Developing Global Leaders

To teach globally, educators must think globally, replacing long-held regional mindsets with expanded international perspectives.
Developing Global Leaders

In the past, business schools have often approached problem solving in a regional or national context. But the days when a leader could be cultivated within a regional or national context may well be coming to an end. In this broadening landscape of business, business educators are not only faced with the objective of developing leaders; they must develop global leaders.

In the global context, different cultural norms may present myriad solutions to any given dilemma: An executive from Japan may see an issue differently from his counterpart in the U.S., or a European may have a different approach from someone from Africa. As management educators, our central challenge is to design a multifaceted, comprehensive approach to global business education, while encompassing the different cultural perspectives of our students. Business schools must offer executive programs that focus on the issues of globalization, without teaching any one prescribed approach to those issues.

Basic Strategies

As an international business school, IMD focuses on five central strategies we believe are particularly critical in developing global leaders. Such strategies have always applied to business leaders, even when they are operating in a regional or national setting. Their complexity, however, increases dramatically in the global setting. To instill global understanding in students, business schools must rethink and refine their approaches to the following strategies:

Create a “global meeting place.” The first challenge for companies operating in a global context is to create a “global meeting place” within their organizations, where executives with problems and executives with possible solutions can come together. Such a meeting place may include face-to-face interaction, videoconferencing, or online communication; but the key is to encourage dialogue and brainstorming to come up with nonintuitive solutions. Regardless of the format, executives from all over the world must learn to work together, learn from each other, and gain a global viewpoint. A network structure is critical, for leaders who engage in multicultural dialogues often design stronger strategies.

Encourage systematic learning—sometimes through failure. To foster a global leadership perspective, educators should transform students’ attitudes toward failure, from a tendency to fear it to an eagerness to try new approaches. Business has long had an aversion to failure; but in a global market, failure is often inevitable. Global leaders are eager to try new approaches and learn in the global context. They view failure as an opportunity for systematic learning! Top management in particular must make sure that executives are not stigmatized if there is an occasional setback. Furthermore, if top managers are supervising executives from other cultures, they should expect those executives to make mistakes, rather than criticize their efforts to learn.

Experiment. It’s important to develop global leaders who are willing to try faster—and, if necessary, fail sooner—so that they can learn faster. In other words, successful leaders are willing to “fail early to succeed sooner.” In the eyes of the global leader, experimentation is a matter of trying new initiatives in a global context, in areas of the world where they are most likely to thrive. It’s not just a matter of first trying them in one’s traditional home market, and then expecting them to translate to another culture.

Juxtapose business models. Executives must be encouraged to juxtapose new business models with their traditional, cherished models. Typically, the traditional business model tends to be soundly grounded in the culture of the host country. Unfortunately, that grounding can prevent a business from discovering new, alternative ways of doing business in other cultures and in other parts of the world. The challenge for business schools is to develop global leaders who are open to new interpretations of their business rationales, so that the business model can continually evolve and expand within an international context.

Avoid silo cultures. In any multinational company, it’s important to keep each national unit from developing its own silo culture. Instead, the firm should become a single global “family,” with no particular cultural silos. National leaders tend to be more home-culture-oriented and hide within their national silos; but the right leaders can make global families happen, as IMD professors Joseph DiStefano and Martha Maznevski assert in their recent article “Developing Global Managers: Integrating Theory, Behaviour, Data and Performance.” Globally minded business educators must actively work against a silo culture, where a restrictive, “not invented here” attitude is likely to prevail. They should help their students embrace an interest and involvement in the global culture— and even more important, embrace that interest themselves.

To deal with all these issues in a business curriculum context, IMD takes the position that most, if not all, substantive business issues include a global dimension. As a result, each of IMD’s 19 public programs builds into its curriculum these perspectives. Whether we talk about marketing, finance, strategy, organizational behavior, change management, or leadership, the context is global.

In IMD’s “Booster” program, for example, companies send teams to work on a specific international business issue over the course of one week. IMD’s faculty present focused “lecturettes” on how managers can develop their business initiatives globally and act as catalysts for the participating teams. Another course, “Leadership Dilemmas and Profitable Growth,” addresses international leadership problems in parallel workshops, class sessions following specific subjects, and plenary sessions, where students network with each other to enhance their international understanding.

By helping students address these five challenges, business schools can produce more effective leaders. We also believe we provide companies that employ graduates with significant value because these new hires are able to make immediate contributions, especially where global initiatives are involved. Over the long-term, the IMD business curriculum is designed to develop capabilities and leaders at a level that will benefit any organization, anywhere in the world.

Instilling Leadership

As educators teach students to address the prescribed five challenges, they also create leaders whose capabilities extend far beyond addressing the challenges of today’s global markets. The fundamental goal is to produce nimble leaders fully prepared to meet the demands of markets that constantly grow and change.

Five key capabilities seem to be at the core of these important global leadership capabilities, which are outlined in the 2001 book, Accelerating International Growth, by Philip Rosensweig, Xavier Gilbert, Thomas Malnight, and Vladimir Pucik. These competencies have long been integral to business leadership, but now they must be translated into the global business arena:

A strategic capability. Global leaders understand how to delineate and implement a strategy in a global context. They realize that global strategy is clearly different from strategies designed for national or regional contexts.

A partnership capability. Global leaders know how to deal effectively with partners through international joint ventures, global strategic alliances, and cross-border acquisitions. In this arena, cross-cultural sensitivities are particularly critical.

A staffing capability. Global leaders can develop teams in such a way that executives from many different countries can work together, without one culture dominating the others.

A learning capability. Global leaders can effectively learn in an international context and know that it is particularly important not to be blindfolded by one’s own home country biases. Learning is a matter of picking up the best from all over the world, not trying to force international experiences to fit one’s own local frame of reference.

An organizational capability. Global leaders know how to organize the firm internationally in ways that facilitate and capitalize on leadership, not through host country dominance but by developing a global network of executives.

We need only look at multinational companies to see these capabilities at work on a large scale. Nestlé, for example, follows no home-base bias. By embracing the perspectives of all the countries in which it operates and sells products, Nestlé is able to create a culture in which its employees see the world as a truly global market. As it is so aptly put by Roger Schmenner, a professor at Indiana University- Bloomington and a visiting professor at IMD, global leadership has “no dominant culture,” but takes a broad perspective of all cultures.

The Changing Landscape

As companies become more multinational in the next few years, business schools everywhere will see the international makeup of their cohorts continue to grow. For example, IMD’s open enrollment from U.S. corporations increased by 67 percent in 2002. Furthermore, nearly half of IMD’s overall enrollment comprises students from outside Europe, including 22 percent from Asia, 20 percent from the Americas, and 6 percent from Africa and Australia. Like other business schools, we only expect this percentage to increase.

To serve this growing demand for international leadership skills, IMD bases its mission on two important premises. First, we call IMD “the global meeting place” for its students and faculty; second, we promise to deliver “real life—real learning” to our students. We believe these premises also drive the challenges that face management education today and are at the heart of global leadership.

With the right approach to management education in a global context, business schools can create that crucial “global meeting place” in which executives can hone their international skills. Only in such a context can executives develop their understanding of international business and multicultural interaction and practice real life—and real learning.

Peter Lorange is the Nestlé Professor and president of IMD International in Lausanne, Switzerland.