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The Leadership Across Differences Project

Research Overview


Developing solutions to the most pressing leadership challenges has been the hallmark of the Center for Creative Leadership for the past 35 years. Perhaps no leadership challenge is of greater societal concern than the one addressed by the Leadership Across Differences project - the need for effective leadership in the face of racial, religious, gender, ethnic, and cultural differences.

The goal of leadership is to bring people together to accomplish a larger purpose. Due to globalization, technology, civil rights legislation, immigration, and changing organizational forms, this larger purpose must increasingly be accomplished within a context of groups of people who have historically kept apart.

Given this need, the Leadership Across Differences project seeks 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?


Pick your country, and pick your organizational context and you will find groups of people who are being asked to work side by side with other groups with whom they lack shared understanding and common ground. For example, Protestants and Catholics are recruited to work for high-tech computer companies in Northern Ireland. Devout Jewish nurses must care for expectant Palestinian mothers in a hospital in Jerusalem. A U.S. food processing plant suffers from poor morale and repeated work stoppages due to the inability of line managers to create an environment in which Native Americans, African-Americans, European Americans, and Hispanics can work together. An international, non-profit relief agency is incapable of delivering food to the hungry because of power struggles between top officials who represent different national backgrounds.

As these examples illustrate, dynamics in our global society are increasingly spilling over into the workplace. These dynamics create both opportunities and challenges for organizations in achieving their mission. As such, our objective is to work with organizations across five continents in a wide variety of sectors including public, private, nonprofit, and organizations in the education, government, and military sectors.


While some of the demographic shifts we address are newly emerging, others are as deep-rooted as our history. Given this complexity, we have designed the following four-stage approach:

  • Stage I: Framework Development - Undertake an extensive review of the literature, conduct interviews in organizations in multiple sectors around the world, and integrate these two streams of knowledge to develop a framework.
  • Stage II: Awareness & Understanding - Test, evaluate, and expand our framework in up to 11 different countries as follows - US, UK, South Africa, Singapore, Spain, Malaysia, Jordan, India, Germany, France, and Brazil.
  • Stage III: Application & Evaluation - Develop and evaluate the efficacy of new leadership across differences tools, techniques, and interventions.
  • Stage IV: Dissemination - Disseminate these tools and techniques throughout the public domain through multiple learning formats and levels of intervention. The ultimate outcomes of this work are to develop new knowledge and to create innovative tools and techniques to help individuals and organizations create shared direction, alignment, and commitment within a context of difference.


We have assembled a world-class team of Center faculty and international researchers and practitioners who are widely recognized for their work in the areas of demographic diversity, intercultural relations, and global leadership. The Center faculty members, most of whom have a Ph.D. in the social or organizational sciences, provide a balanced perspective in both learning (research and development) and teaching (application and instruction). The international team members have been selected based on their contributions to the organizational sciences. They bring critical perspectives and expertise on leadership across difference.


There are a number of learning and collaboration opportunities around the Leadership Across Differences project. To learn more about how you or your organization can get involved, contact members of the project team at LAD@ccl.org.