What if I told you that leadership isn’t just who you know, it’s about whether you introduce people? One of the most under-discussed components of leadership is boundary spanning. That is, the ability to bring together seemingly disparate people and information to create better outcomes.
In Kare Anderson’s TEDTalk, she called this being an opportunity maker by connecting people in unexpected ways. To keep a mutuality mindset in which you seek out and connect those with complementary talents and a strong sweet spot of mutual interest.
There is a line of research called social network analysis that studies the linkages between people and the meaningfulness of those linkages that exist (or not), whether they are reciprocated, and how they are used.
One of my favorite studies in this line of research is by Granovetter that was published in an article called: The strength of weak ties. In it, he made the seemingly counter-intuitive argument that it is the people we consider mere acquaintances (rather than strong, tested relationships) can provide us the most benefit in some circumstances.
This concept is brought to life in Anderson’s TEDTalk. In it, she describes the connection she made between 3 people that could not be more different. An up-and-coming actress, an architect/professor, and an inmate of San Quentin. The connection between these three people resulted in the spread of public art in California. In short, she is boundary spanning. She is an opportunity maker. And she is a leader.
The take-away here about boundary spanning is twofold:
- What are you doing to get to know people that outside of your direct area of work? Do you know a couple people in finance? In procurement? In IT? Remember, several months back in our Happiness Challenge? I talked about the small things you can do to build relationships across your agency. In doing those small tasks, you will become happier. And, you are setting yourself up to be a boundary spanner.
- Do you make connections between people in unexpected ways? For example, I recently had someone mention a coworker sailed as a hobby. Knowing I sailed too, she said she hoped I didn’t mind her sharing that information. She just thought we should know each other. This coworker and I exchanged a couple emails about sailing. And, can you believe that a month later I was sitting in a meeting with this sailor? Or, that it went WAY better because we now had a personal connection? So you see. You not only can make unusual connections – those linkages can be in entirely unusual areas.