Dec 21

Boundary Spanning Leadership In Action: Transitions in Iraq

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Boundary Spanning Leadership In Action: Transitions in Iraq

RCSN offers a unique brand of Leadership Consulting that can help you achieve greater collaboration, drive innovation, and create cross-functional capabilities that can improve business results.

It’s called Boundary Spanning Leadership. It’s about creating direction, alignment and commitment across group boundaries in service of a higher vision or goal.

Let’s take a look at Boundary Spanning Leadership in action.

The Mission: Transition from Defense to State

In September 2010, the United States had just completed Operation Iraqi Freedom, which ceased combat operations and dramatically reduced U.S. troops in Iraq. At that moment, the newly appointed Commanding General of U.S. Forces-Iraq and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq were charged with leading the transition from a military operation to a sustainable diplomatic and civilian role in Iraq. Two organizations with vastly different cultures had to complete this delicate handoff, working with a myriad of American, Iraqi, and regional players, to forge a secure, self-reliant and sovereign nation. They had 15 months to accomplish the mission.

General Lloyd Austin and Ambassador James Jeffrey understood that it would take more than assigning people to work together on tasks. Just putting groups together when there is a history of competition, conflict, or “different DNA” typically leads to diminished problem-solving capability, turf battles, distrust, and decreased productivity.

The complex, high-stakes nature of their task required leadership that could span boundaries to transform the two disparate organizations into a “team of teams.”

The Transformation

The General and the Ambassador decided to build collaboration within their organizations by partnering with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) to conduct a seminar on boundary spanning leadership for their senior personnel to define how they would achieve unity of effort.

To begin, the groups from Defense and State worked separately to clarify the achievements and positive outcomes they wanted to see when the transition was complete. The question then turned to culture. What is the current leadership culture of the group, and what culture is needed moving forward to achieve mission objectives?

Tellingly, when the groups from Defense and State came back together, their skills were practically mirror images of each other. What Defense saw as weaknesses, State saw as strengths, and vice versa. This began a shift from seeing differences as obstacles to the possibility that the strength of one could offset the weakness of the other. A powerful boundary spanning opportunity.

The two organizations then built from this respectful understanding of their differences. Through facilitated dialogue and activities, the groups shared perspectives, took a hard look at each other’s roles and responsibilities, and gained insight as to how they could best work together. They established and strengthened cross-organizational relationships, crafted a shared vision, and made personal commitments to creating unity of effort.

Vice Presindent Joe Biden, meets with US ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, and United States Forces - Iraq, Commander, General Lloyd J. Austin III, as he begins a short tour to visit with the troops and Iraqi diplomats before the US drawdown of forces is complete.

Vice Presindent Joe Biden, meets with US ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, and United States Forces – Iraq, Commander, General Lloyd J. Austin III, as he begins a short tour to visit with the troops and Iraqi diplomats before the US drawdown of forces is complete.

The Boundary Spanning Strategy

From the alignment forged during that intensive seminar, the General and the Ambassador created structures and expectations that would support boundary spanning work in the coming months.

  • Joint meetings—Despite tremendous demands on their schedules and ongoing risks of travel, they committed to twice-weekly, in-person meetings, alternating locations between the U.S. Embassy and the military headquarters.
  • Inclusive mindset—They set as operating principles inclusion, collaboration, and over-communication. These were to be unwavering.
  • One voice—Their goal was to operate as one unit in the eyes of both Washington and the Iraqis, even during the most difficult situations.
  • Differences as strengths—The two organizations brought forth distinctly different areas of expertise. For example, the military deliberately leveraged the communication strengths of their diplomatic partners, while the Embassy took advantage of the military’s formidable planning skills.

The Results

They completed this momentous task within their aggressive timetable. Using boundary spanning leadership, the military and Embassy staff staked out new leadership territory—exploring new frontiers where differences are seen and valued, similarities and common ground are discovered, and new possibilities, processes and solutions are sought.

If Boundary Spanning Leadership can help facilitate one of the most complex transitions in history, what could it do for your organization?

For you, the consequences of inaction, false starts, and ineffective collaboration might not be so obvious. Yet, there’s no doubt you face complex and vexing challenges. Your organization likely includes boundaries between rank and authority, expertise and function, partners and vendors, customers and communities. And  what about demographic and geographic differences that continue to grow in an increasingly interconnected world?

Boundary Spanning Leadership ResutlsThe Outcomes of Boundary Spanning Leadership

  • Increased organizational agility to respond to a global marketplace
  • Dynamic cross-organizational innovation processes
  • Achievement of mission-critical, bottom-line results
  • An engaged and empowered workplace at all levels
  • Cross-functional learning capabilities to solve problems and adapt to change
  • A welcoming, diverse, and inclusive organization that brings out everybody’s best
  • Better managed risks and rewards through enduring cross-sector partnerships
  • Higher performing virtual teams
Interested in how Boundary Spanning Leadership can help you achieve your business results? Give us a call.

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To download a copy of the case study click here.