(With apologies to poet John Donne)
Perhaps you were required to read the poem “No Man Is An Island” by 17th century writer John Donne in an English literature class. The true meaning of the entire work has been immortalized over the years including in a 1962 war movie about a U.S. Navy radioman avoiding capture by the Japanese in Guam during World War II. The first line “No man is an island,” and last line “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” are most remembered, and oft repeated, but what about the rest of the work? How can it apply to leaders in today’s environment?
No man is an island, entire of itself
The basic concept is that we do much better when involved in a community rather than working by ourselves. If we are isolated, bad things can happen. Are you truly acting as a leader of your team or operating independently, and just having them do your bidding? Making the transition from individual contributor to leader is a step that requires self-appraisal and looking to others to help accomplish a greater goal than could be accomplished individually. You can’t do it all yourself!
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
This could be referring to individual countries in a geography working together for a common good or emphasizing what the first line says about how we all operate better as part of a community. How do you treat your team? Think about how much more successful they could be if each one felt connected to a higher calling. Even the most inexperienced member would feel that they had a hand in making things happen. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
Each member of the team is selected for their individual talents for the given situation. When the situation changes, so must the leader’s efforts to keep each team member relevant. That means different training, and coaching, so everyone can adjust to the unfamiliar environment. If a team member is failing, is it because they were not up to the new task or because you didn’t do everything possible to help them get there?
And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.
The author’s additional quote regarding this line is applicable to today’s leaders: “Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not that it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and not know that.” Do you think that you are better than you are? Self-examination and asking those you work with for honest feedback can help make you a better leader. Above all, don’t take yourself too seriously because the bell eventually tolls for everyone. Even you.
And remember, don’t be an island. If you could use some support, send me an email and we’ll talk!