Rethinking Leadership Development In The Corporate Sector


By Krista Aspiras


Developing leaders in corporate settings is far from a new concept.

General Electric’s Corporate University, the first ever management training center, was established in 1956 and is still alive and kicking. The Crotonville global leadership institute served almost 40,000 GE employees at the in 2013 alone.

After combing through several “best companies to work for” lists, I was not surprised to find leadership development as a key attribute consistent among the best of the best. So what is the best way for companies to develop leaders? There’s a ton of information available on the topic, but unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Even with company programs in place, leadership development programs can fail to serve their purpose.

Outside of corporate universities, a number of companies, programs, and initiatives specialize in leadership development. Given the evolving and competitive nature of the workplace today, it is crucial that companies start thinking outside of the box when it comes to developing talent.

Over the last ten weeks, I’ve worked with Emzingo on a project related to corporate leadership development. When I look back on everything I’ve learned and accomplished throughout business school, my NexGen Fellowship last summer still stands out as the highlight of my MBA.

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Exactly one year ago today, I flew to Johannesburg, South Africa to join a cohort of 17 graduate students from around the world as an Emzingo NexGen Fellow. We spent the next eight weeks working on social impact consulting projects with NGOs or Social Enterprises around Jo’burg. In addition to the projects we completed with our field partners, we attended a series of sessions thoughtfully designed to increase cross-cultural awareness, guide project outcomes, and encourage professional and personal growth. I emerged from the Fellowship feeling enthusiastic, and more empowered about my future than ever.

Drawing from my own experience, the NexGen program produces several invaluable outcomes that apply to both academic and corporate participants. By rethinking leadership development through the NexGen Leadership Program (or Emzingo’s other corporate solutions), companies can drive innovation, develop and retain talent, and build essential skills for employees to bring back to work.


1- Delivers design thinking tools that inspire innovation

Many NGOs and social enterprises operate with limited resources, where employees have no choice but to pivot and innovate regularly. The NexGen program includes workshops and events that introduce design thinking as a way to build thoughtful solutions in any setting, but seem especially useful in an emerging market. Participants are encouraged to apply these new innovation methods to their social impact projects and bring them back to the workplace after the program ends.

As part of my program, NexGen Fellows took a guided trip through Diepsloot, a Johannesburg Township, to understand how businesses operate in informal settlements. We met and spoke with several Diepsloot business owners. Their ability to be innovative with limited resources was a reminder that sometimes the solution lies in simplification.


2- Provides the meaningful work experience employees want

ThFullSizeRenderese days, employees want more than just a job to pay the bills. They crave purposeful work where they can use their skills to make a positive difference in the world. The Emzingo team thoughtfully pairs employees to social impact projects with NGOs or social enterprises that align with company values and have employees’ expertise in mind. Employees then work on the ground with field partners to co-create solutions that match the strengths and assets of the participating organization.

As an MBA student, the NexGen Fellowship cemented my desire to remain active in the social impact space after school. From a company perspective, employees will return from their experience abroad with renewed commitment and engagement; studies show engaged employees are 50% more productive and 33% more profitable.


3- Encourages cross-cultural awareness and collaboration

In an increasingly globalized workplace, employees must be able to communicate effectively across broad cross-cultural contexts. In addition, company leaders at every level must make sound business decisions through a global lens. With NexGen, employees are fully immersed in an emerging market that encourages them to think through these decisions. Cultural differences large and small create an authentic learning environment for program participants that cannot be replicated in a corporate classroom or anywhere else.

My project partner and I co-crafted a solution that complemented the competencies of the organization’s leaders, which gave the director and team leaders the confidence to execute the recommendations even after our departure. Future corporate participants will be encouraged to do the same.


Because every company has a unique organizational culture, there is no clear-cut way to develop leaders. However, there is no denying the value of an international leadership development program in accomplishing this goal. The NexGen Program rethinks how to develop leaders by providing programs in emerging markets that drive global perspective, inspire innovation, and stimulate overall company advancement.

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