As we continue to become a more global society, the implications of this connectedness are far reaching – especially when looking into today’s classrooms. Teaching within a global society can be challenging for post-secondary educators. What’s more, teaching leadership with a global perspective can even be more trying. The significance of graduating students with leadership skills and knowledge is invaluable; but what happens when individuals are expected to apply these skills within an international context? It could be argued that leadership is salient and necessary within any context. However, what are the implications when the professional context shifts and culture changes? This principal question initiates a list of subsidiary questions. Does transformational leadership mean the same in the United States as it does in China? How do you effectively interact with social, political and economic leaders from Colombia? How are leaders treated or appreciated in Uganda? All of these questions bring to mind that while fundamental leadership knowledge is important within all contexts, the implications of these concepts may not be understood or appropriately applied within international settings.
As Gardner (1990) asserted, problems and issues within contemporary society are not nearly as frightening as the questions they raise concerning society’s ability to gather forces and act. In a 2015 report regarding the global outlook shared by the World Economic Forum, a lack of leadership was identified as one of the most pressing global issues – only behind economic inequality and persistent jobless growth (as cited in Longo & McMillian, 2015). Today’s global issues are much more complex, which results in the need for more multifaceted and culturally relevant solutions. Because today’s communities and social fields are larger and more intricately organized, individuals in all segments and at all levels must be prepared to lead in a different way (Longo & McMillian, 2015). Thus, leadership is dispersed not only throughout all segments of society – government, business, and communities – it is also dispersed through the many levels of social functioning (Gardner, 1990). Essentially, a great number of individuals need the leadership capacity to solve complex problems in diverse socio-cultural contexts.
Throughout the last 20 years, internationalizing curriculum has continued to be a major trend in higher education, both in the United States and worldwide (Altbach et al., 2010). In 2002, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges in Washington, D.C. asserted that teaching and research through global perspectives was essential (Jenkins, 2002). A priority from this report included supporting faculty to develop international curricula within their field of expertise. Congruently, former President Obama encouraged basic international exchanges as a way to connect young Americans with young people all around the world (Hammer, 2012). In the 2018 to 2019 academic year, almost 350,000 U.S students studied abroad, and these numbers have continued to rise almost every year since (Institute of International Education, 2020). This phenomenon has also influenced colleges of agriculture nationally as they increasingly integrate international components within their curricula (Estes et al., 2016; Hartley et al., 2019).
The ability to develop and employ competent leaders with a global understanding has and continues to be a major challenge facing today’s universities and professional workforce (Javidan & Bowen, 2013; Longo & McMillan, 2015). A lag in educational training means many students do not have the knowledge or skills to effectively lead within a global setting – which is of particular importance to employers of graduates from colleges of agriculture, who expect their new employees to have leadership skills that equip them to work in global workplaces (Irani et al., 2006). Graduates should not only be able to work with diverse cultures but should also have a good grasp on worldwide issues and events to excel in an increasingly global society (Irani et al., 2006). Cleveland and Cleveland (2020) iterate the importance of developing culturally agile leaders who can negotiate security, trade, and cultural relations with other countries. These relational areas need globally savvy leaders, given that one in every five jobs in the U.S. is linked to international trade (Baughman & Francois, 2019).
Instilling leadership skills within students allows educators the ability to provide another value-added characteristic that will encourage more globally competitive U.S. college graduates. “Co-curricular” activities, activities outside of the classroom that have educational value, are becoming more deliberate and range from leadership development certificates and internships to service-learning projects such as improving the water supply in Honduras (Clough, 2008; Hasselquist et al., 2018). Increasingly, educational opportunities are looked upon not only to provide contextual knowledge but also practical knowledge. It is crucial that leadership students are exposed to leadership training and development that integrates more contemporary international perspectives and issues. A particularly effective way for students to acquire these perspectives is through international immersion (Brooks et al., 2006; Hains et al., 2013; Larsen & Searle, 2017); within the context of global leadership, this knowledge can be gained through active participation in an international leadership education experience (Armstrong, 2020).
What are the skills one needs to lead effectively in the global arena? Perhaps even more salient to leadership educators is the question “How do I successfully disseminate these leadership skills to my students?” Throughout our article we address these questions through a contemporary collegiate undergraduate/graduate course.
Leadership Skills and Knowledge Salient within an International Context. There are a wide variety of skills and knowledge necessary for one to lead successfully in a global setting (Armstrong, 2020; Farr & Brazil, 2009; Frost & Walker, 2007). While somewhat limited, research has outlined leadership skills that are especially important for leadership success in an international venue. Over the years, study abroad programs have been a primary way for students to gain international experience; as such, these programs have been found to enhance students’ global perspective and cross-cultural competence, as well as personal characteristics such as self-reliance, self-confidence and personal well-being (Kitsantas, 2004; Kitsantas & Meyers, 2002; McCabe, 1994). Intentionally, each of these elements will assist students in leading more effectively in a multicultural world, as well as promoting their own international understanding (Kitsantas, 2004).
According to Gibson et al. (2008), a working knowledge of world citizenship is important in the global arena. These “world citizen characteristics” are particularly important to effectively leading within a global setting; a primary role one plays as an international leader is that of a global citizen. Fundamentally, the researchers break these characteristics into two sub-groups – attributes and processes. Specific processes important for leaders operating within an international context include ethical decision making, metacognition, collaboration and critical thinking. Important attributes for international leaders include global awareness, values, intercultural communication competence, and interpersonal intelligence (Gibson et al., 2008).
Many of the aforementioned processes and attributes contribute toward a leader recognizing their place as a global citizen. Global citizenship plays a significant role in successful international leadership and can be simply defined as how one sees oneself fitting into the world setting – or the role one plays within the global arena. But being a global citizen is much more than having an open mind; it is about shifting one’s paradigm to realize that anything one does may have an impact on society worldwide. In today’s increasingly globalized society, even small rural communities can impact what is happening halfway across the world. Globalization has increased the “interdependence, interconnectedness, and cultural diversity” of our world (Gibson et al., 2008, p. 11). Oxfam (2006) outlined specific characteristics of a global citizen stating that a global citizen is someone who:
- is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen
- respects and values diversity
- has an understanding of how the world works economically, politically, socially, culturally, technologically and environmentally
- is outraged by social injustice
- participates in and contributes to the community at a range of levels from the local to the global
- is willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place
- takes responsibility for their actions
It is important to note that effective leadership within international settings requires knowledge of oneself as a global citizen. This includes everything from realizing the interconnectedness of societies, to appreciating diversity, to taking responsibility for their actions and everything in between. Being a global citizen is much more about a mindset then it is about learning a specific set of leadership skills. With ample awareness and the right paradigm, any leader can succeed as a citizen of the global arena.
Another important aspect of international leadership is culture which plays an important role in leadership knowledge and interaction within other countries. Fundamentally, culture can be defined as learned behaviors, customs, beliefs, or a way of life created by a population (Morris, 2003). It is the culture of a group that determines the leadership structure and how individuals interact with leaders. Morris (2003) outlined ten specific elements of culture, several of which hold implications for educating leaders to interact effectively within another culture including: values and beliefs, communication patterns, social relationships, traditions and customs, and view of time. A working knowledge of these cultural elements could translate into a successful leadership exchange within another culture. Throughout his career, Hofstede (2011) conducted some of the most comprehensive studies focusing on how workplace values can be influenced by culture. These dimensions took culture one step further by analyzing the cultural nuances, or dimensions, that were unique to various cultures. From his studies, Hofstede identified five dimensions of culture, which included: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation. Finally, House and colleagues (2004) have continued to present us with groundbreaking research conceptualizing and operationalizing what leadership effectiveness looks like in cultures around the world.
According to a study done by Ricketts and Morgan (2009), a panel of experts identified the most important leadership concepts one needs to experience through participation in an international leadership educational experience. The concepts fell into two categories – concrete experiences (to be encountered during the trip) and knowledge. The leadership concepts most applicable to this discussion are listed below (refer to Table 1):
Final Components Salient within an International Leadership Experience
Finally, the concept, cultural intelligence (CQ), forged its way into the discussion of leadership development for global leaders. Cultural intelligence has been conceptualized by several researchers. Originally grounded in the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), researchers Hammer and Bennett developed the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC); a theoretical framework that illustrates cultural intelligence along a continuum from most monocultural to the most global mindsets. Students take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) to see where their cultural mindset falls along that continuum – from the more monocultural mindsets of denial and polarization to the most global perspective of adaptation (Hammer, 2012; McBride et al, 2020). CQ is defined by Van Dyne et al. (2015) as “the capability to function effectively in culturally diverse settings” (p. 16). This type of intelligence is important for leaders because it focuses specifically on situations and interactions involving cultural diversity (Van Dyne et al., 2015). In short, CQ enhances a leader’s ability to navigate cultural and social complexities. Finally, Livermore (2015) defines cultural intelligence as the ability to function effectively in intercultural contexts. Within this conceptual framework, Livermore identifies four factors that comprise CQ – metacognitive, cognitive, motivational and behavioral. It is clear that each of these frameworks emphasize the salience of cultural knowledge for today’s leaders.
Teaching International Leadership Skills and Knowledge. After identifying the leadership skills and knowledge particularly salient within an international context, the question becomes how can these skills and knowledge be taught most effectively? For years, educators within a variety of fields, including leadership education, have been debating what teaching approaches may be most effective at improving student learning. Questions such as “where, when, and how” to most effectively teach students have been at the heart of this discussion. One popular answer to stimulate and engage students has been experiential education and its complimentary delivery learner-centered instruction. John Dewey (1938) first linked experience and the role it should play in education back in the late 1930s. Dewey argued that effective education was directly linked with the individual meaning and quality of the experience. Reflection is one of the key components Dewey advocates for a quality education experience.
As such, our educational scholarship is anchored in the theoretical foundations of experiential learning theory and its conceptual application – experiential education. Itin (1999) illuminated the distinctions between the two, defining experiential learning theory as a process where individuals change as a result of experience and reflection, culminating in new cognitive applications and ideas. One distinction is that the experiential learning process can happen with or without direct interaction from an instructor. Connected, experiential education is the application of experiential learning theory through active and deliberate engagement and reflection between the teacher and the learner within the environment (Itin, 1999). The Association of Experiential Education (2020) expand on Itin’s definition adding experiential education is “a teaching philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities (¶ 1)”. In an effort to enhance student development as global citizens and global leaders, experiential learning and experiential education were deemed the most appropriate instructional approach.
To provide deeper meaning and further enhance the student international experience, we complemented our experiential education paradigm with learner-centered instruction. Learner-centered instruction in an instructional approach that shifts the charge of learning and inquiry from the instructor to the students (Estes, 2004; Hains & Smith, 2012). It is a teaching approach that holds students accountable for their own learning through actions such as active learning, team-based activities, or other methods of student involvement (Felder & Brent, 1996). This pedagogical process shifts the learning responsibility from the teacher to the student, and for the students who take advantage of it, is particularly empowering (Knobloch, 2021; Warren, 1995).
While empowering, the “educational negotiation” between students and instructors can be quite trying. Traditional students may not initially embrace non-traditionally designed courses as they have been conditioned to learn in under predominantly teacher-centered instructional paradigms. Woods (1994) notes that when students are required to take primary responsibility for their learning, they may go through similar stages generally associated with trauma or grief:
- Shock: “I don’t believe it – we have to do homework in groups and she isn’t going to lecture on the chapter before the problems are due?”
- Denial: “She can’t be serious about this – if I ignore it, it will go away.”
- Strong emotion: “I can’t do it – I’d better drop the course and take it next semester” or “She can’t do this to me – I’m going to complain to the department head!”
- Resistance and withdrawal: “I’m not going to play her dumb games – I don’t care if she fails me.”
- Surrender and acceptance: “OK, I think it’s stupid but I’m stuck with it and I might as well give it a shot.”
- Struggle and exploration: “Everybody else seems to be getting this – maybe I need to try harder to do things differently to get it to work for me.”
- Return of confidence: “Hey, I may be able to pull this off after all-I think it’s starting to work.”
- Integration and success – “YES! This stuff is all right – I don’t understand why I had so much trouble with it before.” (Felder & Brent, 1996, p.2)
While some students may initially resist these non-traditional teaching methodologies, it is still important for leadership educators to utilize these evidence-based methods. This manuscript describes an innovative approach taken by two instructors at a southern land-grant university to integrate learner-centered instruction and experiential education into international leadership education to enhance student learning. Their educational approach is visualized in Figure 1.
Learner-Centered International Leadership Education
Note: Instructional development process for international leadership education.
Global Leadership and Learner-Centered Instructional Application
Gibson et al. (2008) assert that global learning plays an important role in teaching future leaders how to act within a global arena. Global learning is a social-constructive learning activity that includes both experiential and project-based learning. Uniting the skills needed to successfully lead within international settings with a learner-centered approach to instruction, two instructors at a southern land-grant university collaborated to design a learner-centered “global learning” experience. This experience was broken into two parts – a semester-long course to prepare students for their international immersion experience and the journey itself. The precursor course and international experience focused on community development within an international setting. Through learner-centered techniques, students engaged with faculty to learn about the country, its culture, and its people, and then travelled to the country to experience it first-hand. Community development activities were used as the experiences through which students practiced and developed their emerging international leadership skills. Due to its co-created nature, the international opportunity provided a variety of benefits to students, faculty, and the community members including co-listening and understanding of cultural similarities and differences.
The course “International Community Dynamics: Political Explorations in Scotland” was offered and team-taught by two faculty. Ten undergraduate students, one graduate student, and two community members took this course. Student participation in the course was required for those participating in the international leadership experience. There were two community members who audited the course and traveled with the group providing valuable interaction and insight.
An excerpt from the course syllabus can be found below:
International Community Dynamics: Political Explorations in Scotland
Course Description: This international collaboration will include a diverse group of participants including students, community leaders, community members, and university faculty. Participants will learn to identify leadership dynamics and implement community development tenets utilizing an international context.
Nature and Purpose of the Course: This course, built on a foundation of international collaboration with administrators, community leaders, public officials, and university faculty, will have participants explore the social and cultural gaps between community decision makers and community members. By examining theories associated with power, culture, and civic & social engagement, participants will gain a more holistic perspective on the dynamics of community education and change. To do this, participants will learn various methods to inform communities (both domestic and international) of administrative initiatives and programs, ways to gain community input regarding local programming, methods for mitigating cultural conflict, and how to determine individual perceptions of local strengths and needs and how each of these tie together on a global scale.
Course Objectives: Course instruction, assignments and the embedded international experience will allow students to:
- Define the concepts community education, social, cultural, and knowledge gap, and civic engagement.
- Design evaluation protocols based upon the various forms of education and community.
- Evaluate community education programs in an international and domestic setting.
- Successfully interact within another culture while developing cultural competence within an international setting.
- Recognize important leadership concepts and skills (i.e. power and influence, problem solving, empowerment, etc.) and be able to apply these skills within an international setting.
- Complete a comparative analysis of domestic and international communities and their issues and present the findings to the identified stakeholders.
To emphasize the experiential, learner-centered course design, instructors and students co-designed a variety of activities and projects for the class including designing creative projects, conducting research, experiencing cultural activities unique to Scotland (i.e. a Burns’ supper which is a traditional Scottish meal, and ceilidh, which is a traditional Scottish social event that includes folk music, singing, and dancing), and self-reflection through journals. There was limited didactic instruction throughout the entire course, and most projects were designed for students to have a large amount of creative latitude in order to create their own course experience and meaning.
A few of the class activities are listed below:
- “Time Traveler” Project – Students will be broken up into pairs and asked to do a “treasure hunt”. Each pair will determine the importance behind outlined individuals and events important in historical and contemporary Scotland. Once explored, students will be asked to present findings to class in a unique and engaging manner. Students are asked to do presentations appealing to at least two of the five senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.
- Case Studies – Students will be provided with case studies designed to intrigue and mentally stretch their minds. Cases will be in a Scottish context and will assist students in preparing for their international experience through developing individual leadership skills (ie. Problem-solving, visioning, etc.).
- Daily Reflection Journal – Students will be provided with a professional journal and will be asked to reflect upon the class during the final 10 minutes of each class period. Topics for students to discuss include (but are certainly not limited to): feelings about class, attitudes strengthened/changed due to class interaction, intriguing thoughts or reactions due to class activities, aspects the individual thinks should have been discussed, attitudes/feelings about instructor-assigned readings, etc. Reflection journals will be picked up and reviewed at the end of the course. NOTE: Journal entries will be continued while abroad in Scotland.
- Community Analysis Project – This project will have students explore the social and cultural gaps between community decision makers and community members. By examining theories associated with power, culture, and civic & social engagement, students will gain a more holistic perspective on the dynamics of community education and change. To do this, students will learn various methods to inform communities (both domestic and international) of administrative initiatives and programs, ways to gain community input regarding local programming, methods for mitigating cultural conflict, and how to determine individual perceptions of local strengths and needs and how each of these tie together on a global scale. Communities will be studied both in Lexington and Glasgow, Scotland and compared and contrasted. The resulting executive summary will be presented to the Scottish community, and to the department during the final day of class.
Other class activities that assisted in making the course more experiential were: a Burns’ supper, a face-to-face group interview with a Scottish cultural consultant, a qualitative interview exercise where students interviewed a faculty member, and a team presentation by a videographer and documentary creator who discussed the intricacies of developing a video documentary within an international setting.
Within the international immersion experience, students interacted with Glaswegian public officials and then were broken into groups who interfaced with various community organizations in the East End of Glasgow. Each group focused on a different community development organization working on projects with the primary goal of improving the quality of life in Glasgow’s East End. As a group, students analyzed the methods for becoming informed regarding community programs, methods for expressing community needs and concerns, individual perceptions of community and political leaders, and how “community leader” is defined. Students were encouraged to realize they were working in partnership “with” the community, not coming in and dictating issues or best practices. During the international experience there were a variety of adjustments and challenges experienced by the students as well as faculty members, commonly experienced when individuals begin adjusting to diverse and novel cultural settings. However, experiencing another culture directly affected each student helping some shift their domestic paradigms and the new role they play within the global realm.
Experiential, learner-centered instruction offers several advantages for students including greater motivation to learn, improved student engagement, increased retention of knowledge, and deeper understanding (Bonwell & Eisen, 1991; Faust & Paulson, 1998; Felder & Brent, 1996; Gauci et al., 2009). The student experience in this learner-centered course was unique for all involved. Many of the participants had never been outside of the United States; as such, even with all of the pre-departure preparation, the immersion experience challenged them. Felder and Brent (1996) outlined stages students may go through in adjusting to learner-centered instruction. During the pre-departure course, some of the students experienced these stages, but a majority of the adjustment occurred during the international immersion experiences when students experienced shock, denial, strong emotion and resistance. Some students embraced and grew through these challenges, and others retreated even further into their own paradigms. Regardless, each student was afforded an encounter that could not have been experienced without venturing into the global setting which supports the need for international experiences for every college student.
While it could be argued this international immersion experience was life-changing for those involved in general, there were also specific international leadership skills developed from the experience. Growth within skills such as self-reliance, self-confidence, and personal well-being was demonstrated while traveling to the international site. Students were responsible for meeting the instructors in Scotland at a certain place and time to begin the experience; as such, they were responsible for their own travel planning. This provided more obstacles for some than others, but everyone learned very quickly how to get around Scotland safely.
Within their communities, many students facilitated a needs assessment in order to determine a community development project. Developing rapport, trust, and credibility was necessary, and students began to develop self-confidence and rely on each other as the projects progressed. Furthermore, a camaraderie was developed between students as well as instructors throughout the entire experience. This bond proved to be stronger among those participating in the international immersion (rather than just the stateside course).
By giving each student group the latitude to work with their island community in determining their community development project, this encouraged students to develop a wide variety of leadership skills. Critical thinking was necessary to make connections between the culture, community needs, and what the project would entail. Collaboration was extensively used between the students themselves and community members. Students developed empathy, seeing someone’s culture from their own perspective, as they interviewed community members to glean information. Interpersonal intelligence was cultivated through the entire experience as students learned how to appropriately interact with community members from a different culture. Finally, simply interacting within another culture assisted in growing students’ global awareness making their paradigm larger to include the value of other cultures. Becoming more globally aware encouraged students to think differently about themselves and how they fit into their environment.
Culturally, students began to learn about and appreciate Scottish culture even before travelling abroad. Planning a Burns’ supper, role playing and presenting on Scottish history, and interviewing a former Scottish citizen assisted in building a cultural foundation for students to reference. Once abroad, students were able to develop a working knowledge of cultural aspects such as social relationships, traditions and customs, and communication patterns as they were operationalized throughout Scotland. One aspect that made their cultural experience even more intense was visiting Scottish islands. Island culture was noticeably different than mainland culture similar to particularly isolated rural areas in the United States. All of these factors combined to broaden each student’s cultural understanding of Scotland.
Conclusions and Implications
Leadership within today’s global society continues to become more complex. There is an ever-present need for effective leaders from all aspects of society – in particular from our youth. As such, it is especially salient for today’s leadership educators to realize the need for incorporating international leadership skill development into their curriculum. A novel but particularly useful way to teach these skills is through learner-centered instruction, culminating with an international immersion experience.
Students and faculty participating in the precursor course and international experience expressed that they were personally transformed as a result of these experiences. Yet, one major limitation of this manuscript is that there is no accompanying data. A primary need that stems from this project is to evaluate the product and process of international leadership skill development from both faculty and student perspectives.
In order to encourage students to develop global awareness and other international leadership skills, students should participate in international immersion experiences that will motivate them to engage and reflect at a much deeper cognitive level than just a tourist. Deep reflection and pre and post seminars may be particularly helpful at improving intercultural competence for students studying abroad (Armstrong, 2020). Another implication from this project is the need to develop more international immersion experiences that are attainable for the largest majority of students possible. Studying abroad for a semester is a traditional way to obtain international knowledge and experiences within the educational setting; however, many students feel they do not have enough time to study abroad or cannot afford it (Niehaus, 2018). Currently, new opportunities are arising for those individuals wanting to add to their international leadership skill cache. Leadership educators should develop opportunities such as embedded international experiences, international study tours, and international internships to broaden the international venue for learning.
As a leadership educator, it does not need to be a sole or primary objective to provide international educational experiences for every student. Still, as society continues to become more global, leadership educators need to parallel that in the leadership curriculum. Effective leadership development curriculum should integrate global knowledge and perspectives, even if there is no intention provide international experiences. Broadening the scope of the leadership curriculum will assist in developing students with a more holistic thought process as well as more well-rounded future leaders.
Can experiential, learner-centered instruction be done internationally? By starting with learner-centered instruction earlier in the education process during a pre-departure course, this can help make international learning-centered experiences go more smoothly. Using learner-centered instruction on a domestic and international level can prepare students for having input in their own educational process. When they are then challenged in the global arena, they will be better prepared. Exploring ways to integrate learner-centered activities and projects into the classroom may take time, but the rewards are invaluable.
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