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Leadership research, advocacy and education

Leadership research, advocacy and education: reflections from Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour Xi Zou

By Xi Zou . 12 May 2016

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In 2014, I had the leadership experience of a lifetime. I led a group of Executive MBA students to a field trip in Cape Town, South Africa.


When we visited the local township, every family we visited greeted us warmly with cookies and soft drinks. At one home, when the grandmother told us that she and her adult children all had diabetes, one of my students suggested that we should all drink water instead of Coke. Grandma laughed out loud and said that in Africa, you would drink Coke before water and medicine, even deep in the jungle.


Global problems need global solutions


This experience got my students talking. How could the global infrastructure of multinational firms be better leveraged for humanitarian purposes? How could global organisations be more progressive in pushing the developing world forward? And how could we channel the competitive spirit of modern organisations into global commonwealth?


Many pointed out that global organisations operate across boundaries: not only geographical and economic boundaries, but cultural and political ones. London Business School (LBS), as a global business school, operates across all these boundaries, providing a unique environment to develop future leaders for global organizations.


Over the last six years with LBS, I’ve realised that working here requires global citizenship. Everybody is part of this multicultural community. Here, we teach over 2,000 degree students every year, from over 100 countries. Our 146 faculty members come from over 30 countries. We are constantly influenced by not only our own cultural heritage, but multiple and diverse cultural practices across the world.


Because we attract faculty and students from all over the world to London, and we run our programmes all over the world, our appreciation of the vital importance cultural differences make is underpinned by a constantly growing experience base.


Research bedrock


Rigorous research separates truth from conventional wisdom, current best practice, dogma or blind faith. Here’s how we can work to apply that research to inform us on how we shape the learning environment at LBS.


Research on international students has shown that those who feel secure in their heritage cultures better adjust to their host culture. So, when foreign students feel respected for who they are, they are more open to foreign cultural influence.


To build a multicultural community where people have varied and even conflicting cultural legacies, and people borrow, reconcile, and integrate various foreign ways of thinking and behaving, we must remember to show respect to each individual member. We need mutual respect among everyone in our community for a true celebration of the plurality of cultural influence.


This knowledge helps us to also shape the study group experience, where self and peer assessment can help raise awareness on the critical importance of respecting others, how this looks in practice and developing the skills around this.


Creating global impact

As a global business school, LBS exemplifies another feature of the globalised world: knowledge travel. As more people study and work abroad, more choose to return home.


Two years ago, I caught up with a few LBS alumni at an evening event in Shanghai.  I heard again and again how their experience at LBS shaped their career path and personal values.


A fresh graduate from the Masters in Management programme told me that spending a year at LBS gave her new-found confidence to take up a challenging position back in Shanghai and a vision to develop her very own international career in her motherland.


A Masters in Finance graduate told me that LBS ingrained in him the fundamental principle of accountability, which had since played a key role in shaping his decision-making.


LBS faculty know that leadership is enacted differently in different places, so we focus our approach on generating insights that will help leaders understand themselves, their context, and sharpen their impact on the people around them.


A platform for international dialogue


My recent work on repatriation suggests that repatriates who frequently savour the memory of their international experience enjoy a significant increase in job satisfaction upon returning to their home culture.


LBS is a cultural broker. We enable conversations between people from every corner of the world. We identify, develop, train and inspire leaders at all stages of life and leadership journeys through our extensive degree, alumni and executive education programmes. We help keep the LBS experience alive for alumni too, bringing memories to our graduates back in their home countries.


Cultures interact and change. People are culturally complex, dynamic and malleable. We play a uniquely important role in shaping future leadership on the global stage. We should seek to offer a progressive and respectful environment for our members to learn and adapt, paving the way for our students to become global leaders of the future.

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