Couple combines 40 years of expertise to develop one-of-a-kind resource defining relatable leadership

NAPLES, Fla. – In today’s global economy, effective leadership requires engaging in diverse interactions, meaning there is no singular, predefined way to lead. Instead, leaders today must be culturally agile, and they must live that awareness and adaptability each and every day.

“There Is No Box” (Nov. 8, 2022, BenBella Books) by Drs. Marisa and Simon Cleveland is a practical guide for leaders who recognize how critical it is to draw outside the lines of typical guidance in order to rethink leadership development and gain competencies that make them more inclusive, culturally aware, and empowered to facilitate collaboration. The authors draw on their combined 40 years of experience in corporate, government and higher education leadership to answer a question they’ve been getting for over two decades: How do lauded leaders live? Through anecdotes and interviews paired with actionable takeaways, the book investigates where leaders start, how they become boxed in upon entering the workforce and, finally, how they can break through those boundaries to become a culturally agile leader and a meaningful contributor to our global society.

“There Is No Box” provides established and emerging leaders everywhere with comprehensive tools to prove that leading isn’t just something you do — it’s a lifestyle.

“A great read for those just starting out, those sensing that they need to change their approach to leadership, or even those who just want to look outside the existing leadership style boxes.”Dr. Jack Deem, academic department chair, School of Business and Information Technology, Purdue Global University

“There Is No Box”
Marisa and Simon Cleveland | Nov. 8, 2022 | BenBella Books | Nonfiction/Business
Hardcover, 9781637741948, $27.00 | Ebook, 9781637741955, $13.99

Early praise for the Clevelands and “There Is No Box”

“A critically important book, offering invaluable insights and a clear path forward to becoming a relatable leader. Professor Cleveland’s premise that leadership is more than a skill, it is a lifestyle, is exactly on point. And his conclusions are based on strategies drawn from real world experience. …
I strongly concur with his observation that the power of cross-cultural competence is essential for becoming a successful leader.” — Paul A. Russo, former U.S. ambassador

“Today we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. The complexities organizations face everyday cry out for effective and relatable leaders to successfully navigate change. This book provides a clear roadmap on how to become a relatable leader to drive change while fulfilling your destiny.” — Timothy Mills, CSM PMP, instructor, Harvard University

“Marisa and Simon in ‘There Is No Box’ have captured the essence of leadership by bringing to light relatability as the primary driver to success with communication and compassion as central elements. Their gifted approach to leadership is grounded in established theory and re-enforced by continuous reflection exercises based on their vast experience in leading diverse teams of people. The roadmap to relatable leadership offers a synergistic right and left-brain perspective that will benefit anyone desiring a clear path to leadership success as presented through the lens of proven leaders.”
Paul Dooley, former assistant secretary general, United Nations

“A sensible, skillfully assembled, eminently readable survey of the most important aspects of being a leader and a human being. The authors inspire you to think about leadership as a state of being that can be found throughout any level and sphere of life, not just in the workplace. Relatable leadership and cultural agility, the book’s main contributions to leadership literature, have changed the way I lead and live my life. You might feel uncomfortable, but then you’ll feel grateful to prioritize your own leadership development.” — George Moschoglou, PhD, associate professor, Georgetown University

“ ‘There Is No Box’ challenges our leaders — emerging and established — to focus on the importance of finding common ground amidst a landscape of global and digital diversification. The authors weave together a method for becoming a relatable leader and taking charge of your own life. This is the book that every leader should share with their teams so they can thrive intellectually and emotionally. … I’m impressed with the way the authors blend academic theory with real world implementation.”
Paul Lewis, former special envoy to the U.S. Department of Defense

About the Authors

With more than two decades in the education and publishing industries, Dr. Marisa Cleveland is adamant about supporting efforts toward the betterment of the human condition. She is the executive director for The Seymour Agency, a Hodges University Board of Trustees member, and a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. In 2021, she was honored with a Distinguished Online Teaching nomination for Southern New Hampshire University, where she is an adjunct professor. Gulfshore Business and D’Latinos magazines honored Marisa with the Arts and Culture 2015 FACE Award, and in 2014, Gulfshore Business selected her as a “40 Under Forty” honoree. She holds an EdD in organizational leadership from Northeastern University, and an M.A. in educational administration and a B.S. in speech communication from George Mason University.

Dr. Simon Cleveland lectures at Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University. He has over 20 years of experience in the fields of corporate and government leadership, higher education administration, project management, information systems and technology management, having worked in various leadership roles for organizations such as MD Anderson Cancer Center, Department of Homeland Security, NASA, Accenture, America Online, Georgetown University and City University of Seattle. Dr. Cleveland holds a Ph.D. in information systems from Nova Southeastern University, an M.S. in project management from The George Washington University, an M.A. in leadership from City University of Seattle and a B.S. in management and marketing from George Mason University. He is certified as a project management professional, Six Sigma Black Belt expert and Certified ScrumMaster. He is the author of over 50 peer-reviewed publications, is a Tropaia Award recipient for Outstanding Faculty at Georgetown University, and was honored with the Excellence in Teaching Award from Johns Hopkins University.

Follow the Clevelands on social media:
Instagram: @thereisnobox & @simoncphd | TikTok: @themarisamethod
Twitter: @marisacleveland & @ClevelandSimon | Website:

In an interview, Marisa and Simon can discuss:

  • The concept of relatable leadership and how it differs from other ideas of leadership
  • Marisa’s 20+ years career as a literary agent and educator, allowing her to become an industry expert and leader in her own right
  • Their extensive background in business, higher education and management and how they’ve used their expertise to build the ultimate leadership resource
  • Marisa’s background as a romance and genre fiction writer and deciding to pivot to writing on leadership and business
  • How everyone — not just those in a business setting or organizational leadership role — can benefit from the ideas behind relatable leadership
  • How Marisa’s past life as a former gymnast emphasized the importance of balance and encouraging oneself to stay flexible — a crucial lesson for leaders

An interview with Marisa and Simon Cleveland

How did you come up with the concept of the book, and how does “There Is No Box” differ from other leadership books?

Our career paths began at the turn of the 21 century and spanned over the past 20 years, which saw the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, devastation from Hurricane Katrina, the introduction of Tesla, the iPhone, the rise of social media, the first Black U.S. president, the global financial crisis, the recognition of the same-sex marriage, countless school shootings, a global pandemic and an inssurection on the U.S. Capitol. All these events shaped our thinking about the importance of relatability in a world of perpetual change. Our message differs as it takes into account the lessons learned during this tumultuous period and forces our reader to confront their own positionality in order to become an effective leader.

What exactly is relatable leadership? How does it differ from other definitions of leadership?

Relatability is what holds a leader accountable for their actions and how those actions are perceived by those around them. The relatable leader is the one who has learned to check themselves by asking, and answering, why they are doing something and for what reasons. These little self-checks help them develop a sense of place among everyone else in their life. Moreover, relatability improves a leader’s sense of common ground with others and makes it easier for others to get along with and follow the leader. For us, this leadership style is unique because it places ethics and professional conduct at the center of the decision-making process of any leader. It incorporates the characteristics of authentic, inspiring, servant and transformational leadership theories and allows the leader to move fluidly within the style and adjust to the situation or personality of the individuals they lead.

Who is the audience for this book? Will those in a business setting primarily use it as a resource, or will others also gain value from the book?

The message in this book will benefit not only leaders and managers in organizations, or faculty in universities, but anyone who is aspiring to become a leader in their community. This is because we believe that learning how to become a relatable leader will help you focus on how you can be beneficial to others rather than wonder how others can benefit you — and this will bring value to the lives of others.

Simon, you have a comprehensive background in business and academia. How have you used this expertise to expound on ideas in the book?

My education and experience in the project management field helped shape many of the concepts, examples and exercises in the book. Specifically, I ask the reader to build a project management mindset and use the concepts around projects, programs and portfolios in order to create their own leadership development plan, which will help them shape their own paths to becoming a relatable leader.

What was it like working with a partner to write a book?

Projects can be complex or simple, and for this book we co-wrote, we stuck with the basics: A schedule with a start date, an end date, an approximate word count, and a weekly word count goal. We dedicated pretty much every Sunday afternoon or evening to writing, and we soon grew excited for those hours when we would work together. It became our secret time to work on a project we really believed in. Some weeks we were off, but for the most part, we were able to stay on track because of the Gantt chart we created. The Gantt chart showed us in one visual graphic the entire project and the timeline for that project to be completed. Because we had a physical, visible schedule holding us accountable, we could see what would happen if something was delayed, and we could also see where we had wiggle room in case something came up and we didn’t quite meet our weekly goals. But we loved when we did meet our weekly goals, because that meant we would celebrate!

Marisa, you previously wrote romance and other genre fiction. Why did you decide to partner with Simon and pivot to nonfiction?

Simon and I have studied leadership since our 20s, and it really bothered us that we couldn’t name a handful of good leaders between the two of us. Why hadn’t we had the opportunity to work with more effective leaders during our careers? Fortunately, we have worked with some bosses who were also fantastic leaders, and as I embarked on my doctoral journey, our conversations expanded to include leadership and leadership development.

Why is this book and the lessons it has to offer so important to you personally?

A Gallup study showed that large organizations typically have one manager to 10 employees. This means that one individual has a chance to influence the lives of at least 10 people on a daily basis. For us, this is important because this power can result in a positive impact only if the individual cares about these people. For us, a leader’s desire to have a positive impact on the lives of others is the key to embracing relatability as the leadership competency in today’s workforce.

What do you hope readers gain from the book?

In the book, we stress the importance that you, the reader, are the CEO of your own life. This means you own the decisions you make, the responsibility of your actions and the impact you have as a leader on people around you. Understanding this is a process, which takes learning and acceptance of the positionality of others and then making a conscious choice to accept relatability as a key trait to your behavior.

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