Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman tells a charming story about being asked the name of a bird by one of his schoolmates. He doesn’t know the name of the bird so the other boy proudly instructs him that the bird is called a Brown-Throated Thrush. Feynman goes on to explain in the video, however, that knowing the name of something doesn’t mean you understand that thing. Herein lies an important lesson. Knowing the names of things is useful for communicating with others but we must always push ourselves to deeper forms of knowledge and understanding.
Let’s start with definitions. Definitions have always been important for understanding the meaning of words, including tricky concepts like global leadership. But definitions are only part of the picture. Not only that, we’re not even close to having any sort of agreement in the literature on a definition for global leadership (or leadership in general for that matter).
In social science, if we really want to understand a concept like global leadership, we need to ask how the concept is measured. This, of course, is what we call operationalization, which is the break down of a concept that is not directly measurable into small, measurable chunks that together constitute the concept. Concepts that are not directly measurable (unlike height or weight) are called latent traits or latent characteristics.
Take intelligence for example. What is intelligence? You cannot look at someone and measure how intelligent they are. It’s a latent trait. You could look up a definition of intelligence, which might help you understand more what intelligence is. But we won’t really know what we mean by the term intelligence until we break down how we’re are going to assess or measure it. Then, how we measure it will in turn affect how we understand intelligence.
Therefore, if we want to understand a term like global leadership, we must think about how it is being measured.
Bird and Stevens (2013) in their book chapter on Assessing Global Leadership Competencies display many of the different ways researchers and practitioners have thought about measuring global leadership. In some ways, this can be more helpful (but far more monotonous) than reading about exemplary global leaders.
Each operationalization of global leadership in Bird and Stevens (2013) highlights different aspects of what it means to be a global leader. My personal favorite (perhaps because it fits most to my preexisting understanding) is the Global Competencies Inventory (GCI) developed by Allan Bird, Michael Stevens, Mark Mendenhall and Gary Oddou – all longtime experts in global leadership.
I want to highlight briefly the focus on perception management, which is one factor of the GCI and addresses how people approach cultural differences. The dimensions associated with perception management are nonjugmentalness (your inclination to withhold judgment when faced with differences), inquisitiveness (your desire to learn new things), tolerance of ambiguity (how you manage ambiguity in new situations), cosmopolitanism (your interest in current world events and desire to travel), and interest flexibility (the level of flexibility you have in developing new interests or hobbies). And that’s just one of the three factors in this inventory. Aren’t these fascinating?
Once we look at the dimensions, we can go a step further and look at the items for each dimensions. For example, what questions do they ask to understand one’s interest flexibility? Then, thanks to statistical techniques like factor analysis and structural equation modeling, we can understand the validity of those items and how the dimensions are related.
It is not easy to understand complex latent characteristics such as global leadership. Names, and even definitions are important places to start, but looking at how the concept is measured in the literature will give us a deeper understanding.
The next step, of course, is to look at the complex and diverse lived experiences of global leaders. Qualitative methods such as phenomenology can help us understand in more depth what it means to be a global leader. But that discussion will have to wait for another time.
In a recent post in The Economist blog Gulliver, B.R. writes that businesses should encourage young employees to take “bleisure” (blending business with pleasure) when they travel abroad, like an extra weekend on one end for personal time. The benefit being that “it might help keep employees’ enthusiasm for a life on the road kindled.” This article rather shortsightedly sees the advantage of “bleisure” simply as retention.
But what do we know about global leadership that would turn this one-sided view on its head?
If a company is sending an employee abroad, there is clearly a global element to the work of the company and thus value in developing global leadership capacity. According to The Global Leadership Challenge (2014) by Black and Morrison, key capabilities of global leaders are inquisitiveness, perspective, character, and savvy. Developing the former two capabilities requires interacting with culturally rich environments and fostering that sense of curiosity.
If this is true, i.e. that inquisitiveness and perspective are vital for global leaders, companies should encourage employees not just to spend a couple extra nights in the hotel to relax, but to get out and explore the cultural ecology of their abroad assignment.
In fact, companies could make it a lot easier to develop global leaders if they did things to foster inquisitiveness and perspective such as,
- Provide a reading list (or better yet offer to pay for books) about the country/culture they’re working in – these could be historical, cultural, or even novels and poetry popular in that country
- Encourage them to explore the cultural sites of the city/country
- Offer suggestions about cross-cultural opportunities or connect them with local cultural informants who might be willing to take them out after work is finished
I recently returned from co-leading a short course in Lisbon, Portugal on multicultural and international issues in organizations. The course coincided with the University Forum on Human Resource Development (UFHRD) that took place at Universidade Europeia this year. To prepare, I read several academic articles on Portugal that related to the course’s materials. I also picked up a book about historical Portugese explorations entitled Conquerors: How Portugal forged the first global empire (2015) by historian Roger Crowley. While there, I stayed in a hostel, walked and took public transportation everywhere I went, and visited as many cultural sites and parts of town as I could. During this time, I also asked questions about things I saw and spoke with a variety of people I met along the way.
Was retention a benefit? Sure. I am passionate about my work at the George Washington University. But I also had an opportunity to enrich my curiosity.
In the famous 1939 essay The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, Abraham Flexner, founder of the Institute for Advanced Study near my former home in Princeton, NJ writes, “Curiosity, which may or may not eventuate in something useful, is probably the outstanding characteristic of modern thinking. It is not new. It goes back to Galileo, Bacon, and to Sir Isaac Newton, and it must be absolutely unhampered” (p. 57).
Companies should be encouraging workers to spend a few extra days after an assignment in the particular country abroad not just because it might help with retention, but because doing so may help employees enrich their worldviews and curiosity for the Other. It is this widening of perspectives and deepening of inquisitiveness that will propel the average worker on international assignments to become a global leader.
The title of this post comes from a recent article by Darlene Russ-Eft at in the Association for Human Resource Development‘s (AHRD) journal Advances in Developing Human Resources, or “Advances” for short. I thought it was worth reflecting on the controversies that shaped the field of HRD because they tend to resurface throughout my reading and writing in the field. (As an aside, this issue of Advances as a whole serves as an excellent introduction to AHRD and the academic field of HRD.)
One controversy I want to bring attention to from Dr. Russ-Eft’s article is the nature of HRD. The topic of “What HRD Is, Now and Future” was discussed in the town hall forums of the AHRD conferences in 1995, 2002, 2003, 2008, and 2012 but seems to arise persistently in all kinds of articles, presentations, and books related to HRD. What does HRD mean? Is HRD the best title for this field? How should we go about thinking about and researching HRD?
At the George Washington University (GWU), the doctoral program is called Human and Organizational Learning. The main campus program emphasizes the three pillars of adult learning, organizational change, and leadership development. The Ashburn campus adds the fourth pillar of culture to the mix, while the main campus sees culture embedded in all three pillars. And the master’s program at GWU recently changed its name from HRD to Organizational Leadership and Learning.
I will not redo the efforts of Dr. Russ-Eft to summarize this controversy but I will offer a perspective on defining HRD based on the 2016 AHRD International Research Conference in Asia and Mena held in Ifrane, Morocco in October.
While many definitions abound in our field – and scholars like Dr. Monica Lee (2001) even argue against defining the field in general – a commonly cited definition is McLean & McLean’s (2001). They write,
“Human resource development is any process or activity that, either initially or over the long term, has the potential to develop adults’ work-based knowledge, expertise, productivity and satisfaction, whether for personal or group/team gain, or for the benefit of an organization, community, nation or, ultimately, the whole of humanity.”
In a paper presented at the 2016 AHRD International Conference in Asia and Mena, Dr. Greg Wang and colleagues reviewed existing definitions and theorized a comprehensive definition. This paper by Dr. Wang and colleagues is in press with Personnel Review (I’ve checked the journal multiple times and haven’t seen it published yet but it should be out soon). Until then, there is a draft available through Google Scholar.
Dr. Wang spoke passionately in his presentation refuting McLean and McLean’s (2001) definition and Lee (2001) not wanting to define HRD. Their paper proposed the following definition:
“Human resource development is a mechanism in shaping individual and group values and beliefs and skilling through learning-related activities to support the performance of the host-system.”
A couple interesting points: Wang et al. (in press) capture the “critical attributes” or “cores” of HRD, which they see as the idea of shaping, skilling, and host-system. Shaping refers to a sort of acculturation to the values of the host-system; skilling refers to the process of “learning/unlearning and tooling/retooling” by the host-system; and, the host-system itself refers to the organization, country, or even family that uses HRD for its decided purpose.
I will leave it up to you to read the paper judge whether you endorse their analysis. Either way, I think this is a valuable contribution to the conversation (or controversy) and should be read in introductory courses and textbooks alongside the perspectives of Lee (2001), McLean and McLean (2001), and others.
From my standpoint, I appreciate its simplicity in describing what may be the bare-bones or “cores” of HRD. At the same time, this act of boiling down HRD to basic attributes makes me wonder about its usefulness in understanding the complexities and ever-evolving nature of those processes.
December 19, 2016
This year I went from playing frisbee a couple times a week to running a 5o-mile race. Here’s the story along with a few reflections on the keys to discovering a love of running.
In January, I somewhat precariously decided to run a marathon as my New Year’s resolution. Knowing full well that resolutions of this kind rarely materialize, I thought now was as good a time as any to accomplish this goal. Little did I know that in that year I would end up running two marathons, two 50km races, and one 50-mile race.
I played ultimate frisbee in a league here in D.C. so I was in decent shape but couldn’t remember the last time I went out for a run. I hated running for the sake of running and preferred running as the byproduct of playing a sport like Ultimate.
A few weeks into January, my New Year’s resolution was beginning to fade into a fleeting desire. Then, my housemate mentioned he might be interested in running a marathon and we decided to train together. We did almost every single one of our training runs together. On May 1, his 27th birthday, we “put 26 behind us” and ran the Pittsburgh Marathon at the slow but steady time of 4:47.
During training, I picked up a dusty book about running that had been on my shelf for quite some time and decided to read it for some extra motivation. The book was Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes. For those of you who know me, when I get into something, I can become engrossed in it. I went on to read Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run and Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra. I gobbled up another half dozen books along with blogs, podcasts, and youtube videos about running. I transitioned to trails and ultrarunning, and on June 25 I ran my first 50km race: Hell Hath No Hurry.
One of the books I read was Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell, which has training plans for ultras and I decided to use one to train for a 50-miler. While I hadn’t run much in the last 10 years, I was able to tap into the miles I ran in high school in track and cross-country. I began my training in Thailand and Myanmar in early July for the JFK 50-miler.
Then, just before my Comprehensive Exams for my doctoral program I ran the JFK 50-miler with a time of 9:47. Since then, I’ve taken the last month easy so my body can recover from a year of running, but I’ve already begun planning for next year with the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Oil Creek 100km race on my schedule for 2017. Anyone want to join me?
When I think back on it, the keys to discovering a love of running have been the following:
- Having a training partner to help keep me accountable in the early days. Also great for conversations. Thanks, Trey!
- Having a couple specific goal races in mind. What am I shooting for?
- Learning about running. Reading books/blogs, listening to podcasts, watching videos.
- Finding good shoes. I’m sure my housemates wouldn’t let me get by without adding something about shoes because I have tried a lot over this year, but the point is that finding a good pair of shoes that you enjoy running in is vital. For me, it’s the Altra Superiors and the Nike Terra Kiger 3s.
- Running on trails. This is the biggest one for me. Nature, ups and downs, twists and turns–trails turn running into an adventure in the woods.
- No headphones. This one is definitely not for everyone but I love being out alone in nature and becoming more mindful of my existence. I am able to connect with my body and my surroundings.
I am learning a lot from running. Here are two small lessons: Be outrageously patient. Above all, it seems, running takes patience. This was my mantra in my 50-mile race. I said it over and over. Patience has become a great source of joy for me. Movement is life. I heard this idea in a video of Bernd Heinrich on “Why We Run.” This idea has come to make a lot of sense the more I run. In many ways I agree that movement is life, and running is a wonderful way to move. Check it out:
November 11, 2016
One of my professional memberships is to the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES), which publishes the Comparative Education Review journal. My interest in CIES stems from my research on higher education in Thailand and Southeast Asia. While international and comparative education is not directly related to my interests in human and organizational learning, I found this article to be more than relevant.
Human capital theory and rate of return methodology have long been a dominant framework in comparative and international education and other fields. While there have been criticisms since its inception, it has been ubiquitous and widely accepted as an important mechanism for educational planning, evaluation, and policy making. In this article, I raise fundamental questions about the internal logic of this framework. In particular, I examine the problems with its two strands of empirical work, dealing with the impact of education on income and economic growth, as well as with its conceptual base. In conclusion, I briefly examine some alternatives to using a human capital framework for educational planning, evaluation, and policy making.
Klees, who was trained at Stanford and is currently at the University of Maryland, brings a voice that is nothing short of subversive to the widely accepted neoliberal paradigm on the value of education. He does a fine job setting up the arguments for the human capital approach that began with the likes of Becker and Schultz. He recognizes that the human capital approach played an important role in expanding access to education around the globe. However, Klees speaks to some of the chinks in the chain of the human capital approach summed up here as, “the meaninglessness of economists’ concept of efficiency, the fact that earnings do not reflect productivity, the fact that earnings are at best a partial measure of the benefits of education, and our inability to even get accurate estimates of the effects of education on earnings – taken together imply that the main empirical application of HCT [human capital theory], that is calculating the RORs [rates of return] to education, is fatally flawed” (p. 653-654).
This article functions as an indictment of the highly quantitative driven mentality that glosses over its own deficiencies that are now too glaring to ignore. For example, at one point Klees discusses the widespread use of regression to predict the value of education and how it fails to meet the assumptions necessary for regression analysis to be useful, i.e. that “all variables are included, measured correctly, and their functional interrelationships accurately specified” (Klees, 2016, p. 652). This can’t possibly be done well when considering the value of education in society.
Klees (2016) goes on to discuss the failure of connecting education directly to GNP and the conceptual failure of the human capital approach to capture the value of education outside of work.
He then discusses three alternatives: a human rights approach, which, let’s be honest, is not a friend to our economist friends; a human agency approach, which refers to the ability of people and groups to work towards change through social movements; and, the human capabilities approach. The last of these has been most appealing to me personally since reading Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. To quote Nussbaum (2013), “The Capabilities Approach can be provisionally defined as an approach to comparative quality-of-life assessment and to theorizing about basic social justice…[it] is concerned with entrenched social injustice and inequality, equality, especially capability failures that are the result of discrimination nation or marginalization. It ascribes an urgent task to government and public policy-namely, to improve the quality of life for all people, as defined by their capabilities.” I think this approach is a strong contender for a replacement to HCT.
This article brings up a lot of philosophical arguments that I am sure my neoliberal friends will immediately want to repudiate. We would be wise to remember that Thomas Kuhn in his classic book on the structure of scientific revolutions points out that all paradigm shifts in science begin with subversive ideas to the norm. This, I believe, falls into that category, and it is my hope that we are on the path towards a paradigm shift in our understanding of the value of education in society.
8 November 2016
This weekend I returned from nine days in Morocco for the 2016 AHRD Conference in Asia and MENA. The conference itself was November 2-4 in Ifrane, Morocco, which is known as the Switzerland of Morocco. In the picture above (courtesy of Dollaya Hemmapattawe who is far left in the picture), a group of us with Thai connections (including Gary McLean who teaches often at NIDA in Bangkok) got together for a photo.
My adviser at the George Washington University (GWU), Dr. Maria Cseh, was the opening keynote speaker, so I was especially proud to be there. The conference was small with fewer than 100 people attending and about 40 participants, but I found the intimate setting relaxing, fun, and full of community. The downside, of course, was several of the presentations I wanted to attend were during my session on Thursday morning.
I presented a paper with Dollaya and Dr. Cseh on “Corporate Universities and Corporation-University Partnerships in Thailand: Complimenting Education in Learning, Leadership, and Change.” We looked at all the corporate universities in Thailand (quite a few have popped up in the last 10 years) as well as the partnership programs that many corporations are creating with universities. We then analyzed two programs in-depth, looking at how they incorporate elements of learning, leadership, and change, which are the pillars of human resource development (HRD). Based on our investigation, I believe corporate universities are complimenting traditional higher education in Thailand in important ways, although there are risks to quality.
Before the conference, I was fortunate to spend a few days in Fes, Morocco (about one hour from Ifrane. Morocco is a beautiful country with rich culture, and Fes is the perfect city to demonstrate that. I had a few big projects due during that time, including a book chapter on teacher education in Thailand, so when I wasn’t touring the medina (old city), I was writing and editing. Here is the view from the roof of my riad:
A riad is a traditional Moroccan house in the old city. Riads have massive sunroofs that allow the sun to shine in the interior of the house. All the rooms face this open interior, which makes for a cozy place to spend time and enjoy coffee, fruit, and breads.
I hope to return to Morocco sometime with Khai so we can explore the Sahara and other parts of Morocco, like Marrakesh, which I didn’t have the chance to explore this time around. Wishing you all the best! Now, time to vote.
October 15, 2016
Yeager, K. L., & Callahan, J. L. (2016). Learning to lead: Foundations of emerging leader identity development. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 1523422316645510.
The Problem: Organizations face several challenges that stand poised to place a significant strain on the availability of qualified leaders. Flatter organization structures, the use of more teams, and impending retirements of the Baby Boomer generation mean that the field of human resource development (HRD) must be prepared to help organizations develop the next generation of leaders. Scholars and practitioners must ensure that leader development initiatives will effectively prepare the forthcoming leaders from among young adults.
The Solution: The focus of this study was to develop an understanding of how leadership experiences shape leader identity development. We offer a model that explains the dynamic, interactive process of leader identity development. Specifically, this model identifies the importance of relationships, leading by example, authenticity, and the motivation to lead for young adults.
The Stakeholders: HRD scholars and practitioners may use the findings in this study to target developmental initiatives for future leaders.
Yesterday, I spent time with Dr. Nisha Manikoth at George Washington University in the campus community center. She mentioned the importance of reflecting on learning and communicating that learning to others in accessible ways. Unfortunately (or fortunately), a small percentage of people read academic journal articles. In some ways, it’s up to those invested enough to spend time reading those articles to share compelling findings with others in our communities. This is what I’m trying–somewhat feebly–to do in these article critique blog posts.
Advances in Developing Human Resources, or Advances for short, is one of the four refereed research journals sponsored by the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD). This article was written by Katherine Yeager and Jamie Callahan, the latter of whom I met in Ireland at the UFHRD conference in 2015 and have since gotten to know better, which made me excited to read this article.
On to the article!
In this day and age, many employers expect candidates to have certain leadership qualities before entering the workforce. This reality inspired the researchers to look at young leaders (aged 18-20) to find out what kinds of experiences these young leaders had and how those experiences influenced their identities as leaders. This is a phenomenological study, which is a fancy way of saying that they conducted in-depth interviews to learn more about the lived experiences of the participants. They used a technique (Seidman, 2006) of conducting three interviews with each participant to build rapport with the participants and really dive deeply into their experiences. I thought this technique was particularly justified considering the study.
What did they find?
The researchers found the experiences that most affected these young leaders’ identities were “developing relationships with others, leading by example, developing leader authenticity, and being motivated to lead” (p. 289). The researchers created a nice model and expounded on these themes but I thought I would share what I found particularly interesting.
Firstly, young leaders learn to lead by observing the example of leaders in their communities. As they begin integrating these leadership qualities in their lives, the young leaders begin feeling like leaders and in turn are treated as leaders by others. It sounds obvious, but having relationships with leaders and emulating them leads to leader identity development.
They also found that leader authenticity was important to developing leader identity. The young leaders associated “integrity and character” with what it means to be a leader. The more they embodied those characteristics, the more their own identity as leaders emerged. The fact that we associate integrity and character with leadership may just be a cultural construction, but it’s my hunch that these qualities transcend culture in many ways. Think about the importance of integrity and character for developing relationships, trust, and cooperation all of which have been vital for the development and survival of our species.
There are many more interesting discussion points that emerge from this article, and I truly enjoyed reading it. I also thought it was interesting in that it looked at 18-20 year-olds since most HRD literature consists of older adults in the workforce. I wonder, as HRD continues to expand, if more leadership research will extend into earlier years of life.
October 13, 2016
I woke up to the sad news of the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. I put my Thai flag in the front of my house to share with others our grief for his passing and to express my appreciation for his service to a country I love so deeply. I wanted to share a few words of gratitude for his life and work as well as a few quotes of his I have found inspirational for my work in education and human development.
When I lived in Cambridge, I made a point to visit the place of his birth at Mt. Auburn Hospital. It was wonderful seeing his picture with newspaper clippings hung proudly in the hospital hallway.
It is impossible to overstate his impact on the lives of Thai people and the country as a whole. Many of the things I love about Thailand are linked to his work.
I wanted to share some of his own words about education and human development that have influenced my thinking.
First, here are some words about the importance of developing human potential and harmony: “Education means guiding and promoting persons to progress in learning, thinking, and performing according to their own ability. The ultimate aim should be for each individual to be able to make the best use of his or her potential, to benefit oneself and others in harmony and without conflict or harassment.”
Here are some of my favorite words of his that reflect the importance and power of lifelong learning: “Education concerns everyone, and not for a particular period, as a direct duty for a period. It is not so. From birth, one starts to learn. Growing up, one has to learn, up to higher education, as you are pursuing. We call it Udom Sueksa – full or complete education. But once you leave this institution and start working, you have to continue studying. Or you would not survive. Even those with doctoral degrees have to study further. Education is endless.”
He was a thoughtful, considerate, and brilliant man. If you want to read more, I encourage you to check out “King Bhumibol and His Enlightened Approach to Teaching.” I also recommend this biography: King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work.
During this time of mourning I am thinking of all my friends in Thailand. I wish you all peace and wisdom.
Rest in peace, King Bhimbol. Thank you for your service to Thailand.
October 3, 2016
A note of background, Berger is a leadership development adviser and coach who I met when she guest lectured in Bob Kegan’s Adult Development course at Harvard in 2012. At the time, her book Changing on the Job had just come out and was required reading for Kegan’s course. Berger was a student of Kegan before that and has integrated Constructive Developmental Theory into her life and work as a leadership and change consultant. She has a new book – Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders – but it has yet to move from my Amazon Cart.
Berger’s recent post on Cultivating Time discusses how we experience time and the difference between being linearly-time poor and experientially time-rich. With regard to Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi’s concept of flow she writes, “many leadership theorists talk about the particular form of presence that best allows leadership to emerge—a full-bodied attention, a balcony perspective on what’s going on, a careful attentiveness to the present system and its behavior out of which a new and better future can be cultivated.” In this post, Berger encourages her readers to focus on cultivating presence and mindfulness with regards to our experiences so that we can become experientially time-rich.
She concludes by writing, “Poets and psychologists can write all they want about how life is short and we have to seize the day, but it is up to each of us to shift our relationship to our own time on the planet…I will fail at this, of course, in big and small ways each day, but I will be grateful nonetheless for the opportunity each dawn gives me to start again to be increasingly present in my life, so that it is not a rushed blur but an ever-changing painting of colorful moments of deep connection, each point on the page giving form and depth to the pointillist landscape of my life.”
How powerful is that last line. I love the image of making our lives “an ever-changing painting of colorful moments of deep connection.”
Berger’s work aligns well with my personal and professional interests in leadership, adult learning, and organizational change. I think anyone interested in Human Resource Development would be enriched by her work. I know I have.