Training Leaders to be Intermediaries Between China and the World

Learning Ecosystems and Leadership July 25, 2016

As international education has become larger and more diverse, one significant trend has emerged: an ambition to teach leadership. But that is not an easy call. There is still an ongoing argument about what makes a good leader, about the degree to which leadership varies with the context in which it is set and about whether leadership styles vary with factors like gender and ethnicity. Research shows a bewilderingly wide range of profiles of leadership that may or may not be effective, from the charismatic to the bureaucratic.

Yet it would be difficult to dispute that leadership matters and sometimes that it matters a lot. Equally, it would be difficult to deny that the next generation of leaders will have an enormous amount on their plate, come what may. They will have to steer their organizations through the challenges of global warming and resource depletion, negotiate tense international geopolitical situations as a matter of course, cope with enormous flows of migrants who bring rewards but also tensions and navigate a deteriorating world economy. In the past, leaders often had to cope with crises like these but now they have to cope with them all at the same time as a matter of routine whilst also dealing with all of the more mundane but often no less important trials and tribulations that organizations generate.  And they must do this in a world that moves at a rapid pace and is constantly influenced by international forces.

Why China?

In almost every profession and in all parts of the world, China’s growing influence is a major factor.  This has long been obvious for those working in finance, trade, manufacturing, energy, global health, and the environment.  But even professionals who think of their work as local, for example education, job training, social services, and urban planning, would be more effective in their work by knowing more about trends in China and China’s role in the world.  There is no question that those who want to be effective, and in particular those who want to lead, need to understand how China is affecting and being affected by global trends. This understanding is not just about knowledge, but about relationships.  In such a rapidly changing and nuanced global system, leaders will need to have factual knowledge, but also will need personal and professional relationships with their peers around the world so that they can call for advice and insight when new challenges and opportunities emerge.

The Schwarzman Scholars Approach

This is where Schwarzman Scholars tries to set a different course. Building on a vision provided by Stephen A. Schwarzman, a new one-year long Master’s program has been developed that enrols students who have already demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential and who are therefore likely to become leaders in their field regardless of circumstance. They have already shown the potential to be the next generation of leaders. Schwarzman Scholars then adds to their potential by giving them extra capacities. Chief amongst these is an understanding of China and of how China relates to the rest of the world. 

Based in a purpose-built college in Tsinghua University and intent on setting a new standard for global scholarship programs, Schwarzman Scholars is intended to be a way of binding the new generation of leaders to each other whilst also giving them a thorough grasp of China and its emerging global role. Ultimately, understanding between nations does not come from grand gestures but from patient networking and diplomacy which produces a solid bedrock of cross-cultural understanding. Otherwise myths and misapprehensions flourish, often with catastrophic consequences.

This is a professional program but one with aims that go well beyond the usual professional development curricula. The first 110 scholars – the program will gradually increase to 200 – will be provided with a deep knowledge of China and its influence on the world, fostered by numerous practical exercises, deep dive field trips, exclusive contact networks, and a good command of Mandarin. The scholars will be tutored in all of the traditional management skills, supported by a stellar line-up of faculty, and they will learn from each other by virtue of a cosmopolitan collegiate community drawn from all four quarters of the world. 

It’s an exciting prospect, one that will gradually build a global network of leaders who are well-versed in the disciplines of management but who will be able to offer far more than managerialism, leaders who don’t just issue orders but also empathize with those they lead, leaders who don’t just have careers but care deeply about the world that they inhabit.

The program starts this August with a group of what I am sure are some of the most promising scholars in the world and the 2017/2018 application round has just opened.