Creating Global Ready Leaders for the 21st Century

Glance at most college and university mission statements today and chances are you will see words like “global,” “international,” “intercultural,” “competence,” and “leadership.” If you are a member of professional associations, subscribe to blogs, or follow higher education thought leaders through email digests and social media, you will see a focus on helping students to become leaders in a global society. Employers are looking for these leaders as well. The 2017 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook survey found that holding a leadership position and possessing global/multicultural fluency were influential factors for employers making hiring decisions.  

If your university or your students aren’t gaining competence in key areas related to global leadership and cultural competence, then they may not be competitive after leaving university. The reality is, many leaders feel that students are graduating college unprepared to tackle the challenges required of 21st century leadership. In addition, there has been a disparity between the demand for global ready leaders and the lack of a proven method to assess global readiness of college graduates. In response to these concerns, a doctoral dissertation was conducted to create a measure for global ready leadership and to identify both curricular and cocurricular interventions that contribute to the creation of these much-needed leaders.  

Before undertaking the development of the instrument, a literature review was conducted to better understand the existing landscape of global ready leadership. Several key themes emerged including that there was little, if any, consensus on key definitions of global competence. The second was that international or study abroad experiences are an important method for developing global competence. Short-term study abroad programs, quickly becoming popular options on many campuses, and international service programs were also effective at delivering these skills. A third theme was that leadership development programs can be found on campuses throughout the United States and colleges now provide more opportunities for students to participate in both formal and informal programs, affording them valuable skills that will help them be successful in college, the workplace, and as citizens after college. 

Many of these leadership programs now incorporate theories that focus on leadership for change at the local, national, and global levels, allowing students to gain a better understanding of their role in being a better community or global citizen.

Many of these leadership programs now incorporate theories that focus on leadership for change at the local, national, and global levels, allowing students to gain a better understanding of their role in being a better community or global citizen. And while studying abroad can be important, Ron Moffatt, late director of the San Diego State University International Student Center, championed the idea that the skills needed to become globally competent mirror skills that students acquire as part of leadership development programs on campuses. In a 2006 issue of International Educator, he noted that these skills include dealing with inter- or multicultural differences, cultural competencies, critical and reflective thinking, intellectual flexibility, emotional cognitive integration, and identity formation.  

Development of the Global Ready Leadership Scale 

The purpose of the quantitative research study was to operationalize the concept of global ready leadership and to create a valid and reliable scale to measure this construct. After a comprehensive review of the literature, a “global ready leader” was defined as a student who demonstrated competencies gained through postsecondary experiences that included cultural competence, global emotional intelligence, effective intercultural communication, conflict management, empathy, cultural self-awareness, and creating a professional identity as a leader and change agent in a global society. Based on the literature review, eight domains emerged, serving as a framework to generate items for the instrument. These eight domains were:  

  1. Effective Intercultural Communication  
  2. Conflict Management 
  3. Leadership Development 
  4. Global Emotional Intelligence 
  5. Global Competence 
  6. Empathy 
  7. Cultural Competence and Awareness  
  8. Capacity to Create Social Change 

The conceptual framework guiding this study was the Social Change Model, which places an emphasis on collaborative leadership that creates change for the common good. This model emphasizes attention to the root causes of problems rather than focusing on the surface-level issues those problems created, according to the book Leadership for a Better World: Understanding the Social Change Model of Leadership Development. The 7 C’s of the Social Change Model were consistent and related to the domains of global ready leadership.

The population for this study was undergraduate students in their senior year at two public institutions in the Northeast. This population was chosen to measure global ready leadership in students who were preparing to graduate and enter the workforce, volunteer, or pursue an advanced degree. In addition, the assumption was that students in their senior year had participated in more curricular and cocurricular activities than their underclass peers and had a richer diversity of experiences to measure. More than 1,200 students completed the survey, which was sent via email to students on the two campuses involved in a variety of classes and activities. After a review to ensure they were seniors, 592 responses were used for the analysis. Exploratory factor analysis was used to establish preliminary validity and multiple regression was used to assess the relationship of independent variables (interventions or behaviors) that were positively associated with the creation of global ready leaders. In addition, the reliability of the scale was evaluated using Chronbach’s coefficient alpha, which measured the internal consistency of items on each subscale.  

Like so many other surveys and instruments, the Global Ready Leadership Scale is meant to be a tool for better understanding skills and abilities. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers or scores. However, it was necessary to create a scoring method for the Global Ready Leadership Scale so that the instrument could be used on college campuses. Students could then have results that provided context about where they ranked on the continuum of global ready leadership. If a student scored lower, then they had an opportunity to take part in more intentional programs that could help them further develop their skills to become a global ready leader. One caveat is that the information was self-reported by students, which presented a limitation. Future research includes developing a companion instrument for institutions to use, so results can better be triangulated and validated. 

A maximum possible score was 208 points, and the scores were divided into quartiles. The highest score was 156–208 points and students were considered to be at the exemplary or highest stage of global ready leadership. The second was 103–155 points, where students were considered to be in the emerging stage of global ready leadership. The third was 51–102 points, and students who scored in this range were considered to be in the developmental stage of global ready leadership. Finally, the fourth scoring range was 0–50 points, where students were considered to be in the formative stage of global ready leadership.  

Key Results  

Items were created, tested, and condensed from eight domains into six, final subscales: 

  1. Effective Intercultural Communication
  2. Leadership Development 
  3. Global Emotional Intelligence 
  4. Global and Cultural Competence 
  5. Empathy 
  6. Capacity for Social Change 

Among the 75 items found to be both valid and reliable for influencing students’ global ready leadership, the following is a sample of cocurricular items, relevant to the work of the college union and campus activities: 

  1. Clubs with an ethnic/cultural focus 
  2. Formal leadership trainings that focus on theories and models of leadership development 
  3. Multipart leadership workshops 
  4. Non-credit leadership courses 
  5. Trainings that focus on conflict resolution, multicultural, and global issues 
  6. Community service 
  7. Sending students to conferences 

The cocurricular experiences that were shown to positively correlate with the development of global ready leaders included being a member of a student organization with an ethnic or cultural focus and varsity sports teams. When students participate in organizations such as those mentioned, they often meet and work with other students from backgrounds that are different from their own. This gives students the opportunity to gain experiences in effective communication techniques, working together as a team, conflict negotiation, and can expose them to different cultures.  

Participation in formal leadership trainings, multipart leadership development workshops, and non-credit leadership courses were strongly associated with the development of global ready leadership skills. These cocurricular leadership experiences, offered on many campuses, can be intentionally created and expanded to reach more students. They can provide students exposure to high-impact practices such as group-work, conflict negotiation, exploration of self-awareness, learning to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, and expansion of a student’s worldview.  

They can provide students exposure to high-impact practices such as group-work, conflict negotiation, exploration of self-awareness, learning to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, and expansion of a student’s worldview.  

Two other cocurricular experiences, participation in community service and student participation at conferences, were also found to contribute to the development of global ready leaders. The findings on participation in community service were encouraging because much of the work on college campuses focuses on giving back to the university, local, and greater community. Service, combined with leadership, can give students the skills necessary to become change agents both in and after college. Finally, student participation in conferences was associated with higher instances of being a global ready leader. This can include both academic and professional organization conferences, where students have the opportunity to meet with and learn from other students and professionals in their field. As resources become more limited on campuses, this finding can help provide evidence in support of allowing students to attend these important, developmental opportunities.  

Impacting Work with Students 

This research validated the important work being done on campuses to provide a diverse variety of experiences and opportunities for our students. These experiences often take place within the walls of the student union or campus centers, either by providing space to host cultural programs and student events or through the offices that exist to support student activities, community service, and leadership. Whether they know it or not, students are also gaining competence in the areas listed below through employment (e.g., building managers, information desk staff) and through leadership positions on programming boards, student governance, and cultural student organizations: 

  • Effective intercultural communication skills 
  • Ability to work with students from backgrounds different than their own 
  • Ability to work in a team and negotiate conflict 
  • Greater self-awareness in a global context 
  • Expanded worldview
  • Practical opportunities to apply knowledge 
  • Become change agents and tackle real world problems 

By developing the scale, important interventions have been identified that aid in the development of global ready leaders. It is incumbent upon professionals to be more intentional about weaving these experiences into programs, services, and trainings for students.  

Offering a variety of cultural and ethnic student organizations will allow students to meet peers from other backgrounds and can open their eyes to different ways of thinking.

For example, event planners may not stop and think about the greater impact, but hosting a cultural night in the student union can expose students to a culture different from their own. Offering a variety of cultural and ethnic student organizations will allow students to meet peers from other backgrounds and can open their eyes to different ways of thinking. Hosting International Education Week programming and other events that highlight different countries can help students travel to other parts of the globe without incurring travel costs or needing a passport. Also, consider offering trainings for student employees that focus on intercultural communication, conflict resolution, working with diverse others, and providing opportunities to become more self-aware. This can lay the ground work for creating global ready leaders, without stepping foot off the campus.  

In addition, most campuses sponsor international, alternative service trips during breaks. Even these short-term, international service learning opportunities have been proven to make an impact on the development of global ready leaders. And while budgets are often a concern, sending students to leadership and other conference opportunities can provide a big return on investment. While at the conferences, students can attend sessions on a variety of topics such as personal leadership development and global issues as well as interact with students from backgrounds different than
their own.  

For example, the ACUI Region VIII Conference welcomes student and staff members from institutions across New England, but also from Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Qatar. As a result of attending these conferences, students and staff from the University of Massachusetts–Boston and the University of Limerick have begun a “twinning” project. Members of each student governing body connect through regular Skype meetings and follow each other’s Student Government elections debates “live” on social media. At the upcoming ACUI Regional Conference in November, the two institutions will begin a shadowing program with the hopes of creating a lasting partnership, which will enrich each student’s undergraduate experience. These are just a few examples of how staff and students can capitalize on programs that already exist, with little effect on budgets. 

Can All Students Become Global Ready? 

All of these experiences are important for students and as previously stated, studying abroad or participating in international experiences are key experiences to become global ready leaders. However, it may not be that simple for all students to go abroad. In 2006, International Educator published research on who was not going abroad. Among its findings, student leaders, fraternity and sorority members, and student athletes may not go abroad for fear of missing seasons or becoming disconnected with their groups back on campus. Statistically, African American and other minority students do not go abroad as often listing financial obstacles as the main reason for their lack of participation. In addition, first-generation and community college students rarely study abroad, often due to lack of information or support from family. Students with physical or mental disabilities often do not study abroad, due to a lack of accessibility or standardized disability services in other countries. Students who rely on campus employment, in student unions or elsewhere, may also not be able to participate in international experiences due to financial hardship or the inability to take time away from their job. Therefore, it is important to find alternative ways in which all students could develop global ready leadership skills on or near campus and not solely focus on traditional students or the most common methods for gaining competence in these areas.  

Next Steps 

There is still much work to be done on the Global Ready Leadership Scale and in preparing our students to lead in a global society without boundaries. While the scale was proven to be valid and reliable, the research was conducted at one point in time. More work will need to be done to recruit a larger sample from a variety of institutions to test whether items adequately measure the construct of global ready leadership across various institutional types such as private schools, faith based, and community colleges. 

Another area for future research is to further explore the role campus employment plays in the creation of global ready leaders. The items on the initial instrument surveyed students about their experiences at their primary place of employment. Some students hold full-time jobs off campus and also attend school, but many more students hold on-campus jobs instead. Professionals who work with and supervise student employees understand that students gain valuable skills from on-campus employment. Providing a method to assess the value of these experiences could help supervisors develop intentional learning outcomes and isolate and strengthen the components of on-campus employment that contribute to the creation of global ready leaders. 

For the time being, the Global Ready Leadership Scale has many potential uses. It can be used longitudinally or as a pre- and post-test to demonstrate growth in global ready leadership due to interventions during the college years. This could include tailoring the instrument for administration in support of specific programs such as leadership development workshops, alternative break programs, social justice programs, student employee training, or work with clubs and organizations. The scale could also be administered to students when they enter college and again when they are nearing graduation to continually assess and understand the experiences and environments that contribute most to the development of global ready leaders. The results could be collected and analyzed to provide evidence of global ready leadership for annual reports, accreditation reports or to support funding requests for scarce campus resources. 

Finally, there has been interest from international partners in developing versions of the Global Ready Leadership Scale for use at institutions outside of the United States. So, there would need to be extensive research to create an instrument that accurately reflected and measured the student experience around the globe. For example, partners in Canada and Europe have expressed interest in utilizing the Global Leadership Scale. However, cocurricular experiences or soft skills are a relatively new concept outside of the United States. Institutional structure and priorities often differ from country to country so more work would need to be done to identify cocurricular experiences specific to each country or region.  

Creating global ready leaders should be an integral, intentional part of working with all students, whether they choose to be involved on campus or not. Much of this work is already being done on campuses. With a renewed awareness and emphasis on these critical experiences, more campuses will offer interventions that achieve their missions in helping students become global ready leaders.  

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