“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.