Leadership Programs: 4 Keys to Success

IMG_1836 - Version 2By Pablo Esteves – Emzingo. This post was originally featured in IDEAS magazine.


In today’s globalized world, countries in the southern hemisphere are major growth markets for those in the northern hemisphere, particularly Europe and the United States. Thus, business leaders with the vision and capacity to understand and operate in these markets can be the difference for a company between healthy growth and stagnation. Emerging markets, however, are difficult to navigate -especially for executives who’ve followed traditional career paths in developed markets.  So, how can companies not only enter these emerging markets but thrive? Send the young professionals.  It may seem like an unorthodox way to enter a market, let alone develop leaders, but many companies are now doing exactly that.

Learning journeys – like the upcoming IE Alumni Trek to Johannesburg, South Africa – are increasingly used as development programs. The lessons learned via immersion in these emerging markets are fundamental in identifying business opportunities and collaboration across borders, as well as generating new ideas.

For some time now, learning journeys and study abroad programs have been one of the most effective ways for students to acquire a global mindset. It is not often the case with the executive business trip, which are more often than not a schedule juggling act that isolates executives from a local experience. Staying in international hotels in Sandton (Johannesburg) or Miraflores (Lima) offers bland experiences: planned routes to and from the hotel and the office, modern building complexes, programmed meals, and all the luxuries of staying within a comfortable “bubble.” In the meantime, the opportunity to see and experience local realities is lost.

Programs like those developed by Emzingo, which facilitate transformative experiences through action learning and social impact, are recognized as a way for companies to understand local contexts and explore new market opportunities. Participants of Emzingo programs, and of similar programs like IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, Intel Encore Fellowship Program, andDow’s Leadership in Action, are better able to identify clients’ needs and new business opportunities. They recognize the role of business in society and the importance of a global perspective.

Of course, not all learning journeys are created equal.  At Emzingo, we have found that such programs must be carefully designed and executed, developed with specific attention to the following four areas:

1.-  Align talent with the necessities of the project

The first critical component of these programs is that the project design should align experience and learning with the company’s primary activity. Although praiseworthy, this isn’t about executives or MBAs painting school walls in Peru or South Africa.  It is vital that participants use -and develop- their professional skills, and they are given the opportunity to listen and observe with a business mindset while learning about the local context. Likewise, the social organization on the receiving end of these professional skills should have a mission aligned with the markets or consumers of the company, whether it be in tech, healthcare, or education. When there is mission alignment between the two organizations, the immersed executives and MBAs not only have a better chance of positively impacting the local organization but also generating new ideas for their company and enhancing their own decision making skills.

2.- Establish collaboration

Companies with global pro-bono programs consistently report that collaboration (both internal and external) is key to success. Although the majority of executive development programs reside inside the human resource department, international pro-bono experiences offer an opportunity to work with other departments within the same company, such as the area of corporate social responsibility. These cross-departmental collaborations allow participants to understand the social value of their company as something integrated and whole rather than comprised of isolated initiatives.

3.- Create opportunities to Learn by Doing

Professionals prefer and need continuous education, and value opportunities with hands-on experience in which they must use their professional skills and knowledge to resolve issues that entrepreneurs and non-profits face. Additionally, when the projects encourage teamwork and are co-designed with the social organization, transformative experiences emerge and add value to both the organization and the professional in a short period of time.  In such instances, as little as a week can provide a meaningful experience for both parties.

4.- Maintain commitment

Finally, in order for a program to be truly transformative, the experience must continue past the point when the participants or present their conclusions to the client or return to their regular work routine. The best programs offer opportunities for the participants to reflect during the experience, at its conclusion, and even weeks or months later.

Talent development programs, which provide executives with opportunities to improve business skills and institutional knowledge, can and should also enhance their global perspectives and how they approach challenges. The end goal of programs like those at Emzingo is to improve professional performance and personal well-being.

No company, government, or NGO can face global challenges alone; they require cross-sector collaboration.  With a better understanding of the realities of emerging markets, executives can create sustainable solutions that strengthen their core business, benefit society and the environment, and simply put, build a better world.


Pablo Esteves  is Partner and Director of Corporate Services at Emzingo.

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