I’ve built a couple houses, but I’ve never built a bridge. Bridge building is complicated. I know, I looked it up.

To build a bridge that won’t collapse, you have to consider all kinds of variables: from the scale of the bridge and obstacles you’re crossing, to the nature of the soil strata and local conditions, which might include everything from material costs to weather to the local labor market. And then, there are many types of bridges. There’s balanced cantilever, precast, span-by-span, cable stayed, arched, incremental launch…and that’s just what I got from Google. No wonder I get giddy: it’s pretty amazing.

A lot of collaboration and hard work goes into spanning boundaries and obstacles. Most of us know that intuitively when we look at a bridge. We know we couldn’t build a bridge alone, and we know that even with help it would take a really long time.

Yet, when it comes to bridging our differences, spanning boundaries between social strata and obstacles, we seem to think that a simple gesture, an individual action will suddenly make a difference, cross the divide. Take for example, the recent removal of select Confederate statues in the South. Sure, it makes a statement, expresses intent. It’s significant, but in the process of bridge building, it’s just the beginning. We’ve got some pretty big work ahead.

A few years back the Center for Creative Leadership conducted a study to explore how leaders can support boundary spanning within organizations. While the work focused on internal, organizational challenges and employee engagement, the blueprint for spanning boundaries that emerged from the work is applicable in many social contexts.

What did they find? It’s hard work. Boundary spanning leadership starts by establishing safety and mutual respect. The work can’t be done overnight, and it’s got to be local—every situation is a little different, just like building bridges.

While the CCL’s work gives us a helpful blueprint, how we span boundaries in our own communities and lives is the real challenge. In the upcoming months, we’ll be exploring the work of boundary spanning in different aspects of our learning ecosystem here in Tucson. We hope you’ll join us on this journey by sharing, listening, and working together to lay foundations that bring us closer to creating a loving, just, and equitable path forward.

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