Whether you manage a workgroup, oversee a division or run a billion-dollar corporation, to lead in our global economy means to adapt continuously. That means successful executives with an international portfolio must view their own education as a career-long endeavor.
Employers have responded to this need with a growing array of global leadership training programs. Whether they’re intensive three-day workshops, a 12-week course meeting once a week, or even a yearlong series of classes and activities, these programs claim wide-ranging curricula, such as how to collaborate with colleagues across time zones, bridge cultural gaps, and manage tensions between headquarters and far-flung offices.
But before you accept your employer’s offer of in-house global leadership training, consider how your own career goals will best be served.
Global Training the In-House Way
Some blue-chip firms develop in-house programs to train managers in the ways of international business. Consulting firm Accenture, for example, spends millions each year training its consultants on how to collaborate globally.
Other employers appear to use the fashionable rubric of global leadership training as a tool to help recruit the newest generation of professionals. Investment banker Goldman Sachs reaches out to the brightest second-year college students with its Global Leaders Program, which is pitched in part as a golden networking opportunity.
Big Four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers takes a different tack on global leadership training with its Ulysses program. The program sends employees to work in developing countries on pro bono projects -- and learn about cross-cultural business issues in the process.
Closed Training Programs on the Rise
In-house or closed-enrollment leadership training isn’t the only game in town, but it has recently overtaken open-enrollment programs offered by educational institutions.
“About 10 years ago, companies started deciding they would rather do this in-house for their own people, that the issues brought up by the 20 other participants from other companies wouldn’t quite be relevant,” says Fariborz Ghadar, director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State. “To some extent, companies also worried that their people would make connections and jump ship.”
Many companies hire business-school faculty and facilitators to customize training for their business and employees. Alternatively, employers engage training firms to do the job. Some of these programs, like the Center for Creative Leadership’s Advancing Global Leadership, simulate a global business situation involving students across multiple sites and continents.
Pros and Cons of In-House Programs
Whether they’re called in-house, closed-enrollment or custom training, these programs have their pros and cons.
“The advantage of custom programs is that the discussion can be very company- specific, with real projects that teams can work on,” says Ghadar. “The disadvantage is you don’t get the full flavor of what other companies are doing.”
Closed training programs are only as international as their instructors make them. “I can still get away with giving a lot of American examples and not be criticized for it,” says Randall White, an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business who also teaches at Cornell University. “But my colleagues and I go out of our way to use examples from around the world.”
In-house training for global leaders is also subject to internal politics. “Closed courses tend to support the status quo,” says Ghadar. “They bring in their executives from overseas, sometimes with case studies. But if the company is writing a case study about itself, they avoid stepping on toes.”
Sometimes closed training programs can seem more like vehicles for corporate indoctrination than sincere efforts to educate. “Everyone who goes through custom programs is exposed to the same terminology,” White says. “People learn a common language and hear a common message.”
But closed training programs can have distinct benefits. “Lots of networking goes on, and people come to understand what people in other functions in the company have to put up with,” White adds.
Ultimately, aspiring global leaders must look out for their own interests. “It’s up to young people to get the right career education,” Ghadar says. You lock yourself in if you take only closed courses in global leadership and don’t go for an MBA, he says.
“If your company doesn’t offer a real education, you need to demand it,” such as by seeking reimbursement for a university global leadership program, Ghadar says.