Developing Cultural Intelligence for Global Leadership

Developing Cultural Intelligence for Global Leadership

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Business education today incorporates what is now the phenomenon of the ‘international study tour’.  Go to any MBA Program’s website and you’ll see the wonderful advertisements for how you, as a student at “XYZ Institution”, can have a Global MBA experience.  The promises are exciting, the descriptions are enticing – they truly whet your appetite for all things global.  During these study tours, MBA students have the opportunity for a short-term experience in another country whereby they visit companies, meet with key leadership, walk the factory floors, and learn about ‘doing business in country “x” ‘.

This is a unique and worthwhile opportunity for  any student to be able to get out of the classroom and have a type of ‘lab’ experience.  However, simply visiting companies in another cultural context will not get at the importance of deep learning – or as we have talked about in previous posts – cultural intelligence.  Cultural intelligence is the congruence of knowledge development, personal reflection, and trial and error improvisation as one figures out how to develop intercultural skills, or as Thomas calls it, competence (see “Components of Cultural Intelligence:  Components of Cultural Intelligence).

As an educator, I have to ask the important question of any curricular development – “So what?”  What are the ultimate aims of having students go abroad?  What will they learn?  What will they do with it when they return?  I consider good teaching and learning to be transformational – something has to happen internally – personally – in order for experiences to stick and make a difference.  Otherwise, why bother?  I strongly believe that the traditional MBA study tour – as it is today – needs to be seriously revamped in order to provide our students with the deeper meaning of what it means to ‘do business abroad’.

Research has shown that experiencing cultural contact – no matter the length of that contact – does not necessarily mean that a person will become culturally competent. A recent study analyzing the learning outcomes of students’ academic pursuits abroad showed that it was not the amount of time spent in-country nor the simple act of being abroad that predicted change.  Rather, it was the active and conscious effort of the students to reflect on what was happening – in real time – and then actively adjust their behaviors accordingly that made a difference.  Students were able to develop this skill-set through the intervention of educators who pushed them to think about what was happening and why it was happening (Georgetown Consortium_VandeBerg).

So how do we, as educators, make a study tour transformational?  At the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame, we engage both our MBA and EMBA students in what we call our “Cross-Cultural Immersion Engagement” – we get away from the passive connotation of a “study tour” by encouraging students – from day one – to “engage”.  You can read about the MBA experience in the following link to a full-length research article, Developing Cultural Intelligence for Global Leadership.Tuleja.  The next two blogs will briefly outline each of these different types of interactive, challenging, and transformative experiences for our students. Rather than offer up culture learning as a side dish, our goal is to make it the main course.  If you are an educator interested in modifying your students’ experience abroad, I invite you to follow our discussion on how to make simple changes that can have transformational affects.  You can sign up for email alerts in order to follow this discussion.

Vande Berg, Michael, Jeffrey Connor-Linton, and R. Michael Paige, (Fall 2009), “The Georgetown Consortium Project: Interventions for Student Learning Abroad”, Frontiers: The interdisciplinary journal of study abroad 18, 1-75.



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