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How travel broadens minds in the boardroom

Managers who have had exposure to more than one culture before the age of 23 are more likely to be confident when it comes to making difficult or risky decisions.

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They say that travel broadens the mind. Recent research from Exeter and Dublin indicates that international experience can also help when it comes to creating more well-rounded managers.

Managers who have had exposure to more than one culture before the age of 23 are more likely to be confident when it comes to making difficult or risky decisions. Such managers see doing business in international markets as a means of providing opportunities and expect a positive result from these opportunities.

Grzegorz Trojanowski, an associate professor in finance at the University of Exeter Business School, and Dorota Piaskowska, a lecturer in management at University College Dublin, looked at more than 2,000 acquisition decisions made by board members at 561 U.K.-listed companies.

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The two academics have discovered that the more international the makeup of a company's board, the more likely that company is to be active in international markets.

"The U.K. is one of the most diverse countries on Earth and this cultural mix has a positive impact on the business focus of British firms, which tends to be disproportionately international," Prof. Trojanowski said.

Prof. Trojanowski believes that companies should pay great attention to an organization's overall strategy and consider how the experience of its managers complements that strategy. If, for example, a company wishes to be active overseas, it would do well to employ managers with significant international exposure. However, if a company is more concerned with its domestic market, managers with international experience could well expose the company "to unnecessarily risky behaviour."


Career appraisals and 360-degree feedback are a common tool in the Western workplace. But in what academics believe may be the first research of its kind, a study into peer feedback has found that women are far more likely than men to take their co-workers' assessments to heart.

A report in the Academy of Management Learning & Education has found that "women more quickly and rationally align their self-awareness with peers' views of them, whereas men continue to rationalize and inflate their self-image over time."

Academics Margarita Mayo, a professor of organizational behaviour at IE business school in Spain, her colleague Juan Carlos Pastor, Maria Kakarika of Kedge Business School in France, and Stéphane Brutus of Concordia University in Montreal questioned 221 MBA students – 169 male and 52 female – at the end of each term over the year of their MBA program. Each time the students were asked to rate themselves in four areas of leadership: self-confidence, self-management, interpersonal understanding and behavioural flexibility. Initially, both men and women rated themselves higher than their peers had done. However, over a six-month period, the women's self assessment declined much more steeply than the men's, to the point that the women's perceptions had "essentially converged with peer ratings."

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The writers believe that their findings indicate that women are more sensitive to social cues than their male peers. However Prof. Mayo warns that for women, this can be a double-edged sword. Aligning self-image to reflect what others think of them demonstrates self-awareness, which is a big step in leadership development, she says. But if such self-awareness includes doubt about competence. "It can induce paralysis unless women take their cue from their peers to seek out the training and coaching that will enable them to take on new challenges."

Prof. Mayo adds that, for men, the tendency to overestimate their leadership abilities has both advantages and disadvantages. While allowing them to take on new challenges in the face of negative feedback can be a positive consequence, ignoring what others say "is hardly a prescription for success in the long haul."

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