Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Curiosity and Experience

The French business school, INSEAD, is making a variety of papers and presentations on global business issues available through their Knowledge website.  There's been a good focus on the people-centered aspects of engaging with international partners and customers, including articles on cross-cultural negotiation, diverse hiring, emerging-country entrepreneurship, and social development. 

The dean, Frank Brown, recently published an article on global business leadership: I was intrigued by his emphasis on cross-cultural curiosity, as opposed to simply expatriate experience:

‘Transcultural’ leaders at the helm of international companies need to be sensitive to other cultures and national differences. That means leaders today need to be willing to explore and travel.  They need to be curious about other people and customs. This awareness and willingness to engage and be intellectually curious about what’s going on in the rest of the world is an absolutely critical component to being effective in a transcultural environment.

I think that this is a really important distinction.

High-potential business talent is seasoned for greater responsibility through rotation programs, spending time in jobs across functions and divisions of the organization.  I don't think it's as effective as taking longer-term responsibility for actually running a business.  Rotations make it too easy to leave before the consequences of decisions can develop, creating disengaged leaders who manage by reference to academic portfolio theory, Harvard case study aphorisms, and analyst's stock valuation.

In contrast, I think that the greatest value that senior managers bring to our staff meetings is their commitment and experience gained from running a business.  Addressing problems ranging from organizational plumbing to market strategy, solutions are found when people discuss their stories, not articles.

And insightful personal stories are the result of engaged careers, with a personal curiosity to understand and a drive to do things better.

I think that Dr. Brown has it right: "Anybody who aspires to be a leader needs to focus beyond their own backyard. A lot of leadership is learned, and a lot comes through being in a position to get the right experience."

No comments: