Imagine the boundary spanning challenges as the U.S. role in Iraq transitioned from the Department of Defense to the Department of State. Two organizations with vastly different cultures had to complete a delicate handoff in just 15 months prior to the departure of the U.S. military in December 2011. They needed to work together with a myriad of American, Iraqi, and regional players to forge a secure, self-reliant, and sovereign nation. “We’re in uncharted waters,” said General Austin of Operation New Dawn, the name of the Iraqi campaign after Sept. 1, 2010. “We’re drawing down a significant military footprint after eight years of combat, moving a mountain of equipment, transferring responsibilities, and equipment to the State Department, negotiating with the Iraqi leadership about the future, and helping to shape things in this region.” It was clear to both General Austin and Ambassador Jeffrey that the complex, high-stakes nature of their task and the many groups involved required the two organizations to transform into a “team of teams.”

You may be thinking that your challenges are nothing like those faced by General Austin, Ambassador Jeffrey, and the soldiers, diplomats, and staff who were responsible for conducting the largest transition from a military-led to civilian-led mission in history. It is true that the intensity and pressure of the Iraq context was more amplified than in situations most of us experience. The consequences of not working together, of not spanning boundaries, were apparent, extremely dangerous and far-reaching. Both the General and the Ambassador noted that the clarity of purpose, along with a 15-month deadline, created shared motivation for the Military and Embassy personnel.

For you, the consequences of inaction, false starts, ineffective collaboration may be more muddled or uncertain. You may be working in an organization where the big picture hasn’t been painted or a sense of urgency doesn’t exist. Yet, we are certain that you face complex and vexing challenges. Your organization is built upon a scaffold of boundaries—rank and authority; expertise and function; partners, vendors, customers, and communities— upon which are layered numerous demographic and geographic differences. This is what you have in common with the General and the Ambassador

The experiences of General Austin and Ambassador Jeffrey reflect and build on much of what the authors, along with our colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership, have termed “Boundary Spanning Leadership.” Through over a decade of research and experience in fostering more interdependent forms of leadership, we’ve found that to realize high-performing, innovative, and successful outcomes across groups, leaders and organizations must first manage boundaries to forge common ground to ultimately discover new frontiers. Our model, along with specific practices, tactics and stories are described in the book, Boundary Spanning Leadership: Six Practices for Solving Problems, Driving Innovation and Transforming Organizations.

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