Executive Education

Leadership Island


There is an infamous poem, often disjointly quoted as “No man is an island,” and “Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

There are many who have uttered these quotes without realizing they were the beginning and end of the same poem. But when you do make the connection, the lesson is profound: it is about the ties of humanity and the responsibilities of leadership.

No man is an island.

In these five words, John Donne powerfully makes the point that life and purpose are bigger than us. It is also a humbling reminder that when we try to be complete in ourselves, we are isolated and insufficient. We struggle to survive on limited fare.

It has been said that no great work was done by one person. Even geniuses like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein needed the minds, hearts, and hands of others to complete their missions.

What does this have to do with leadership?


Great leaders are…


They realize they do not have everything they need to succeed in and of themselves. Therefore, they connect with the strengths and wisdom of others. The best leaders learn something from everyone they meet. They ask questions. They express genuine interest in people at all levels of the organization and outside the organization as well.


Leadership is very much about bringing two sides together and creating the spark that ignites effective action. A catalyst on an island remains unchanged. But a connected catalyst has powerful influence.


In the workplace, there are bosses, and there are leaders. These are very different people.

  • Bosses use their people to do the work. Leaders care about the people who do the work.
  • Bosses set their people up for failure. Leaders set their people up for success.
  • Bosses fire people and saddle others with the burden of their workload. Leaders develop people, maintain priorities, and balance the workload.

Bosses live on the proverbial island (the office with the door shut). Leaders thrive on the mainland where the people are.

For whom does the bell toll?

It tolls for you, the leader.

You are part of a powerful team where every person matters.

When one of your people fails; when a team member doesn’t do his or her part; when someone is not trained and equipped for success…everyone is affected.

The bell tolls for you to step up and own your leadership role.

Answer the call.

Give the encouraging word, have the difficult conversation, make the right decision, and equip your team for success.

“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Written by: Dave Ferguson.
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Dave Ferguson
Internationally respected and highly experienced executive leadership coach, speaker and author. Check Dave out at LivingToLead.com. Dave is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.