HomeIndustry Commentary

Manager mapping

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

“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.

Comments (4)

  • Canyons – draw in anything that comes too close. Canyon managers – you’ve probably had to deal with them, but if you are still sane, you don’t still work for one. if you are one, read columns in the archive – they may help.

  • Interesting analogies. But I want to point out a similarity with another data-gathering tool: network diagrams of people in an organization.

    I took part in a massive network diagram of all the learning professionals in our company. (Many hundreds.) The questions were pretty simple:
    – Do you know this person, and if so, how well?
    – When you need a question answered, how much do you turn to this person?

    The resulting diagrams were fascinating, to say the least.

    Workgroups were color-coded, and you could ask the software to space them apart some. Once you did, two things popped out:

    – There were people who were apparently the fonts of knowledge within a workgroup, as they had the most arrows coming IN to them on the “I turn to this person” question.
    – There were people who were the communication lines across the organization, as they had the most arrows coming IN to them from other groups on the “I know this person” question.

    And rarely were these the same people. Which taught us something about valuing the connectors as much as we did the gurus, if we truly wanted collaboration.

    The other insight, of course, was seeing some people with no arrows coming IN at all, and even a few people with no arrows to speak of. More lessons here, but not necessarily germane to the article at hand.

    The land-type we choose for our leadership says something about what we truly value, as did seeing the connectors.

    Don’t know how helpful this is — I’m writing when I’m tired — but hope the connection is clear. (Hah!)

  • Ox-bow lakes – I guess you start with rivers being a bit like isthmi (means of transporting stuff from one place to another, preventing things going from one bank to another, except when there’s a bridge), but then they meander and get cut off but somehow manage to continue existing long after they were actually useful…

  • Being a lake sounds pretty good except for the drilling holes thing.

Comments are closed.