Chris Ernst and Kelly HannumEvery day, Chris Ernst and Kelly Hannum talk about spanning boundaries and leading across differences. But their commitment goes well beyond words.

Chris and Kelly — both CCL senior faculty — have been deeply involved in CCL’s groundbreaking Leadership Across Difference (LAD) research. The study originally focused on fostering collaboration among groups historically in conflict. The work eventually involved more than 50 collaborators, spanned 10 years and crossed six continents.

Building on this foundation of research and insight from numerous global partners, Chris, Kelly and their colleagues are now helping leaders and organizations from around the world deal with their most complex challenges.

Chris realized that the lessons of leading when different cultures and social identities clash could be applied more broadly. What if the vertical, horizontal, stakeholder, demographic and geographic boundaries in our organizations could be bridged effectively?

“We face many big, complex problems in businesses, in communities and in an increasingly globally connected society. These problems demand a new way of leading,” says Chris. “Independent action, ‘siloed’ organizations and disconnected thinking need to give way to interdependent, collaborative problem-solving.”

Working with Donna Chrobot-Mason of the University of Cincinnati (another LAD collaborator) and other CCL colleagues, Chris pursued this line of thinking. The result is the book Boundary Spanning Leadership: Six Practices for Solving Problems, Driving Innovation, and Transforming Organizations, along with a growing body of client work.

Kelly focused on helping people understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leading and living in a world where differences often result in tension and conflict. “We are always leading across difference. You don’t have to be working globally to struggle with differences,” she says. “Whether our differences are political, cultural or institutional, we have to live and work together effectively. It is ultimately in our own best interest to do so.”

Kelly, with co-authors Belinda McFleeters and Lize Booysen, created the training resource Leading Across Differences: Cases and Perspectives. The materials provide facilitators working in corporations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and universities with a straightforward way to discuss differences and develop new perspectives and skills.

As Kelly, Chris and their many colleagues work with refugees in Sudan, NGO leaders in Europe, senior U.S. Department of Defense and State Department officials in Iraq, Latin American chief executives and businesses around the world, the idea of boundary spanning leadership as a way to understand, bridge and move beyond differences is taking hold.

“We are learning to reframe the idea of boundaries,” says Chris. “Boundaries are not just borders that limit and constrain. Boundaries are the frontiers where the most advanced, breakthrough thinking resides.”

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