International Leadership Association 21st Annual Global Conference
When times are tough, our natural tendency is to hunker down. Battle lines are drawn. Organizational silos get taller. Worldviews shrink, attitudes narrow, and positions tighten.
All too often, boundaries create borders that divide groups into Us and Them. The result can be fractured relationships, diminished resources, suboptimal results, and divisive conflict.
Yet, boundaries are also frontiers — a place of emergent opportunity and new possibility. Wherever group boundaries collide and intersect, there is potential for different ways of working and new forms of collaboration.
Through boundary spanning, leaders can reveal new frontiers for solving pressing problems, driving innovation, and leading change. By definition, boundary spanning is when leaders can work with a great variety of people from differing positions, backgrounds, and locations.
Managers traditionally learn to manage vertically — to work up the organizational chart with senior colleagues and downward with direct reports. But it’s also critical for managers to work horizontally, across functions, locations, and with external stakeholders.
As our world becomes more complex, leaders must transform from managers who understand and protect their boundaries to managers who practice boundary spanning. The leadership advantage goes to people who are able to work with a variety of colleagues from differing positions, backgrounds, and locations.
In a research report, we surveyed 128 senior-level executives who participated in our Leadership at the Peak program. Over 86% stated that it is “extremely important” to collaborate effectively across boundaries in their current leadership roles. However, only 7% of those executives reported feeling “very effective” at boundary spanning — a 79% gap.
Leaders can close this gap by developing the collaborative skills, mindsets, and behaviors of Boundary-Spanning Leadership.
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