In her excellent article on why women must break out of their comfort zone to advance, Wanda Wallace talk about the need to develop the skills of Spanning Leadership.
Women often feel secure in knowledge-based roles, and their bosses are at ease keeping them there. But to grow a career, it’s necessary to acquire a new set of skills.
But when you aim to take a position with a broader scope, you need to have the skills of a spanning leader, a manager who, rather than leading from deep expertise, is adept at working across boundaries of knowledge. Spanning leadership isn’t about executing tasks yourself and having specific know-how. It’s about being the enabler who focuses the team on key priorities, inspires others, and motivates reports to deliver even more than they thought they could. Spanning leaders mobilize others’ knowledge instead of adding to it.
From our experience of developing diverse global teams, we agree. Wallace’s perspective also aligns with that of Harvard Prof. Away Edmondson, who talks about spanning three kinds of boundaries: location, status and knowledge, as an essential skill for leaders. She outlines three leadership actions that are effective:
- Establishing an overarching goal,
- Displaying genuine curiosity about others’ thinking, concerns and aspirations, and
- Providing process guidelines that everyone agrees to follow for communicating, making decisions etc.
In the simulations of our immersive non cognitive skills programs, we find that the best way to develop these practices is to begin with the questions of Care: “What do I care about?” and “What does the other person care about?”. From this reflection, setting an overarching goal is a natural next step.
We also find it effective to coach leaders in mindfulness practices to help them develop their 'Presence and Center' to effectively declare this overarching goal.
Displaying genuine curiosity can be channelled really effectively through what we and other researchers call “team learning conversations”.
These five types of conversations make it easier to explore others perspectives, handle breakdowns and mistakes, conduct experiments to learn from, offer and seek feedback, and reflect together on process and results.
Conversations like this also make it easier to establish process guidelines because they naturally reveal the things that the guidelines need to take care of.
Surprisingly we have found that men and women learn these practices and develop these dispositions very effectively when they work together inside an immersive simulation. Although they approach the learning a little differently, the difference illuminates the learning for everyone.
Find out how we do it at V-Teamwork