Developing global, cross-cultural leadership skills with corporate clients is very different from doing it with universityBreaking-rules students. I do both and I love it because by understanding the student’s norms, values and aspirations in life I get an idea of how tomorrows leaders are going to be.

In order to understand what makes a leader we have to look at their behavior. And one thing they all have in common is that they brake rules, written or unwritten and they have the courage to take the first step and pursue an idea, vision or dream.

My American students are very polite young people who all want to become leaders, some even global leaders, so in order to have a fair chance to achieve this they first have to learn to brake the rules and norms. It is not an easy task when you have been brought up to follow the rules and when you in most cases get punished for breaking the rules. I did however succeed in making them understand that they cannot stand out from the crowd unless they are courageous, follow their passions, values and ideas. To do that they inevitably have to break and bend rules and norms.

I have been teaching students around the world on this subject for years and lived it out myself, but this semester with my american students was remarkable. Usually only a minority accept that they have to break the rules to become a leader. Previously most of them argued that you can be a good leader within the existing paradigm. To me that is management – not leadership. Please read this article for more discussion on that subject.

But the thing is – true leaders don’t care, so at their exam in “Leadership Across Cultures” I asked them the following questions:

1. How will you develop as a leaders so that you can stand out from the crowd

  • Which rules and norms will you break.

This is what some of the answered to the first question:

“Freeing myself from the pursuit money can provide me with the ability to pursue my true passions”

“I will take time after college to find my own direction that doesn’t necessarily involve a career in a corporation”

“Only by challenging the existing norms you can test the validity. I intend to do that. I am not afraid”

“I will break all the rules/norms that start with – you shouldn’t because you cannot”

“I will break rules by rejecting hierarchy and bureaucracy”

“My home university tries to define success in terms of top-ladder corporate position. I don’t think I will find my joy there”

“I will blow through the norms and rules that stand between me and pursuing passions”

“I do not accept success defined in terms of financial wealth. I want to have a family, work from home while the kids are small and claim the same respect and status as corporate high-flyers”

“I hope to brake the rule of allowing the society to define my career path and my personal choices.”

“I will break the rules and norms of following what those who are older or more experienced say. I will constantly question things and speak out.”

“I will challenge the rules and norms that supports the existing power structure in the US. Our generation need to change the society for the better”

“I don’t want to work for a fortune 500 company like my family and friends expect me to. I’d rather be poor and happy and wealthy and unhappy”

Conclusion

Almost all the students bought into the fact that you have to break the rules and norms in oder to be considered a leader. This is new and it is remarkable, because they are graduating when we have economic turmoil and instability, a high level of uncertainty and a fierce competition to get the attractive jobs in corporate america. With that in mind I would have suspected them to be much more focused on “playing it safe”. But I am pleased to see that they are not. They are reacting against the authorities and the established systems and show a desire to create a different world.

If the findings form my students becomes a trend employers will have increased difficulty in find the right people in the future because:

  • The young well educated americans don’t share the values of the established corporate america.
  • From the answers I got it was obvious that money no longer serves as the motivation factor as it did for previous generations. Success is NOT tied to money.

So the fortune 500 companies in the US are facing a significant challenge in attracting the well educated young people in the future. Possible companies in the entire industrialized world are facing the same challenges, but Gugin Research Unit will have to research that further.

Recommendations – what shall the US corporations do?

First of all they will have to diversify their motivation and reward systems, so that they fit different cultural preferences. In Gugin we have developed a model for that, and by being able to take advantage of the cultural diversity, companies can improve the competitive advantage significantly. Read Gugin’s comprehensive study on this here.

Then the companies have to develop a brand based on trustworthy ethical and cultural values and finally they have to develop a corporate culture that is so inclusive that all the individualistic, bright young people don’t get scared away. How that is done can you read more about here

I just say things as they are…

I just say things as they are…

"I just say things as they are" is a phrase you might hear quite often. Maybe even without paying attention to it. If you - as we do in Gugin work with leadership development, conflict reconciliation and cultural identities you DO pay attention to phrases like that....

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