As co-author of Boundary Spanning Leadership I know from working with hundreds of leaders that leading across boundaries is a significant challenge in organizations today. On a personal note, however, I continue to be surprised in my role as director of the Center for Organizational Leadership at the University of Cincinnati just how very difficult that challenge really is.
I have been tasked with working across horizontal boundaries to lead a group of scholars who study organizational leadership from various disciplines (psychology, management and communication). Our goal is to engage in a collective applied research project to study leadership development from a variety of theoretical perspectives.
Even as I type this, I realize that on paper, the task sounds relatively easy. We are all leadership scholars housed within the same University. One would think collaboration would come fairly easily. Yet, I have discovered, as many of you already know, leading across boundaries requires a great deal of patience and a delicate balance between a directive leadership style and a more collaborative approach.
While providing direction and guidance are clearly expected of those in a leadership role, leading across boundaries requires constant attention to the inherent differences that exist among team members and their distinct needs and priorities. Pushing too hard and too fast can result in withdrawal; waiting too long for coalescence and commitment around a common goal can result in a lack of deliverables.
I know from my research as well as personal experience, that leading across boundaries requires constant vigilance toward achieving the delicate balance between a directive and participative leadership style
Having just returned from an invaluable week at CCL in which I participated in the Leadership Development Program (LDP) and was motivated and challenged to improve my own leadership skills, I plan to evoke a new analogy that was given to me by my CCL trainer and friend, Bill Sternbergh, to help me remember how to achieve such balance. Bill described balance as similar to riding a bike. He said that when we first learn to ride a bike, we often look down and focus on one aspect of riding, such as our feet on the pedals or steering the handlebars. The result is that we often crash. Later, as our riding skills increase, we learn to make countless minor adjustments while staring ahead at our intended direction. The result is that we achieve balance while riding the bike.
So it is in our role as leaders who must span across boundaries. We must constantly make numerous adjustments while staying focused on our intended direction in order to achieve success.