Learning through experience
Building leader awareness of sustainability
Business in a changing world
Public sensitivity to issues that include climate change, preservation of natural resources,
oppression and human rights has risen drastically over recent decades. A key upshot of this
concern is the belief that businesses have some obligation towards these and other issues.
The burden of expectation is daunting for some ﬁrms. To others, however, this societal shift
equals opportunity rather than threat. Corporate responsibility is now high on the agenda of
such companies to a degree that they are constantly seeking innovative ways to function in a
more sustainable manner.
Exploiting developments and trends demands effective leadership. But without the
necessary array of skills and attitudes, senior leaders will struggle to successfully navigate
their organizations through the sea of global change. How to best develop these desired
leadership capabilities remains a challenge for those charged with management training.
Companies typically take the traditional route where training is concerned. A strong
emphasis on cognitive learning is thus the norm. Theory can only deliver so much though
and emotional engagement with the issues at hand will be difﬁcult to say the least. A
practical focus is therefore required to build on the consciousness that cognitive learning
Action often speaks louder than words and many people gain more from actual doing
something rather than merely talking or reading about it. That signiﬁcant learning can occur
through ﬁrst-hand experience is becoming widely acknowledged in the business world. This
recognition has inspired industry-leading corporations to place experiential learning at the
core of programs that aim to equip organization leaders with the qualities that will enhance
their development and help achieve sustainability goals.
An alternative approach to leadership development
Any experience must be relevant, of course, and this is clearly recognized at IBM. The
technology giant launched a learning program aimed at those considered as prospective
leaders of this multinational concern. Partnerships are formed with third-party non-proﬁt
organizations in emerging nations and IBM employees invest their time and skill in return for
the gaining of valuable experience to learn from. The aim is to develop future leaders who
possess in-depth knowledge of emerging markets and are sensitive towards different
cultures and traditions. Employees also learn to create relationships with key stakeholders,
guide multi-cultural teams and operate in a transparent and scrupulous manner.
VOL. 28 NO. 8 2012, pp. 12-14, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 0258-0543 DOI 10.1108/02580541211249556