Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
"— Mahatma Gandhi
The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.
"— John F. Kennedy
Your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers.
"— Unknown
We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.
"— Thich Nhat Hanh
Stop thinking in terms of limitations and start thinking in terms of possibilities.
"— Terry Josephson
Man is free at the instant he wants to be.
"— Voltair
The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.
"— J. R. R. Tolkien
Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.
"— Ryunosuke Satoro
We must all hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately.
"— Benjamin Franklin
Conquering any difficulty always gives one a secret joy, for it means pushing back a boundary-line and adding to one's liberty.
"— Henri Frederic Amiel
There is a boundary to men's passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.
"— Edmund Burke
Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.
"— Ray Bradbury
Each species, be it a form of bacteria or deer, is knitted together in a network of interdependence, however indirect the links may be.
"— Murray Bookchin
You live in the age of interdependence. Borders don't count for much or stop much, good or bad, anymore.
"— Bill Clinton
When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
"— John Muir
Everything is alive; everything is interconnected.
"— Cicero
If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.
"— Hermann Hesse
To lead the people, walk behind them.
"— Lao Tzu
We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
"— T. S. Eliot
The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.
"— Goethe
Those who have an excessive faith in their theories or in their ideas are not only poorly disposed to make discoveries, but they also make very poor observations.
"— Claude Bernard
Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.
"— Leonard Nemoy
A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.
"— Oliver Wendell Holmes

Boundary Spanning Leadership
By Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason

Purchase Boundary Spanning Leadership Today!

Catalyze collaboration, drive innovation, transform your organization—with Boundary Spanning Leadership you can turn today's limiting borders into tomorrow's limitless frontiers.

We live in a world of vast collaborative potential. Yet, all too often, powerful boundaries create borders that splinter groups into Us and Them, leading to limiting possibilities and uninspiring results. To transform borders into frontiers in today's global, multi-stakeholder organizations, you need Boundary Spanning Leadership.

Powered by a decade of global research and practice by the top-ranked Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), this landmark book takes you from rural towns in the United States to luminous skyscrapers in Hong Kong and from a modernizing South Africa to the bustling streets of India, showing you how to build bridges across boundaries.

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Read the introductory chapter here... read more

About the Book

Through compelling stories, practical tactics, and actionable tools, you'll learn and apply the six boundary spanning practices that occur at the nexus between groups (each practice is a chapter in the book):

Nexus Effect
  • Buffering defines boundaries to create safety
  • Reflecting creates understanding of boundaries to foster respect
  • Connecting suspends boundaries to build trust
  • Mobilizing reframes boundaries to develop community
  • Weaving interlaces boundaries to advance interdependence
  • Transforming cross-cuts boundaries to enable reinvention

Together, these practices combine to create what authors Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason call, "The Nexus Effect — the limitless possibilities and inspiring results that groups can realize together, far exceeding what they can achieve on their own," including:

  • Agility to respond to a dynamic marketplace
  • Flexibility in cross-functional learning and problem solving capabilities
  • Speed in organizational innovation processes
  • Capability to work with partners in deeper, more open relationships
  • A welcoming, diverse, and inclusive organization that brings out everybody's best
  • Engaged and empowered global virtual teams

Boundaries exist. What matters most is how you work to bridge these divides and transform your organization's wide-ranging talents and knowledge to deliver value. With Boundary Spanning Leadership, the possibilities are limitless.

Who Should Read the Book?

The challenges we face in all aspects of business and society span boundaries. So too must leadership. We wrote this book for anyone who seeks to bridge boundaries between groups in pursuit of realizing a higher purpose or goal. You may be a CEO, a middle manager, or a project manager. You may be working in a nonprofit organization or as a community organizer. You may be a human resources professional, educator, or consultant. You could be working in Brazil, China, Germany, or the United States or in all four countries during the course of a year. Regardless, our core message to you is this: Through six boundary spanning practices, you can turn limiting borders into limitless frontiers to solve mission-critical problems, create innovative solutions, and positively change and transform your organization or community. In short, we wrote this book to help you achieve inspiring results at the nexus between groups.

About the Research?

This book is based on the experiences of actual leaders who participated in two Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) research projects: Leadership Across Differences (LAD), which involved researchers from around the world; and Leadership at the Peak, which collected survey data from senior executives participating in leadership programs.

The LAD project transpired across six world regions — Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America — leading to a comprehensive database of over 2,800 survey responses, almost 300 interviews and a wide range of secondary data, such as media reports and organizational communications. The goal of the research was to address the following question: What are the leadership processes by which organizations create shared direction, alignment and commitment across groups of people with very different histories, perspectives, values or cultures?

6 World Regions

In Stage 1 of the LAD project, the research team collected interview data from 50 individuals located in 11 different countries. Interviewees held a variety of occupations in corporations, social service organizations, hospitals and schools, and they were employed at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. In order to examine from a variety of different perspectives the challenges that groups face in managing boundaries, we included people holding formal leadership positions in the organizations as well as those having no formal leadership authority.

In Stage 2 of the LAD project, the research team collected interview data from 239 individuals located in 11 countries, but with several changes in our sampling strategy. We required a minimum of 10 interviewees per organization, and we made a concerted effort to obtain data from individuals who varied on a number of different factors — such as gender, race and level in the organization. We also attempted to maximize cultural variation in our sample so as to examine whether similar types of events occurred in different cultural contexts.

Participants in the second CCL project, Leadership at the Peak, allowed us to refine the results of the LAD research. These leaders were surveyed on pressing trends and challenges, the role of leadership in spanning boundaries, and the types of boundaries that leaders face in attempting to create direction, alignment and commitment. A total of 128 program participants completed a survey. The majority of respondents (60%) worked at the senior vice president or director level. Chief executive officers or presidents accounted for another 32% of the sample, and the remaining 8% held titles such as vice president and plant manager.

Findings from this study informed our thinking in two primary ways. First, it reinforced our belief that while spanning boundaries is now critical, it remains challenging. Our data showed that 86% of senior executives found it "extremely important" to work effectively across boundaries in their current leadership role. Yet only 7% of these executives believed they were currently "very effective" at doing so — a gap of 79% between the perceived importance of boundary spanning and the ability to achieve it. The other primary finding was the identification of the five types of boundaries—vertical, horizontal, stakeholder, demographic and geographic.

Table of Contents

Foreword: Marian N. Ruderman

Part One: The Forces that Pull Us Apart and Bring Us Together

  • Chapter One: The Shifting Leadership Landscape
  • Chapter Two: Us and Them: Why Identity Matters
  • Chapter Three: Intergroup Boundaries: The Great Divide

Part Two: Managing Boundaries

  • Chapter Four: Buffering: Creating Safety
  • Chapter Five: Reflecting: Fostering Respect

Part Three: Forging Common Ground

  • Chapter Six: Connecting: Building Trust
  • Chapter Seven: Mobilizing: Developing Community

Part 4: Discovering New Frontiers

  • Chapter Eight: Weaving: Advancing Interdependence
  • Chapter Nine: Transforming: Enabling Reinvention

Part Five: The Nexus Effect

  • Chapter Ten: The Nexus Effect and You

Epilogue: Toward an Interdependent, Collaborative Future
Appendix A: About the Research
Appendix B: Boundary Spanning Leadership Summary Table
About the Authors
Where to Go Next: CCL Resources for Boundary Spanning Leadership
About the Center for Creative Leadership
About the Center for Organizational Leadership


Across Cultures and Contexts, Geographies and Sectors,  Praise for Boundary Spanning Leadership...

In this deeply insightful look at the demands on 21st century leaders, Ernst and Chrobot-Mason outline six boundary spanning leadership practices derived from case studies and research with thousands of participating managers. This work is bound to be one of the most important management books of the decade.
David A. Thomas, Ph.D., H. Naylor Fitzhugh professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School

Fostering a culture of teamwork among business units and partners is crucial for bottom-line success. This groundbreaking book, packed with practical examples and based on solid research, shows us how to get started.
Marc NoŽl, chairman, NoŽl Group LLC

Few books capture the needs and narrative of today's business and so elegantly lay out a plan to address its challenges. Boundary Spanning Leadership nails this...Consume it and play you're role!
Andy Stefanovich, chief curator and provocateur, Prophet

Leaders often struggle to move teams forward because they look for solutions only within their own context. The authors draw on rigorous global research and real-world experience to help leaders move into new frontiers where they can find answers and practices for creating success.
Jack Stahl, former CEO, Revlon & president/COO, Coca-Cola company

The future will be punctuated by new spans across old boundaries. This book shows you how to improve your "span ability".
Bob Johansen, Ph.D., Institute for the Future Distinguished Fellow, author of the bestselling Get There Early and Leaders Make the Future.

Understanding boundaries so organizations can successfully explore and push into new frontiers is a challenge for every leader in almost all undertakings. Ernst and Chrobot-Mason help us better understand the power of teams working collaboratively together.
Vice Admiral Cutler Dawson (USN Ret.), president & CEO, Navy Federal Credit Union

Many colleges and universities are searching for new, innovative interdisciplinary ways to teach students and develop knowledge, making the ability to work effectively across boundaries more crucial than ever. Ernst and Chrobot-Mason offer smart, practical insights that can greatly enhance how educators work together to create future generations of leaders.
Thomas W. Ross, president, University of North Carolina School System

This book helps you build the essential boundary spanning capabilities you need to lead people fractured by strongly held values, beliefs, feelings, and practices that seem impossible to reconcile.  The authors share wisdom and experiences from around the globe in a book rich with examples, tools, tactics, and cautionary pitfalls—stories that touch your heart and boost your leadership potential.
Victoria J. Marsick, Ph.D., professor of Education & co-director J.M. Huber Institute, Columbia University

I have had the privilege to apply the author's practical thought leadership in my business roles since 2005. Now Ernst and Chrobot-Mason have created a next-generation classic to share what will quickly become a must read guide to leading in the global economy.
Greg Pryor, vice president, Leadership and Organization Effectiveness, Juniper Networks

Our deepening interdependence with each other is an undeniable reality, a frightening challenge, and a remarkable opportunity. This book boldly guides us into this rapidly emerging new global reality, showing us the simplicity on the other side of the complexity, illuminating insights and skills each of us can use to lead powerfully in the 21st century.
Max Klau, Ph.D., director of Leadership Development, City Year, Inc.

The globally diverse backgrounds and multiple stakeholder groups that comprise today's organizations demand the innovative leadership approaches espoused in Boundary Spanning Leadership. The authors' timely toolset draws from extensive, deep experience and research and describes in detail how to overcome the numerous challenges that dissimilar teams pose to leaders.
Norty Turner,  vice president and general manager, Hertz Equipment Rental Corporation, EMEA and India

The biggest challenge in a matrix organization is connecting the dots to unlock value.  Boundary Spanning Leadership provides practical tools to constructively remove silos, neutralize negative politics, and put in place the conditions to achieve outstanding results
Kevin Dooley, global head of HR Communications and Employer Brand and Marketing, Deutsche Bank

Working across boundaries is key to successfully running a global business. The authors have written a superb book which provides today's leaders with the necessary insights and tools to steer successfully through times of transition.
Guy Kempfert, global head Learning & Development, Syngenta Crop Protection AG

This book articulates a concept we believe is critical to our success at Lenovo: Businesses that transform cultural differences into organizational strengths, that focus intensely on building a unified global team, and that make their culture a top priority at every level have the best chance to succeed and build an enduring, winning company.
Kenneth DiPietro, senior vice president, HR Lenovo

For too long organizations have struggled with how best to nurture important collaborations across boundaries of time, space, expertise and hierarchy. Ernst and Chrobot-Mason identify and make actionable critical practices to help any leader obtain a multiplier effect from their talent.  A must read!
Rob Cross, Ph.D., associate professor, University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce and author of Driving Results Through Social
  Networks and The Hidden Power of Social Networks

Boundary Spanning Leadership brings elusive concepts to life with practical processes illustrated by inspiring stories and action tips. It's a common sense approach to navigating the complex world we experience every day. Timely and timeless—read it now!
Ernie Turner, president, LIM (Leadership in International Management), author of Action Reflection Learning: Solving Real Business Problems
  by Connecting Earning with Learning

Silos, stovepipes, and narrow conceptions of role and identity beware: This groundbreaking book helps people work together more constructively despite your efforts!
Richard Hughes, Ph.D., senior author of best-selling textbook Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience.

Ernst and Chrobot-Mason distill the transformational power of boundary spanning leadership into an intuitively sound and inspirationally coherent practice. This book is as valuable as anything we've seen before in conflict transformation and bridging communities of all kinds: deceptively simple solutions to profoundly complex issues of building cultures of peace.
Mark Johnson, Ph.D., executive director, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Boundary Spanning Leadership reminds leaders of the critical need to connect with diverse stakeholders by finding common ground as individual human beings.
Shalini Mahtani, founder, Community Business Asia

Few of us know how to work in a world where everything influences everything else. Finally, we have a guide. Grounded in a persuasive philosophy, Ernst and Chrobot-Mason's new book offers the pragmatic skills we have been searching for, but, until now, have eluded us.
Nancy Adler, Ph.D., S. Bronfman Chair in Management, McGill University, Canada and author of the best-seller, International Dimensions
  of Organizational Behavior

Boundary Spanning Leadership offers a wealth of insights on how to lead effectively across differences. It is sure to be an invaluable resource to anyone who wants to be a better leader.
David V. Day, Ph.D., Woodside Professor of Leadership and Management, University of Western Australia Business School

At last, a practitioner oriented book, based on solid research, that enables leaders, regardless of the country where they are employed, to inspire culturally diverse teams.
Gary Latham, Ph.D., secretary of state professor of Organizational Effectiveness, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Leading difference is one of the most important cross-sector challenges that leaders encounter.  Through hands-on practical advice, illustrated by compelling stories of success, Ernst and Chrobot-Mason have fashioned a multi-dimensional framework for spanning boundaries and leading across groups.
Nick Barker, Ph.D., director, Asia Pacific Leadership Program, East-West Center

Book Tools

Below are digitally reproduced copies of the tools in the book. Feel free to download, print, and have available while reading the book.

  1. Your Nexus Challenge
  2. Your Identity Circle
  3. Solving Your Nexus Challenge

About the Authors

Chris Ernst

Chris Ernst is an internationally recognized thought leader for developing collaborative approaches to leadership in a complex, interdependent world. Currently he serves as Organizational Effectiveness Thought Leader at Juniper Networks in Silicon Valley. In this capacity, Chris supports Juniper's bold vision of "Connect Everything, Empower Everyone" by stewarding the leadership agenda as the advisor and facilitator to the executive committee.

Chris also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), consistently ranked as one of the Top 10 executive education organizations worldwide by both Business Week and The Financial Times. He has honed his practice through fifteen years at CCL, working in wide-ranging leadership research, design, and advisory services roles in the corporate, nonprofit, and education sectors across six world regions. Earlier in his career, he served as Research Director, Asia-Pacific with responsibility for the start-up of CCL's Research and Innovation Group located in Singapore.

Out of these varied experiences, Chris holds the conviction that spanning boundaries is critical in an interdependent world, yet appreciates first-hand that collaborating across boundaries is hard work.

Chris' thought leadership is widely published in top academic journals, books, and magazines such as Forbes, Fortune, Chief Learning Officer and MIT Sloan Management Review. He is co-author of CCL's best-selling book, Boundary Spanning Leadership: Six Practices for Solving Problems, Driving Innovation, and Transforming Organizations (McGraw-Hill Professional) and Success for the New Global Manager: How to Work Across Distance, Countries and Cultures (Jossey-Bass/Wiley).

By integrating his research training with real world global experience, Chris is uniquely positioned to empower organizations and communities to solve their most pressing leadership challenges. He holds a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from North Carolina State University, and currently resides in Palo Alto, CA with his wife and two children.

Donna Chrobot-Mason

Donna Chrobot-Mason has been teaching, consulting, writing, and researching issues around leadership and diversity for fifteen years. She is committed to helping both scholars and practitioners better understand the challenges and opportunities that exist in leading a diverse workforce.

Donna is an associate professor in psychology at the University of Cincinnati. She has taught courses in organizational psychology, diversity, leadership, and research methods to undergraduate and master's level students. Recently, Donna became the Director of the Center for Organizational Leadership at the University of Cincinnati. As center director, she spanned boundaries to create and lead a cross-disciplinary research team that examines leadership from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives.

As a researcher, Donna has presented at nearly 50 conferences, coauthored five book chapters, and published 12 peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Human Relations, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, and Group and Organization Management. She is co-author of the book, Boundary Spanning Leadership: Six Practices for Solving Problems, Driving Innovation, and Transforming Organizations (McGraw-Hill Professional). Donna also serves on three editorial review boards for leading management journals.

Donna began her career as a practitioner in human resources at the Xerox Corporation. She also consulted with numerous organizations to evaluate diversity climate and develop training programs. Her skill as a diversity scholar and passion for applied research landed her an invitation to join the Leadership Across Differences project at CCL, eventually leading to the partnership that created this book.

Donna has a Ph.D. in applied psychology from the University of Georgia. She lives near Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats. When not working, Donna enjoys spending time outdoors with her family and water-skiing at the lake.

Free Resources

Boundary Spanning White Paper

White Papers

Boundary Spanning in Action: Tactics for Transforming Today's Borders into Tomorrow's Frontiers

In this restless world, leaders face complex challenges that can be solved only by building bridges across expansive boundaries. In this second of two CCL white papers on boundary spanning, we share some success stories and outline some tactics that you can use right away to bridge boundaries in your organization. (more...)

Boundary Spanning White Paper

Read the white paper that catalyzed the conversation about leading across boundaries in an interdependent world!

In a recent study by CCL, 86 percent of senior executives said it is "extremely important" to work across boundaries in their current leadership roles. Yet, only 7 percent of these executives believe they are currently "very effective" at doing so. Closing this gap is both a critical challenge and a transformative opportunity for leaders and organizations in today's business environment. This white paper explores why boundary spanning leadership matters and how to make it happen. (more...)


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Speakers Bureau

The CCL Speakers Bureau brings top-notch leadership experts directly to you. Combining our latest research with extensive leadership training experience, CCL speakers help prepare you and your organization for success with dynamic and practical perspectives on today's most compelling leadership issues. more...