Boundary Spanning Leadership: Stakeholder


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This is Part Three of a five-part blog series that looks to define the five boundaries of leadership and navigate strategies for success in each. Read Part One and Part Two

Next up on our boundary list is one you are probably all too familiar with. Stakeholder boundaries are the art of leading at the very complex interstate interchange of your organization and your external partners, which may include, but are not limited to affiliates, customers, sponsors, networks, value chains, community, shareholders, advisory groups and governments. Just reading that list may seem overwhelming, and rightfully so.

According to the senior executives who participated in the study by the Center for Creative Leadership, stakeholder engagement is tied for the third most critical boundary to span. Keeping that in mind, it is also noted that joint ventures, partnerships and alliances are the second most important societal trend which impacts society strategy. In fact, the trend is estimated to impact strategy at 79%. These external collaborations are one half of the puzzle that forms value-creating innovation.

The second half is internal diversity which will be discussed in part four. Those two elements together form the foundation and driving force of the push for innovation, which is cited as the No.1 societal trend affecting organizational strategy. The drive for innovation is estimated at having a 92% impact on the strategy.

Now that you have a broad understanding of the stakeholder boundary, let’s put it into perspective for your recreation and well-being organization. Some of your stakeholders may include:

  • Your members — students, faculty, staff, community or family members
  • Guests
  • Sponsors
  • Other departments — counseling, student health, dean of students, services for students with disabilities, academic success, research and planning, academic units, human resources, finance and administration, other divisions, etc.
  • Advisory councils and boards
  • Sport club councils
  • City parks and recreation
  • Athletics
  • Local and state governments

Once you’ve identified your unique list of stakeholders, start to write out and discuss with your team how you currently span boundaries with the following tips and strategies:

Work in Partnership with Members, Clientele and Consumer

One of the first ways to span stakeholder boundaries is to create deeper relationships and more open methods with member engagement. Think about how many businesses you interact with, whether it be for your organization or yourself. More and more organizations are moving away from customer service to customer experience. I personally recommend shifting to using the terms member experience and guest relations rather than even using the term customer.

Customer to me exhibits no more than just a one-time transaction. It’s an outdated way to view our clients and subconsciously could cause us to interact with them in outdated ways. Using the terms members and guests alludes to more of an ongoing relationship, a partnership even, where the organization and members work together to create a world-class experience. 

Kia Williams, a fitness industry innovator and former campus recreation leader, delivered a customer experience presentation for the 2019 Collegiate Fitness Directors’ Summit. She spoke a lot on changing the perspective from service to satisfaction. One of the main messages was we must strive to continually improve by consistently gathering valid data from our members and their wants. We must strive to make the service experience memorable. Remember, when members and guests walk into your facilities, it’s not just a workout, it’s an experience or perhaps even an escapism. 

From Barriers to Bridges 

How many times do you find yourself “dealing with” other departments on campus or even organizations in your community? You may even find yourself viewing them as a barrier, a blockade or a speed bump on your road to success, forcing you to slow down or seek an alternative route. It’s time for us to view them as an opportunity and not an obstacle.

For the most part, at the end of the day it’s both of our goals to create a healthier thriving community, so how can we do this together? For one it’s time to build bridges and use them at the interchange of this stakeholder relationship. Don’t fall into the mindset of “may the bridges I burn light my way.” You can benefit from these bridges in multiple ways such as having representation on advisory boards, creating a think-tank of brainstorming, or inviting groups to be the first-to-know on any new exciting rollouts you will be doing.

In the organization I work for, we have a creative way to nurture these bridges. I would even go as far as it even aligns directly with our core values and guiding principles. During our strategic planning process each year, we identify four to six departments, organizations or alliances for us to either build or nurture a deeper relationship with. We then identify a member of our team to be a guardian for each of those groups. This team member’s responsibility is to help us learn more about each other and ultimately be a service to the group. We pose the question, “How can we help?”

Throughout the year, we invite each group to events, programs and host brunches for them to nurture the relationships. During our brunches, we create a family-style environment and have members of the group sit with members of our team to have authentic conversations and discuss pointed, scripted questions placed on each table. This provides us both with an opportunity to learn a little more about each other as an individual, as a team, and how we can best help each other reach our goals.

We view this as an investment opportunity. It may take a year for your fruit to begin to grow but planting the seed is the first step. Here are just a few tidbits of the fruit I’ve seen grow:

  • Involving academic advisors as part of our well-being coaching and referral program.
  • Learning more about the well-being wants and needs of employees that are based in other cities and even states.
  • Watching a recreation and well-being master plan include stakeholders from multiple departments on and off campus, the city, community sports associations, and hospital wellness centers collaborate and voice ways to better serve our community.

At the end of the day, we are not psychic. The best way to span stakeholder’s boundaries is to simply ask them. Truly learn and understand who they are and what they want and need.

David Shuster, EdD., a former colleague in collegiate recreation, current client and the CEO of a non-profit organization, stated, “Know who you serve, why you serve them, and what they need and want. We are exploring the idea of opening a non-profit grocery store in an economically-depressed food desert community. But you can’t just drop 10,000 pounds of kale on the street and expect everyone to rejoice. You need to take the time to understand their perceptions and needs in order to fully serve them. In this case, educational offerings on nutrition and how to cook with kale would be a start.”

You may be physically away from your stakeholders at the moment, but how can you still nurture those relationships?


Yip, J., Ernst, C., Campbell, M. (2010), Boundary spanning leadership. Mission critical perspectives from the executive suite. [White paper]. Retrieved from

Trotter, Steven A. (2019, June). Living and working a strengths based life. [Workshop] Hagerstown, MD.

Williams, Kia. (2019, July). Customer service vs. satisfaction. [Workshop] Wilmington, NC.

Steven Trotter, MS, is a consultant, continuing education provider, adjunct faculty member in health and fitness science, and principal for Globetrotter Wellness Solutions. He also serves as the associate director for wellness and fitness at East Carolina University. His expertise is rooted in university rec programs with a repertoire in leadership and organizational development, fitness facility design and management, behavior change, and program management. Steven is a 2017 IDEA Program Director of the Year finalist and presents at numerous conferences across North America each year. He is a subject matter expert and blogger for the American Council on Exercise and previously served a 3.5-year term on the industry advisory panel. Steven has a master of science in health in physical education from Virginia Tech and bachelor of science in exercise science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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