“No man is an iland.”

So said John Donne, leaving us, in these more gender-neutral and lexicographical days, to decide how to make use of an otherwise wonderful turn of phrase without ourselves being tainted by gender bias or the spelling anarchy of days past, and also without imposing our own sensitivities by changing someone else’s words who, being demised, isn’t in a position to defend himself.

The quote also got me to wondering: If no one is an island (or iland), is anyone an isthmus?

Which in turn got me to wondering: As the only isthmus I can name is the Panamanian one, are there others? A quick Wikipedia check confirms there are, in fact, dozens.

(Also: A suggestion to all highway patrols: Use “Pronounce ‘i — s — t — h — m — u — s'” as a new field sobriety test.)

All this led me to ponder three questions: (1) accepting that no one is an island, does that provide any useful guidance for business leaders and managers? (2) Might some business leaders and managers be isthmi? If so, what lessons might we all learn from isthmus-style leadership and management? And, (3) might we recognize any other geographically oriented leadership or management styles that might, through similarly preposterous analogizing, provide useful insights for us?

Islands: This is an easy one. Organizationally, islands are silos. The water surrounding them helps prevent invasions from other islands. Also continents, which are just very large islands. The result: Organizational islands and those who lead and manage them have the luxury of avoiding collaboration with other parts of the organization.

This is, quite often, quite lovely for the island’s inhabitants; often less so for the enterprise as a whole, leaving it as an exercise for the reader to find figure out what everything beyond the island corresponds to.

Isthmi: Isthmi are small strips of land that connect two large pieces of land. Or, conversely, they’re narrow strips of land that separate two bodies of water. They facilitate trade and migration between the two pieces of land, while preventing trade and migration between the two bodies of water.

Some managers (and leaders; from here on in we’ll use “manager” for brevity rather than “leaders and managers”) … where was I? Oh yes … some managers are isthmi, connecting two groups that otherwise would behave like organizational islands. Others are isthmi in that they prevent groups that might otherwise collaborate with each other from doing so.

If you see yourself as a connector, make sure you aren’t also acting as a barrier without realizing it.

Peninsulas: Peninsulas are island wannabes. They don’t enjoy human contact and aren’t particularly good at it. Or else they aren’t particularly good at human contact and consequently don’t enjoy it.

Peninsular managers want the authority that comes with their managerial title but view the staff that come with it as irritations at best, sources of bad work they have to fix at worst. As for the managers they report to? They’re necessary evils who really ought to understand they’ll manage best by leaving the peninsula alone as much as humanly possible.

Mountains: Mountains are islands without the surrounding water. That makes a big difference in such matters as erosion and how hard it is to reach the base. Mountain managers like this — sycophants easily reach the base to admire them, without having any chance at all of reaching the top. And, like islands, the only mountains that are truly self-made are the volcanic ones (admittedly pushing the metaphor to the breaking point). All the others are what they are due to tectonic forces beyond their control.

Hills: What can I say? Hills think they’re mountains, when in fact they’re just piles of dirt that aspire to mountainhood but are easily climbed.

Lakes: Hey, we needed some water on the list, and oceans were simply too hard to analogize. Lakes, on the other hand? They’re generally pleasant, nurturing, and in the winter, here in Minnesota, at least, they freeze over, allowing those who like this sort of thing to pitch shelters on the ice, drill holes in it, and go fishing, hoping they don’t catch anything because that would interfere with drinking beer and swapping stories with their buddies.

Lake-like managers are also generally pleasant and nurturing. I’ll leave the rest to you.

For that matter, now that you’ve reached the end of this week’s missive, I’ll leave the point of it to you, too. If you think there is one, that’s what the Comments are for.

We spent the weekend on the road, and there was never a good time to write.

And so, as last week’s column was about how to seem more literate, it seemed only reasonable to move from writing to PowerPointing. Luckily enough, the column that follows, first published late in 2006, covers the ground quite nicely.

– Bob

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Question: Since people have been stupid as long as there have been people, why do so many of us blame PowerPoint? When someone writes stupid sentences, do we blame MS Word?

PowerPoint is no different from speaking — if someone’s point is foolish, either will make the fact more public. So the first rule of good PowerPointing is the same as the first rule of speech: First, think.

Many bytes have been expended providing other PowerPoint guidelines. Some have provided marvelous self-referential warnings — dull and poorly constructed presentations explaining how to avoid creating dull and poorly constructed presentations.

Most of the “rules” are, by the way, contextual. For example:

PowerPoint Rule: Never use anything smaller than a 16 point font. It’s terrific advice, when you’re building a presentation that will (a) be projected in a large room, (b) to an audience that has not received printed copies of the presentation, and (c) won’t have access to a version that can be scrutinized later on.

Let’s start over. PowerPoint and its competitors are more than packages for developing presentations that will be projected in a large room. They’re general-purpose communications tools. Presentation software and word processing software differ in one important respect: Presentation software enforces a discipline of telling a complete story on each page.

That, in fact, is the only hard-and-fast rule of using presentation software correctly: Make each page tell a story.

A few other thoughts and notions:

Respect the tool. Presentation packages provide sophisticated facilities for helping you achieve consistent formatting. Take advantage of them. Use the Title placeholder to contain slide titles, the built-in, automated slide numbering feature instead of manually placing slide numbers at the bottom of each slide, and tab stops or separate text boxes instead of the space bar for fine positioning. Among the advantages: When you change templates, your slides will require less clean-up.

Don’t use clip art to liven up slides. Inserting clip art of a detective with a magnifying glass onto a slide whose title is “A closer look,” is something less than highly original. It was hokey the first time and hasn’t improved since.

Do use illustrations to tell your story, instead of simple bulleted lists. A list of bullets is a fine way to present a handful of parallel ideas. A graphic gives you the opportunity to show their interrelationships as well.If, for example, your bullets present the sequence of seven steps you’ll follow to complete an assignment, place seven boxes on the screen, positioned diagonally from upper left to lower right. Connect them with arrows — right-angled ones that descend from the bottom mid-point of each box to the left-side mid-point of the next one. Label each box with one of the steps.

Have too much to say about each step for this format to work? Create a row of seven block arrows across the top of the slide and label those as the steps. Below each position a rectangle and put bullets in each to explain the specifics for each.

Use small fonts for fine points. Complex slides will sometimes require 10-point type. That’s okay, so long as you provide print-outs to your audience. They can read the big-fonted labels on the screen to keep track, and the fine-pointed details on the printed page.

Don’t just read your slides, except when you do. When a slide contains more than three bullets, say, “I want to focus your attention on a few points on this slide,” and then do so. If it contains a complex graphic, all of which matters, say, “This slide is complicated. Let me walk you through it.”

Sometimes, stop referring to your slides altogether and just talk to your audience. Your presentation is there to assist you, not to imprison you.

Use agenda slides. The first occurrence lets your audience know what to expect. Repeat it at transitions, bolding the upcoming topic. Doing so helps your audience keep track.

Never, ever apologize for your slides. If a slide contains a typographical error, your audience might find it mildly distracting. By apologizing you interrupt yourself, which is much more distracting.

Here’s what matters most: Excellent PowerPoint presentations are, before anything else, storytelling. Good presentations have a narrative flow. Each slide follows naturally from the one that precedes it and leads naturally to the next one.

It’s like any other form of communication. If you want to be effective, don’t just blurt — plan.