and inspiring your team along a pathway to achieve it successfully. The leader finds what motivates each team member, then deftly inspires them by drawing on their strengths and shoring up their weaknesses. On the other hand, management is about controlling resource consumption by emplacing systems, processes and procedures that increase the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness. Both impact productivity and goal achievement, although they require very different skill sets.  

If tackling the tip of the iceberg doesn’t improve results, go below the waterline, develop new skills and change your beliefs by gaining an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Cast away your existing blinders, self-exam, and identify your strengths and weaknesses. Then enhance the former and shore up the latter. Not only your thirst but also your consumption of knowledge will lead you to new skills and undoubtedly expand your belief system. Encourage your team to do the same. Make learning one of your organizational values and incorporate it into your employee performance evaluation system.   

Making changes

If you’re still dissatisfied, it’s time for a far-reaching approach and a deep dive to the bottom of the iceberg. Changing one’s values and identity is difficult and challenging, but surely not impossible. As stated in my opening, I’m a witness to young, directionless adults latching on to the Army’s core values and finding their own identity. Basic and advanced training got them there. You, too, can get there through training and coaching.  

However, few business owners have trained on how to run a business. Even fewer seek and ask for the help of a business coach. Resistance to change is the most common excuse, and the inability to quantify and qualify uncertainty is not far behind. Perturbation motivates you to change, especially when you’re not experiencing the results desired — time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Furthermore, the best way to deal with uncertainty is to embrace a deliberate planning process.  

Don’t be that business owner who resists asking for help. Overcome the iceberg, engage a coach, embrace change, plan and cope with uncertainty, and solidify your identity as an exceptional and responsible business owner. Possess the right set of values, beliefs and skills to behave responsibly, make good decisions, take the right actions, and achieve outstanding results. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it! 

Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions.

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