Start Them Young: Developing Global Leadership Skills in Students

Categories: Global Leadership, Global Mindset



Guest blog from Allan Bird, President, Kozai Group, Inc.


Amidst all the talk of global markets and transnational corporations, there has been less attention directed toward the globalization of education, in particular, the need to develop global capabilities among students. Since 2000, from kindergarten through graduate school, there has been a consistent call for the development of intercultural capability. As more students seek international experience, administrators are recognizing the need to help them identify and develop specific competencies. At the same time, faculty and staff alike are also feeling the need to assess and develop their own intercultural competency.

Research on intercultural capability and global leadership competency has consistently identified three broad categories critical to effective interaction with others:

(1) When working in diverse contexts with people who are different from oneself, individuals need to be able to accurately perceive and learn.

(2) They also need to be able to establish and maintain trusting relationships with diverse people.  

(3) Finally, they must be self-aware and able to manage their personal well-being while working in situations that are often stressful, as well as physically, psychologically and emotionally challenging.

More than 150 colleges and universities on six continents use the Global Competencies Inventory (GCI) and Intercultural Effectiveness Scale (IES) in identifying student levels of intercultural competency. These instruments are chosen for their conceptual quality and their psychometric rigor.

Case studies: Using intercultural assessment tools in an academic setting

At Northeastern University, undergraduate students pursuing an International Business major take the IES prior to departure on their “Expatriate Assignment,” a one-year international experience during which they complete one-semester of coursework in another country (usually in the host country language) followed by a 6-month full-time work experience in country.

Results from the IES inform students’ pre-departure preparation and are also the basis of developmental goals during the assignment. Upon return to Northeastern University, students re-take the IES to identify areas of growth. Evaluation of IES pre- and post- results over six years find significant improvement in overall intercultural capability.

At the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, Mark Mendenhall has used the GCI as an assessment tool to help MBA and Executive MBA students in the U.S. and Europe. The tool fosters self-awareness of those strengths and weaknesses associated with intercultural competencies that influence effective global leadership. After debriefing their GCI results with them, Mark then has the students develop individualized personal development plans that are based upon principles of cognitive behavioral therapy in order to help them strengthen their weaker intercultural competencies. His students are then required to apply their plan daily and every Monday throughout the semester report to him on:  

(1) How well they implemented their plan during the previous week

(2) Insights they gained

(3) How they might tweak their plan to be more effective

Each week after reading their reports, Mark gives them feedback to encourage and aid them in their efforts in the upcoming week. At the end of the semester, the students are required to write an in-depth reflection analysis of their experience that helps to “bake-in” the competency development achieved throughout the semester. This process of combining cognitive behavioral therapy practice with intercultural competency development has produced outstanding results. (Mendenhall, et. al., 2013).

Recognizing intercultural competencies in the classroom

Joyce Osland directs the Global Leadership Laboratory(GLLab), housed in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business at San Jose State University. Founded in 2008 to address a critical need to prepare future global leaders, the GLLab has educated over 1000 students, including visiting students from foreign universities. A unique assessment center approach that involves a battery of assessment instruments, case studies, complex simulations were designed to replicate the challenges faced by real global leaders. Extensive feedback and coaching and multicultural team projects were also implemented. Joyce uses the GCI as the primary assessment measure in evaluating intercultural competence for global leadership. The GCI shows students how well equipped they are for global work. It has the added benefit of being extremely relevant for all the differences they face in a diverse, multicultural university setting and location. Once students become familiar with the GCI’s 16 competencies, they have a common language for recognizing these competencies (or lack thereof) in classroom simulations, case studies, and student interactions.

To promote self-reflection and capitalize on the self-awareness that assessment results can engender, students write a reflection on their GCI results and choose one competency to improve over the course of the term. Like Mark’s students, Joyce’s create individualized personal development plans (PDPs) that target specific areas for growth, following the template in their GCI Feedback Packet (similar to a SMART goal). Research on the impact of the GLLab indicates that students have benefited greatly from the GCI and the Personal Development Plan process. In addition to developing global leadership competencies, using the GCI in this manner also teaches students a process for continuous self-improvement throughout their careers.  

Faculty and staff at numerous universities and colleges have used the IES or GCI to assess staff and faculty intercultural competence. Assessment is often carried out in conjunction with training on how to work effectively with international students.

Compared to leading-edge corporations, universities and colleges may be lagging behind in their effort to foster and sustain intercultural capability. However, their recent focus on developing intercultural capability is pushing them to the front, helped along by effective, insightful assessment tools like the IES, GCI and the GlobeSmart ProfileSM.


About the Author

Allan Bird
President, Kozai Group, Inc.

Dr. Bird has served as President of The Kozai Group, Inc. since 2001. He is also the Darla and Frederick Brodsky Trustee Professor in Global Business at Northeastern University. Prior to joining Northeastern in September 2009, Dr. Bird was in the College of Business at the University of Missouri-St. Louis where he was the Eiichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Professor of Japanese Studies and also served as Director of the International Business Institute and Director of the International MBA program. He currently holds a Visiting Professor position at Rikkyo University in Japan. He has previously been a Visiting Professor at Columbia University, Monterey Institute for International Studies, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences in Finland, Osaka International University and Japan’s National Self Defense Academy. He has also served on the faculty of the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. He teaches courses in global leadership development, intercultural management, international negotiations and intercultural and global leadership assessment. He is a qualified administrator of the Global Competencies Inventory. He speaks and reads Japanese.
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Mendenhall, M. E., Arnardottir, A. A., Oddou, G. R., & Burke, L. A. (2013). Developing cross-cultural competencies in management education via cognitive-behavior therapy. Academy of Management Learning & Education,12(3), 436-451.