As the first feature in our new Global Leadership SerIES, which dives into the many areas of expertise of members of the IES Abroad community, we interviewed IES Abroad President & CEO, Gregory D. Hess, Ph.D. Greg talks about what global leadership means to him, qualities a global leader should possess (hint: they all start with the letter "u"), his own leadership experience, and the global leaders he admires most. Naturally, Greg also discusses where study abroad and leadership intersect and how his own experience studying abroad made him the person he is today.
IES Abroad: What is global leadership to you?
Greg Hess (GH): Global leadership to me is to endeavor to do the right thing in any set of circumstances based on a global set of values that have been honed from a broad set of cross-cultural experiences and have benefited from a great deal of reflection. I know, it’s a mouthful. But global leadership is one part action and risk-taking, one part doing the right thing, and one part having the range of experiences and the ability to sort through these experiences to find the valuable connections across them.
IES Abroad: What are the top three characteristics you think a global leader should possess?
GH: I have something that I call the "3 U’s of Leadership", and it is what I look for in the people that I work with. They apply, in varying forms, to all leadership situations.
The first U is Upbeat. Everyone has problems. Every organization has challenges. You have to acknowledge them, but you need to have an upbeat view of how you are going to get to the good. In other words, you need to have a solution-oriented mindset that gets you to the other side of the problems and challenges. Be part of the solution that makes things better. Don’t allow despair to draw you into inaction.
The second U is Unflappable. Having a solution-oriented mindset encourages the formation of a path and a direction towards making things better. Think of it as a North Star. Leadership means that you have to start tacking in that direction. Of course, that’s not easy, because along the way new problems will emerge, you will face resistance to the direction you are taking, and you will even face resentment from those who dislike you independent of the direction you are taking. If you are in a leadership position, people you work with will notice how you react to setbacks, surprises, and uncertainty. While you always need to be authentic, it is also important to understand and process your emotions as quickly as possible and to communicate and express your thoughts and emotions in a way that helps you on the direction you are taking. In short, take a deep breath, count to 10, find your composure, then frame and communicate decisions clearly.
The final U is Undaunted. Dealing with problems and challenges and getting to the good is often very hard. The fact is, you usually have to push through the most difficult moments by reassuring those that agree with you and winning over those that disagree with you. It is also not easy to soft-land every decision, and there is always some broken china scattered on the floor. Being undaunted to me means continuing to find your North Star, by learning and making adjustments along the way, and finding the courage to do your best to get to the good.
IES Abroad: Who are the global leaders you admire and why?
GH: Here are three: Barack Obama, Richard Haas, and Malala Yousafzai. Former President Obama is an easy one. He has a great narrative and tone and probably epitomizes the "3 U’s" better than anyone I can think of. He is deeply respected around the world because he is solution-oriented, he handles setbacks well, and he is determined to bend the arc of history towards justice.
Richard Haas, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, has worked in diplomatic policy circles in some of the toughest challenges of the era (e.g. Northern Ireland and Afghanistan), and he has a deep and profound understanding of international relations, multilateral institutions, and democratic values. Importantly, he knows how to communicate them doggedly and thoughtfully.
Malala Yousafzai found a way to take a horrific experience and courageously get to the good. And her message of educating women is an inclusive, universal message that speaks to the ultimate betterment of the world. And, I think, they all live the "3 U’s".
IES Abroad: How does study abroad assist students on the path to become global leaders? How did it assist you?
GH: Two things come to mind. The first is the experience of being immersed in a very different culture. I studied abroad in London in the early 1980’s, and while I did not have a language barrier to overcome, taking courses in a very different system, finding an apartment, commuting, buying groceries, going out with friends, etc. were all adventures into the cultural unknown. It was also an interesting time in UK history. It was just after the Falklands/Malvinas war and there was also the reelection of Margaret Thatcher. It was quite a polarized time in UK politics, and it taught me a lot about political conflict and rhetoric.
The second way that study abroad contributes to making students global leaders is through the experience of being exposed to an uncountable number of other cultures. In my own experience, I studied, spent time, and made friends with students from all over the U.K, the U.S., as well as from around the world. It is one of the reasons we continue to internationalize IES Abroad to broaden the culture impact of what we do to benefit each and every student.
The sustained exposure to a range of cultures combined with the deep cultural immersion is one of the most powerful ways to spark a deeper understanding of not only those around you but also of yourself and your own personal biases. Now more than ever, we must do our part to address the continued issue of institutional racism here in the U.S. and around the globe. Study abroad is our form of changing the world for the better. Students who study abroad are more likely to be able to read the nuances of ambiguous situations and have had the feeling of being outside their comfort zone, making them less afraid and therefore more empathetic to people unlike themselves. These are unique leadership skills that can only come from living and learning abroad. As I often say, study abroad changes lives, and changed lives change the world.
IES Abroad: Experience, and learning from that experience, is a big part of becoming a leader. What would you say are your top experiences or key learnings that have been essential on your path to leadership?
GH: The most important lesson that I have learned from experience is that sometimes you have to act quickly, and sometimes it’s best that you don’t. For example, we all know from cooking that some dishes, like barbecue, will taste better if you leave them on the grill longer. Of course, this approach will ruin other dishes. There is not a hard and fast rule to distinguish the two, but there are a few. With behavior or performance issues, I have learned from experience that it is better to move fast. By contrast, issues that are strategic or relationship building, patience is often the way forward. And then, of course, sometimes it’s exactly the opposite!
IES Abroad: We often associate leadership with success; however, one could say challenges and failures play an important role in what separates an average leader from a great leader. What are your thoughts?
GH: Failure is inevitable when you are in a leadership position—better leaders are better at learning from them. The way I think about it is that all the decisions that leaders make involve some type of risk—unknown outcomes, made with limited information, for which you cannot buy insurance. For good leaders, they have a level of core competence and sometimes they get lucky and sometimes they get unlucky. I find that great leaders are better at recognizing when they are lucky just as much as when they recognize when they are unlucky, and they do their best to learn from both situations. Overall, this improves humility, right sizes their level of confidence, and makes them even better at taking risks. Of course, when failures inevitably happen, you have a lot of work to do—apologize, learn from the experience, but do your best not to dwell on failures disproportionately.