A global survey of executives by the Center for Creative Leadership found that 86 percent of senior leaders believe that the ability to work across boundaries is extremely important for their success. Yet, just 7 percent said they were very effective at it.
Give them credit, at least, for being honest.
Spanning boundaries, whether it involves geography, generations, organizations or politics, is never easy because it requires finding common ground with people and ideas outside of our comfort zones. It’s hard work – and lately, we’re seeing what happens when we’re not willing to do it.
Britain voted to walk away from the European Union. In the United States, we’re mired in a highly polarizing presidential campaign. Here in North Carolina, the divide between urban and rural communities continues to grow, fueling controversial laws that undercut our state’s potential.
The headlines offer little hope. But a closer look reveals that collaboration – in politics, business and faith – may still prevail in the Tar Heel state.
The most recent example comes from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, which has launched the North Carolina Leadership Forum. The initiative will bring more than 30 leaders with widely differing political viewpoints together over the next year to focus on this critical question: How can we enable more North Carolinians to earn enough to support their families?
Funded by the Duke Endowment, the John William Pope Foundation, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, this project aims to model civil discourse among our state’s liberal and conservative leaders, build their professional and personal ties, and deliver bipartisan policy proposals that bolster our economy.
About 30 miles north of Charlotte a big experiment in collaborative research and development is unfolding at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. The 350-acre research campus is the brainchild of David H. Murdock, chairman and CEO of Dole Food Company. As a public-private partnership seeking to spur innovation in biotechnology, nutrition, agriculture and health, the campus transcends traditional academic and corporate silos, bringing together universities from throughout the state and industry partners including Dole, General Mills and Monsanto.
Since opening in 2008, the campus has created about a thousand jobs.
Faith offers another key arena for collaboration, and the Triangle Interfaith Alliance is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The nonprofit organization’s board represents many faiths, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. The group held a prayer service dedicated to Orlando and the victims of the recent shootings there.
As Helen Keller noted, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” The initiatives described here honor that spirit, daring us not only to work together more effectively but to do so by deliberately dismantling the constructs that keep us apart. It’s a mindset that doesn’t take hold easily but can be world-altering when it does.
Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact. Stephen Martin is deputy chief of staff at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. Email: email@example.com.