Boundary Spanning Leadership: Tactics for Success for People in Aid (VIDEO)

On December 5 2011, People In Aid and the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) joined forces to present a workshop entitled Boundary Spanning Leadership. The workshop, which drew its title from the best-selling book of the same name, explained how to re-energise and focus organisations, building a new culture of cooperation. Hosted by the author Chris Ernst and Steadman Harrison, the seminar explained the principles behind ‘Boundary Spanning Leadership’ and contextualised these for use in day-to-day work.

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“The question at the heart of Boundary Spanning Leadership is: how do we lead in a world where boundaries – characterised by wide-ranging differences in values, priorities, and cultures – collide, intersect, and link on a daily basis? As human beings, we all have needs for both unity and separation, autonomy and affiliation, differentiation and integration. Leaders must learn to constantly balance these competing needs.” 

– Chris Ernst, co-author of Boundary Spanning Leadership

Boundary Spanning Leadership: Tactics for Success

What is Boundary Spanning Leadership?

Boundary Spanning Leadership is the capability to create direction, alignment and commitment across boundaries in service of a higher vision or goal:

  • Direction – a shared understanding of common goals and strategy
  • Allignment – the joint coordination of resources and activities
  • Commitment – a commitment to collective success that is equal to or above the commitment to the unique success of any single group.

‘Inherent in this, is the idea that leadership is a process, rather than a person’. – Chris Ernst

The Five Types of Boundaries

In today’s global, matrixed and multi-stakeholder organisations, leaders and organisations must learn new ways to navigate the five types of boundaries below.

  • Vertical – Leading across levels, rank and authority structures
  • Horizontal – Leading aross functions, units, peers, expertise
  • Stakeholder – Leading at the interchange of an organisation and its external partners, including the communities that aid organisations serve.
  • Demographic – Leading between diverse groups, including the full range of human diversity – from gender and race to education and ideology
  • Geographic – Leading across distance, regions, cultures and markets.

During the workshop, the participants were asked to divide themselves into groups. These groups were split according to which “boundary” the participants’ organisations were both most and least effective at collaborating across, which they thought was most important to collaborate across, and which boundary provided the solution to solving their leadership challenges.

Three Boundary Spanning Strategies

During the workshop, Chris Ernst and Steadman Harrison outlined three universal and overarching strategies for collaborating across boundaries.

  • Managing Boundaries – taps into the power of differentiation – the need for autonomy, distinctiveness and uniqueness across group boundaries.
  • Forging Common Ground – taps into the power of integration – the need for affiliation, unity and connection across group boundaries.
  • Discovering new frontiers – taps into the power of integration and differentiation simultaneously – the location where the most advanced and innovative opportunities wait.

The group was then asked to consider which strategy was most like the way their team collaborated across boundaries – and which strategy they should be focusing on.

Six Boundary Spanning Practices

At the workshop, six boundary spanning practices were discussed:

  • Buffering defines boundaries to create safety
  • Reflecting creates understanding of boundaries to foster respect
  • Connecting suspends boundaries to build trust
  • Mobilising reframes boundaries to develop community
  • Weaving interlaces boundaries to advance interdependence
  • Transforming cross-cuts boundaries to enable reinvention

To read more about the practical tools and tactics to apply the six boundary spanning practices that occur at the nexus where groups collide, intersect, and link, please view the Boundary Spanning Leadership homepage.

About Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth

Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth are Senior Fellows at the Center for Creative Leadership. Many thanks to Steadman Harrison III, CEO of GO, and Senior Associate for the Center for Creative Leadership.
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