Boundary Explorer™

About Boundary Explorer

Boundary Explorer™ is a tool for understanding and exploring interdependent leadership by leading across boundaries. It promotes understanding of five boundary types, plus three strategies, six practices, and dozens of tactics for enabling leadership across boundaries.

What is Boundary Spanning Leadership? Click here.

Boundary Explorer is a companion tool to the book Boundary Spanning Leadership (2010) by Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason. This is a CCL Labs beta version. More info on Boundary Spanning Leadership from Chris Ernst at

Purchase Boundary Explorer

When to use Boundary Explorer : BE is used in three ways: as a teaching aid, as a personal take-home tool for reviewing and applying the model, and as a reflection and planning tool for groups actively applying boundary spanning practices. Teachers and facilitators should first become familiar with the basic model, using the book, in order to use the tool most effectively.

Boundary Spanning: A Leadership Essential




Boundary Spanning: A Leadership Essential

Ernst, C., & Chrobot-Mason, D. (2010). Boundary spanning leadership: Six practices for solving problems, driving innovation, and transforming organizations. McGraw Hill Professional. Read the first chapter here.

Boundary Explorer Introduction (VIDEO)

The From Here to There (FHT) Model of Human Development

The From Here to There (FHT) Model frames development as a long-term journey:

FHT model

From Here to There Model applied to a life journey

Starting with:

“Where are you from?”
Origins, identities, communities


“Where are you now (here)?”
Present state, presencing, observation, reflection, assessment


“Where are you going (to there)?”
Toward a desired future state, aspirations, visions, strategies, goals, dreams, and possibilities.


The DAC Framework: Creating shared direction, alignment, and commitment

quoteHow would you know if leadership is happening in a team, in a workgroup, on a task force, or across the organization? Look for three important outcomes: direction, alignment and commitment (DAC).

Making Leadership Happen, Cindy McCauley



Dialogue by putting something in the middle

Dialogue is a reflective conversation engaging the multiple perspectives of a number of people to explore assumptions and create new meaning. Create dialogue by putting objects in the middle of amediated conversation. Meaning becomes projected onto the object. Images work very well. You can use photos, art, stories, Visual Explorer and other Explorer tools, mementos, videos, graphics, and so on.

When people get good at this, they don’t need a physical object—they can put a topic (a challenge, a problem, an idea) in the middle.

As the Star Model graphic illustrates, multiple layers of the topic are explored from many angles (multiple perspectives).

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Amplifying Voices: An initiative of CCL Ethiopia (VIDEO)

Addis girls programThis short 2 minute video showcases the powerful impact that happens when you invest in young women. With the support of the British Embassy of Ethiopia, The Center for Creative Leadership, through its Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative, is running a long term program to amplify the voices and to increase agency of female freshmen and sophomore university students across the city of Addis Ababa.

More here.

Leadership Beyond Boundaries and mediated dialogue

Leadership Explorer tools, and especially Visual Explorer, have been key to our Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative, where they work by putting something in the middle of a creative conversation (mediated dialogue):

quoteImagine our world if we worked to create better leadership. Might we have fewer wars, would there be less hunger and disease, would more people recognize their talents and realize their potential, would we solve problems more creatively and effectively, and would we embrace and leverage the diversity that defines humankind? >> read more about Leadership Beyond Boundaries

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.

More on developing leadership for an interdependent world >>

More at the People in Aid site >>

“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.

The Story Behind Boundary Explorer™

For ten years, CCL conducted two major research projects that provided the content for the book, Boundary Spanning Leadership, by Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason, which ultimately led to the development of Boundary Explorer. The two projects were the Leadership Across Differences (LAD) project and the collection of survey data from 128 senior executives who participated in CCL’s Leadership at the Peak program. Between the two studies, over fifty researchers and over 3,000 research subjects were involved.

These studies were undertaken in order to investigate a peculiar paradox. That is, that despite the fact that through improved technology markets are far more globalized with instantaneous access to people, difficulties in relationships between people conducting business in these markets remains a persistent challenge. In fact, in some cases they have deteriorated. Leaders are confronted with seemingly insurmountable boundaries such as rifts between organizational silos, residual bitterness between historical enemies, culture clashes among countries and cultures, turf battles, and generation gaps. Such boundaries invite conflict, impose limitations on performance, stifle innovation, and present critical challenges which leaders are ill-equipped to confront. Thus, researchers set out to assist leaders by providing a way to visualize the problem, identify the specific challenges, and furnish practical solutions.

The goal of the LAD research was to address the following question: What are the leadership processes by which organizations create shared direction, alignment, and commitment across groups of people with very different histories, perspectives, values, and cultures? Data were gathered from six regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America, and South America. After collection of data, an extensive literature review, and a process of data coding and interpretation, the team ultimately was able to identify the six practices that comprise Cards 14–19 in Boundary Explorer.

The second project, involving the Leadership at the Peak participants, allowed us to refine the results of the LAD research. These 128 leaders were surveyed on pressing trends and challenges, the role of leadership in spanning boundaries, and the types of boundaries leaders face in attempting to create direction, alignment, and commitment. Findings from this study informed our thinking in two primary ways. First, it reinforced our belief that leading across boundaries is challenging yet critically important. The other primary finding concerns the identification of the five types of boundaries identified as challenges for leaders. The executives identified a total of 181 examples of boundaries and out of that, researchers developed the typology of five boundary dimensions — horizontal, vertical, stakeholder, demographic, and geographic. These comprise Cards 6–10.

The book, based on these findings, was published in 2010 by McGraw-Hill Professional. As a practical working adjunct to the book and also as a stand-alone product, Boundary Explorer was developed in order to help anyone who is faced with persistent issues relating to leading across boundaries. We had a precedent in the CCL product called Visual Explorer. This tool facilitates group dialogue through using images to help start conversations and create new perspectives and shared understanding. It uses postcard-size images to spur responses and reflective techniques to absorb learnings. Our goal in developing Boundary Explorer was to apply the precepts of the VE tool, using images and metaphors to drive understanding and apply it to a specific content area. Our goal was to simplify the process and make the card deck a familiar and easy-to-use tool that anyone could master and use successfully.

Boundary Spanning Leadership in Sedona with Visual Explorer (VIDEO)

Facilitated by Rich Been and Rod Mahs from the Center for Creative Leadership. More about Boundary Spanning Leadership here.

Boundary Spanning Leadership | Sedona, Arizona 2011
Facilitated by Rich Been & Rod Mahs