Boundary Spanning Leadership

BOOK REVIEW: Boundary Spanning Leadership:Six Practices for Solving Problems, Driving Innovation, and Transforming Organizations by Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason

How refreshing and empowering to find a book on contemporary leadership that not only frames relevant issues that organization leaders face by identifying boundaries they are likely to encounter, but it also offers practical solutions to spanning these boundaries based on a decade of real-world research by leadership professionals at the Center for Creative Leadership. I’ll wager that readers of this book will: 1) either already be dealing with many of the issues presented and find the discussions a veritable lifeline or 2) they will instantly recognize situations they have encountered in the past and understand for the first time why they were so intractable and challenging.

The rapidly shifting landscape of corporate and nonprofit leadership creates unique pitfalls as well as opportunities. Research surveys of over 125 senior level executives revealed an appallingly low number who felt they were very effective at knowing how to collaborate effectively across boundaries in their current leadership roles. Five primary boundary types were identified for discussion purposes, though the authors recognized that often they are closely linked:

  1. Vertical boundaries between hierarchical levels of the organization
  2. Horizontal boundaries between functions
  3. Stakeholder boundaries with customers and vendors
  4. Demographic boundaries in working with people from diverse groups
  5. Geographic boundaries of distance and region

Concluding that boundary spanning practices can turn boundaries into frontiers ripe with untapped potential, the authors explore what these practices might be, providing compelling actual stories/examples to illustrate them, and offering exercises and strategies to implement them in your own situation.

The authors first discuss the boundary management practices of Buffering (Creating Safety) and Reflecting (Fostering Respect). Then they move into practices that forge common ground: Connection (Building Trust) and Mobilizing (Developing Community). Next in the evolution of boundary-spanning are the practices that develop new frontiers: Weaving (Advancing interdependence) and Transforming (Enabling Reinvention).

“Together, these practices combine to create what authors Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason call the Nexus Effect. The Nexus Effect allows groups to be more agile in response to changing markets; be more flexible in devising and deploying cross-functional learning and problem-solving capabilities; work with partners in deeper, more open relationships; empower virtual teams; and create a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive organization that brings out everybody’s best.” (From the Editorial Review in Amazon)

While the challenges described here will be familiar to those who follow leadership trends and practices, I believe the authors have developed and presented what many will find to be an original, useful and implementable approach to thinking about and managing them.

What boundary-spanning practices has YOUR organization used? Please let us know in the comment section below.

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One Response to “Boundary Spanning Leadership”

  1. The masterful review Elizabeth wrote of Chris Ernst’s book resonates widely. Bravo!! Bravo!!

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