#WomenEd Book Club: Our Iceberg Is Melting, John Kotter

In the summer term I am hosting 6 book club discussion on Twitter for #WomenEd with my wing woman Kiran Satti. The schedule is on the pinned tweet here

This morning we discussed Kotter’s ‘Our Iceberg Is Melting’ (OIIM). You can see the thread via the hashtag #IcebergMelting

Reflection: why did we discuss this book?

I read this book years ago. I was facilitating the Leading Change modules for the NPQML and SL and I was reading around the subject of change leadership.  When I discussed hosting a series of book chats with Kiran a few weeks ago, it jumped out as an obvious choice.

What parallels can we draw between how our leaders are responding differently to pandemic and the decline of the world as we know it, and how do the penguins respond individually to their environment being under threat?

The change process we have all been going  through during these ‘unprecedented times’ and the changes our schools are still going through as the equilibrium is disrupted again with the next iteration of our collective response. Our school leaders are well versed in leading change, as our system constantly evolves, our practice is driven by theory, but how can the theory be applied for the change leadership we have witnessed from above? Have our leaders communicated with urgency? Have they built a guiding team? Have they created a vision? Have they communicated for buy in? Have they removed obstacles? Have they created short term wins to provide momentum? Have they maintained momentum? Have they incorporated change into organisational culture? And as each change has hit us, has this cycle been repeated?

Discussion: how did the book resonate?

Q1. What were the key messages you took away from reading ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’ (OIIM)?

  • getting buy in is key to effective change
  • find your key players and the people who can and will to help drive change forward
  • good leadership is changing with the change that presents itself to you and no amount of certificates in leadership will prepare you fully
  • importance of keeping your eyes open as a leader and to be able to listen to others
  • importance of knowing the specific strengths of those within your organisation and being able to use these strengths effectively to bring about change
  • grow & develop the team to enable growth & progress through informed choices
  • invite challenge and challenge others

Q2. What is the iceberg a metaphor for in John Kotter’s book OIIM?

  • iceberg is metaphor for any crisis that needs change from me/ means change for me
  • Covid 19 is an iceberg
  • a metaphor for any future difficulty that might impact your organisation moving forward/ thriving
  • any difficulty that may not be apparent at first glance
  • regular observation/reflection is needed to help identify the ‘melting’ of your iceberg
  • being aware of what is hidden in the depths
  • looking beyond the surface identifying the issues that are lurking /not being thought about/questioned/discussed

Q3. Which of the penguin characters most resonated with you in OIIM and why?

  • Alice – listening to others, practical, organised and can get things done
  • Fred – manages different/difficult personalities in his colony

Q4. What do we learn about leadership through OIIM?

  • listen to others and give them time
  • value their opinions, thoughts and ideas of others
  • know the strengths of your team and use these strengths effectively
  • no leader can bring about change on their own
  • importance of teams
  • sufficient leadership at all levels is needed to bring about change
  • leading by consensus, but being strong enough to stop, pause, reflect, listen, adapt
  • sometimes being at the fore and at times receding to the back
  • acknowledging the collective effort
  • leadership is not a solo sport or show

Q5. What were your favourite quotes/ pearls of wisdom in OIIM?

  • What would we tell them as they stood before us in unspeakable pain?
  • Making moves while preserving the dignity of all was not easy.
  • creating urgency and reducing complacency
  • importance of pulling together the right team to guide the needed change
  • creating a vision of the future and communicating this vision
  • knocking down barriers to make everyone feel empowered

Q6. What did you learn about yourself by reading OIIM?

  • affirmed  need to listen to the right voices &  have less self doubt
  • understand what needs to be done and why
  • share that vision, ask for questions and answers
  • question and know what the needs of others are to move forward collectively
  • value and develop strengths of others

Q7. What key learning will you share with others having read OIIM?

  • metaphor of melting iceberg
  • 8 step plan for initiating change
  • facilitate everyone’s voice
  • key text for my team to build on
  • using the eight point model to develop our plans and vision

Context: what is the theory behind the book?

This book brings to life 8 step leadership change model, from 2007, through the story of a colony of emperor penguins:

  • Step One: Communicate Urgency
  • Step Two: Build a Guiding Team
  • Step Three: Create a Vision
  • Step Four: Communicate for Buy-In
  • Step Five: Remove Obstacles
  • Step Six: Create Short Term Wins to Provide Momentum
  • Step Seven: Maintain Momentum
  • Step Eight: Incorporate Change Into Organizational Culture

Thank you to everyone who got involved in the chat, follow the thread, answer the questions and pass it on. It is a great book to share with colleagues who are guiding others through the constant ebb and flow of change that we are responding to.


Published by Ethical Leader

Leadership Development Consultant, Facilitator, Coach, Speaker and Writer. Experience of teaching schools, initial teacher education, mentoring & coaching, diversity and equality. Passionate about integrity, ethics and values.

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