Mercy Corps approached Thunderbird a couple years ago with a troubling observation: Successful business leaders often stumble when trying to cross over to the nonprofit sector to help solve pressing social problems.
“These executives wanted to come into the nonprofit sector or public sector and try to apply the skills that help make them successful in their prior professions,” Thunderbird School of Global Management Professor Mary Sully de Luque, Ph.D., said Aug. 12 at a leadership symposium in Anaheim, Calif. “But these executives often were encountering problems. The things they had success with in the private sector didn’t always work in the public and nonprofit sectors.”
This is just one of the issues that Sully de Luque and other colleagues are now researching in leadership.
“I think it’s important for business leaders to work with government and nonprofit organizations to understand what sort of differences might exist within leadership expectations in different organizations,” Sully de Luque said.
Mercy Corps is not the only organization that has noticed these differences in leadership style. Participants made similar observations in a recent survey of 225 members of the World Economic Forum of Young Global Leaders.
“Business leaders are generally more focused on outcomes,” one survey participant said. “Political and NGO leaders are often more focused on process.”
Another young leader said “the pace of change” is different in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.
This community of thought leaders, which includes Thunderbird President Ángel Cabrera, Ph.D., represents business, government, academic and social leaders age 45 and younger from every region in the world.
“This is one of many factors of leadership of current interest to me and my colleagues today,” Sully de Luque said. “We are now trying to figure out if there are leadership differences in these sectors, and if so what are they.”
She said this research will help guide leaders who cross into other sectors so they don’t get caught off guard by differing expectations and styles. Her comments followed an integrative leadership symposium at the Academy of Management meetings, an annual conference that included about 7,000 participants from 83 countries.
During the 2008 symposium, Sully de Luque presented preliminary findings from her research, which she says emerged as a side study from a larger project with which she is involved.
This side study considered cultural factors that might hamper or benefit integrative leadership in different countries. Integrative leadership refers to shared leadership across sector boundaries for addressing complex social problems such as poverty, racial inequality and inadequate health care.
Sully de Luque said a survey of approximately 600 CEOs and their top management teams in 15 countries suggests that special challenges to integrative leadership might exist in certain regions.
“Countries with high gross domestic product, coupled with strong performance and weak future orientation, may face challenges on the part of business leaders in terms of sharing in an integrative process,” Sully de Luque said.
She is also a research associate involved in the GLOBE Project, which stands for Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness. Sully de Luque joined her colleague, Thunderbird Dean of Research Mansour Javidan, Ph.D., as a co-presenter in an Academy of Management pre-conference development workshop Aug. 9.
Together, they reviewed major GLOBE findings and explored additional research questions that could emerge from this multiyear, multiphase project.
DIFFERENT LEADERSHIP STYLES
A survey of 225 members of the World Economic Forum of Young Global Leaders included the following open-ended question: “Please describe any relevant differences in leadership style you may see between different sectors of activity.” Sully de Luque says the survey responses show differing and sometimes contradictory viewpoints. Her empirical research, which is still in its early stages, will attempt to address systematically these beliefs about leadership. Here is a sampling of the responses from the Young Global Leaders:
– “In the civil sector, leadership must be persuasive, motivating and serving.”
– “I see more values-based leadership in the nonprofit sector.”
– “Not-for-profit leadership tends to have fewer defined and measurable goals.”
– “Private sector leadership is more driven by targets and deliverables to shareholders.”
– “Private sector leadership has a much greater emphasis on teamwork.”
– “Leadership in the private sector is quick, responsive and informed”
– “Public sector leadership is driven by relationships.”
– “Political leaders seem more easily influenced by subjective, irrelevant factors than other leaders.”
– “Political leadership remains bound in a war of individualism and self-interest.”