CPL Conference Addresses the Challenges of Leading Across Boundaries

December 6, 2006
Daniel Goodman

As the world grows smaller, differences between nations, as well as differences inside communities and organizations, seem to be deepening. The opportunities for conflict are on the rise. And the need for intergroup leadership has never been greater.
The challenges of leading across boundaries—geographic, organizational, ethnic, gender, and religious—were the focus of the sixth annual Intergroup Leadership Conference hosted recently by CPL. Forty leading academics and practitioners from eight different countries attended the November 15–16 event, which was organized and led by Todd Pittinsky, CPL’s research director and an assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School.
The conference sought not only to develop a better conceptual understanding of intergroup leadership, but also to identify practical ways of promoting collaboration between groups. The 16 topic papers presented and discussed during the gathering addressed issues such as trust and distrust, the risks associated with building bipartisan agreement in the U.S. Congress, how to build the leadership capital needed for making progress in intergroup relations without being viewed as betraying the interests of one’s own constituents, bridging the black/brown divide in communities, leadership across religious traditions, tactics for bridging social divisions in organizations, and intergroup leadership during organizational mergers.
For example, a conversation about trust led by Stanford Business School professor Roderick Kramer underscored how difficult the task of creating positive intergroup relations can be. In this age of suicide bombers, some groups seem to have literally no common ground—even the simple trust that others will behave in ways that protect their own lives cannot always be maintained.
During a discussion about defining positive intergroup relations, Bawa Jain, Secretary General of the World Council of Religious Leaders, observed that not even terms such as "effective leadership" and "non-violence" have intrinsically positive meanings apart from their context. Anamaria Schindler, copresident of Ashoka, a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, concurred, adding that it’s crucial to question the assumptions that lie beneath even such seemingly unassailable advice as "cooperative solutions are always better than individual solutions."
Alan Slifka, whose foundation focuses its grantmaking on efforts that promote coexistence, summarized the outcomes of recent attempts to promote social cohesion by the governments of Ireland, Singapore, India, and Israel. He went on to propose that governments make intergroup relations a senior cabinet position. Rebecca Newton, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, gave an overview of Australia’s mandatory voting policy, which prompted a lively discussion about whether a similar policy, if enacted in the U.S., might encourage less extreme
(and more bipartisan) voting.
Judith Richter, founder and CEO of Medinol, Ltd., an Israeli company that specializes in minimally invasive cardiovascular technology, described the NIR School for the Heart, an experiential program she founded that seeks to enrich the academic, cultural, social, and personal development of Middle Eastern teenagers from diverse religious and national backgrounds. The ensuing conversation focused on how the NIR model could be expanded to other regions of the world that are in conflict.
The topic papers presented at the conference will be refined and gathered into anthology to be published in 2007 by Harvard Business School Press as part of its Leadership for the Common Good series, a joint imprint with CPL.

Photos: Tom Fitzsimmons

Heather Caruso and  Barbara Kellerman image

Heather Caruso (foreground), Harvard Business School PhD candidate in Organizational Behavior, pictured with Barbara Kellerman, Kennedy School Lecturer in Public Leadership.

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