While the pull of old identities is currently most visible in developing nations, Zakaria notes that this trend is alive and well in the developed world. While Belgium went six months without a government because of the harsh divisions between Flemish and French speaking populations, Scotland elected a party whose central platform pivots on independence, seeking to unhinge the 1707 Acts of Union that established the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Scotland, and Wales.
Leadership research and practice has traditionally focused on the need for leaders to manage and protect group boundaries. As the events Zakaria describe make clear, the opposite response is increasingly called for – the ability for leaders to reach across, span, bridge, and bring groups together across boundaries.
Through the Leadership Across Differences project, (http://www.ccl.org/leadership/research/lad/index.aspx_), CCL is currently seeking to understand the increasingly important and necessary role that boundary spanning leaders play in bridging divides between groups in service of a larger vision, mission, or goal.
Critical challenges in Pakistan, Kenya, or Iraq will not be solved by leaders working only within a single identity group. Likewise, this holds true for any of the most pressing issues of today including poverty, education, human rights, healthcare, and the environment. The implication for leadership is this – as ancient identities work to pull groups apart, the role of leadership will increasingly be to create the context and space for these groups to come together. When group boundaries are successfully bridged, pent-up breakthroughs and innovations are unleashed. This is both the challenge and the opportunity for boundary spanning leadership.