How an Executive Course Can Help Participants Lead Across Cultures

How an Executive Course Can Help Participants Lead Across Cultures

Executive education can include global experiences featuring a wide array of participants from different cultures as well as study trips across the world

“Our world is intimately global, interconnected and diverse. Being mindful, skillful and respectful when managing across cultures is a prerequisite to purposeful, impactful leadership.”

That’s according to Anne-Valérie Corboz, HEC Paris’ dean for executive education. Many of her courses are geared towards helping managers to lead better across cultures, through diverse intakes of students whose perspectives enrich the learning experience in group discussion.

And while the pandemic has halted most global study trips, online learning provides an imperfect alternative. The ability to lead across cultures virtually is becoming more important as workplaces remain closed because of coronavirus.

An executive course helps a manager do that in a number of ways, according to Corboz. First, by exposing them to a diverse set of peers in a safe learning environment that allows for the surfacing of differences and similarities. This in turn encourages empathy and understanding and helps build a common frame of references by overcoming stereotypes and preconceptions.

Second, participants develop stronger interpersonal skills that lead to the development of trust, the sine qua non condition of healthy workplaces. “Higher trust leads to greater cooperation, innovation (which requires diversity) and better decision making,” says Corboz.

How executive courses help leaders develop intercultural curiosity

Many short executive courses on cross-cultural leadership are designed for managers whose challenges may include leading a variety of people, across the globe. To do so, these courses might delve deep into participants’ assumptions. For instance, in the 10-hour long “Leading Across Cultures” course from Cornell University, participants unpack their own perspectives to develop a better understanding of stereotypes and assumptions.

Additionally, some courses, such as “Developing Cross-Cultural Intelligence” from Queen’s University in Canada, explore the nuances and traditions that are part of cultures, all in an effort to help managers develop better cross-cultural awareness.

[See a listing of all Executive Courses in Cross-Cultural Relations]

According to Konstantin Korotov, professor of organizational behavior and faculty lead of the Executive MBA at ESMT Berlin, the idea is not to teach the manager what is right or wrong in a particular culture (although there are ESMT courses on “doing business in ….”). Instead, it’s to contribute to intercultural curiosity.

A multicultural group of participants at the school provides for live discussion where experiences, worldviews and values can be expressed, explored, compared and contrasted.

But venturing out into cross-cultural exploration may be daunting at times. “The openness and security of a business school course and clear learning contract including the right to be clumsy, awkward, or unintentionally politically incorrect [are essential],” says Korotov.

Recreating the multicultural experience, online

Whereas in the past, many managers would travel internationally for executive courses in cross-cultural management, engaging directly with participants from all over the world, coronavirus travel restrictions have made it harder to recreate the multiculturalism needed to achieve learning outcomes.

ESMT, like most schools, has switched to hybrid teaching that blends bricks and clicks for students who cannot come to campus. The school has also held online versions of foreign trips to Finland and Estonia, featuring virtual meetings with local businesses, politicians and social representatives.

“While we can’t offer the fully immersive experience where local food and artefacts of life can be experienced firsthand, we are trying to explore what it would mean for people from various cultures to work together in an online environment,” Korotov says.

Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, professor of management and faculty director of the +Impact Studio at Michigan Ross, points out that a wave of technology-enabled, remote collaboration has swept the world since the Covid-19 outbreak. As a result, executives are leading an increasingly diverse workforce that must quickly and continuously negotiate substantive cultural variability in beliefs.

“These technologies offer much, but also restrict our ability to convey and read many subtle non-verbal cues,” says Sanchez-Burks, who researches cross-cultural leadership and teaches executive education courses. “Thus, information impoverished interactions combined with cultural assumptions wreak havoc on even the best intentioned teams.”

Consequently, he expects there will likely be an increased interest in cross-cultural executive education courses to help leaders navigate the new normal. Sanchez-Burks says that “great leaders are those able to create practices and processes that help a mosaic of uniqueness to form a coherent, dynamic and innovative whole”.  

Ian Woodward, professor of management practice at Insead and director of the Advanced Management Program, says that an effective leader of teams from different cultures has a few critical elements. First, self-awareness, to understand how your culture influences the way you lead and communicate. Second, the ability to adapt and empathize with others from different cultural backgrounds. Third, the capability to create an enabling environment including psychological safety, respect and trust-building.

This is all critical for any leader today, Woodward argues. “They have to be able to engage and motivate a global workforce with an understanding of the local context and culture of the region where the business operates,” he says.

“We live in a global world where organizations have activities in different markets and where talent is globally mobile. This means that cross-cultural teams are now more common than ever.”

Some notable short executive education courses in cross-cultural management:

“Leading Across Borders and Culture,” Insead Business School: A five-day long class that helps participants build their team building and negotiation skills

“Cross-Cultural Connections: Leveraging Diversity,” The Brookings Institute: This one-day program helps leaders build global cultural competence.


Related Business Schools

HEC Paris


Cornell - Johnson



Brookings Institute

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