The Conversation: Developing the next generation of global leaders

Rob Garris is Global Director of Admissions for Schwarzman Scholars. Andy Coxall is CEO of Common Purpose Student Experiences. Both represent organizations with the aim of developing the next generation of global leaders.

This is the first in a series of conversations between the two exploring global student leadership development in today’s world.

Part I: Why is it important?

Andy: Last year, I travelled to Sao Paulo as part of a programme we were running for students in partnership with the leading business school, Fundação Dom Cabral.

At the time, the political situation in Brazil was difficult to say the least: their President, Dilma Rousseff, was in the process of being impeached; they had just hosted an Olympics mired in controversy and the country was grappling with its worst recession on record.

I expected to find a group of students who were demoralized – looking towards life after graduation with a sense of doubt and dismay. Instead, I met a group of young leaders who were driven, optimistic and passionate about the impact they could make in the world. What’s more, the focus really was on what they could achieve in ‘the world’ – their ambition was global.

For me, this represents a trend I see with young people everywhere I go. In cities around the world, there are aspiring leaders looking at a potentially bleak future and saying—what can I do now? Not in 20 or 30 years’ time when I have earned a reputation and a title – but now. Not when the global challenges we face, such as climate change, have become insurmountable – but now. I believe that this generation is more socially focussed than any generation prior. And whilst they might not have contributed to its challenges, many are determined to take responsibility for them. So that means we have a responsibility towards this generation – to support them in their ambition to be leaders who can solve complex problems – now.

Common Purpose specializes in developing student leaders with Cultural Intelligence (CQ); leaders who can cross boundaries and thrive in multiple cultures. The expectation is often that ‘boundaries’ refers to geographical boundaries, but more and more, we see the need for students to cross other types of boundaries too – particularly with regard to generation.

Many organizations, such as Google, are grappling with the idea of the inverted knowledge hierarchy. In fast-changing industries, knowledge has a short shelf life, meaning younger employees sometimes have greater knowledge of specific areas than their managers. As such, this generation has the potential to make more of a positive impact in their workplaces, sooner. But that potential goes untapped unless they also have the CQ and the leadership skills to lead upwards, across generations, and effectively lead change with people who are perhaps 10, 20 years their senior. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it takes a skillset that not all students have at the time they leave universities – but it can be developed.

So when I think about why it’s important to develop student leaders with CQ, I’m thinking about the future, but I’m also thinking about the present – and what this generation can do now. Because that’s what’s on the mind of many of the students we work with.

Rob: Solving the challenges we face in the 21st century will require leaders who understand the world around them and can bridge differences to achieve something great. In some cases, it’s necessary to build connections between sectors, so that governments, businesses and non-profits can collaborate. But to create innovative and effective solutions to the many global challenges we face will require understanding and collaboration between nations. For many of those global challenges, including the environment, energy, jobs, cybersecurity, nuclear non-proliferation, infrastructure, and more, China will be a key player in creating solutions. Schwarzman Scholars is built on the assumption that 21st century leaders will need to understand China’s role in the world and have deep professional relationships in China in order to be successful in their leadership goals.

China is the world’s largest producer of carbon pollution and at the same time is leading the world in production of photovoltaic solar energy. China faces deep problems with rural poverty but is also home to 15 of the world’s 50 largest cities. China is the world’s largest exporter, sending abroad $USD 2.3 trillion in goods in 2015, but simultaneously is losing jobs to automation and to lower wage producers in Southeast Asia and Africa. There are very few fields of professional endeavour that aren’t being shaped by trends in China, and almost anyone who aspires to political, non-profit, or business leadership will need to develop knowledge, intercultural skills, and high-level professional relationships in China to succeed.

Extensive networks of high-level business and political leaders link North America and Europe; North & South America; countries within Europe and between Europe and its neighbours. But leaders around the world in business and in politics do not have those same deep, multi-generational links with their counterparts in China.

Schwarzman Scholars looks to address this gap by identifying young leaders from around the world and from many different professional fields who have already demonstrated the ability to lead groups of people to achieve outstanding results. We then bring them together with their Chinese counterparts for an unparalleled experience in China, based at the country’s leading university in its capital city. It’s the beginning of their journey as a group of young people who will change the world.

Coming Soon: Part II: How we develop the next generation of global leaders?