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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 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 UK listed companies.

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

“The UK 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,” says Prof Trojanowski.

Prof Trojanowski believes that companies should pay great attention to the organisation’s overall strategy and consider how the experience of its managers complements that strategy. If for example he says 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 the 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’ assessment 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 rationalise and inflate their self-image over time”.

Academics Margarita Mayo, professor of organisational behaviour at IE business school in Spain with her colleague Juan Carlos Pastor and Maria Kakarika of Kedge Business school in France and Stephane Brutus of Concordia University in Canada questioned 221 MBA students – 169 male and 52 female – at the end of each term over the year of their MBA programme. 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”.

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, at the same time ignoring what others say “is hardly a prescription for success in the long haul”.

Aligning or inflating your leadership self image? A longitudinal study of responses to peer feedback in MBA teams appears in the December/February issue of Academy of Management Learning & Education.

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