I’m running breathlessly through the endless corridor connecting portions of the old and new buildings at the headquarters site of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in Greensboro, NC.

Through miles of hallway it seems—a guest can literally walk (or run) for long minutes to traverse the distance between the old stodgy offices (resembling underground caverns on the ground floor) and the newer glassy edifice, an architect’s dream, replete with modern art and wall-length windows exposing an outdoor haven of forest and lake.

The distance is great…and the differences palpable.

The run between these worlds of old and new reminds me of the effort I must make anytime to cross over the lines between past and present…or lines of any kind, for that matter—boundaries between what has been and what can be, between the comfortable and known and what lies beyond…

I’m running, ironically, pell-mell, hard dash, in search of a copy of my colleague’s new breakaway book, Boundary Spanning Leadership. Chris and Donna’s mini-opus, a profound tome with persuasively practical, global implications is, not surprisingly, in short supply.

From the library to the bookstore, from the storage rooms to the receptionist front desk, not a single Boundary Spanning book can be found:

It seems that nearly a thousand copies were snatched up in the first few days following its release–a record even in a place like CCL where leadership books are composed, coveted and consumed wholesale, so to speak.

Here in this place, as in others, Boundary Spanning has found an immediate following.

SpanBoundaries. The Blog. Volume 1, No. l.

I’m honored to be one of the first writers for this blog that is dedicated, not only to Chris and Donna’s book, but to boundary-spanners and interdependent thinkers everywhere.

This blog is really for us.

It’s for corporate executives and community organizers, sultans and CEO’s, managers and those whom they manage, politicians, ambassadors, and disenchanted bureaucrats. It’s for organizational change experts, innovation consultants, and students everywhere of leadership, corporate culture, and change management.

It’s for the everyday man and woman inside of each of us.

It’s for anyone who ever found themselves stuck in a silo, or on the hard side of a boundary they didn’t understand. It’s for all of us who ever felt that we were pidgon-holed, or that someone had built a wall that shouldn’t exist–that needed tearing down or walking through.

It’s for all of us who ever dreamed of crossing over and becoming a “bridge over troubled water” to our organization, our industry, our community, or our world.

It’s because we know intuitively that there is something more and something better that we aspire to be boundary-spanners–adventurers on the new frontier who long to close gaps, build partnerships, and forge alliances, common ground, and new directions.

A Reason for Hope

I like that Chris and Donna are realists. They say, in the preface to their book, that boundary spanning is “not for the faint of heart.”

So true.

In my own life, I don’t need to look far to see how I am often part of the problem, less so the solution.

I like to think of myself as a relatively well-adjusted professional who is thoughtful and intelligent in most matters of life and living. Yet measured in the gaze of a boundary-spanner’s line-of-sight, I am a diminutive dwarf:

I spend most of my working time with a team of individuals that, for all practical purposes, is my version of a professional silo. In my off-hours, I text and e-mail, go to the gym, attend church, and hang-out with people who pretty much resemble me in social class, ethnic identity and fundamental ideology and values.

In fact, I kind of enjoy that I have lots of “like-minded” colleagues, neighbors and friends—individuals who, for better or worse, are kind of “just like me.” They form a base of social support that I can depend on. After all, we’ve got so much in common.

It’s just this premise of sameness and solidarity–the pursuit of all who are like unto myself–that may be my first downfall on the way to becoming a true boundary-spanner.

If Chris and Donna are correct, I may have to go a few steps beyond proclaiming what makes me one with these individuals. In fact, I may have to choose occasionally and intentionally to “span outside” my present set of peers.

It is this choosing—and venturing—beyond my comfort zone, beyond the safety of my own professional group, company division, friendship circle, or political party, that opens me up to the possibility and potential which the authors speak to courageously in their hard-to-get-your-hands-on volume.

To do this—to become a boundary-spanning leader– will require a fresh beginning. It will take a brand of courage and insight which, heretofore, I may not have possessed.

As Chris and Donna state affirmatively in their preface: With a “healthy balance of grounded humility and steadfast determination” we can each go on to span the boundaries of our world–uncovering the possibilities found in connection and collaboration with others who may also long for steady bridges to stand on and cross over.

In this, I find tremendous hope…and motivation to continue sprinting down that long corridor to the frontiers that lie just beyond, on the other side.

2 thoughts on “Boundless Hope

  1. I spent many years living and working in Asia – my golden rule was always to look for the bridges and not the barriers; the result of this was the ability to cross boundaries with a blend of diplomacy and tact, but perhaps more importantly the energy to inspire.
    Leaders who actively encourage boundary crossing inspires others to great efforts; on the other hand leaders who create boundaries, e.g. blocking collaborative work processes, destroy energy and fail to establish creative synergies.
    I tend to describe boundary crossers as having “good egos” and boundary builders simply as “big egos” – I’m sure we all have examples of both kinds of people within our organisation or have had the good fortune to work with and the faded bruises of encounters with the others.
    Great article, great area of discovery and exploration, happy for once to be a trend-setter, safe in the knowledge that the boundary-crossing skill is not simply a fad but a trend of necessity and empowerment.
    Kind regards
    Hamish.

    1. Chris Ernst says:

      Hamish, Chris and CCL colleagues here. Yes, indeed, bridges not barriers…or in the case of our latest post “Bridges not Helicopters.” Check it out, and please keep in the conversation.

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