“How can I make the people around me do great things?”: Leadership development for an interconnected world
“How can I make the people around me do great things?”: Leadership development for an interconnected world
“How can I make the people around me do great things?”: Leadership development for an interconnected world
By Gavin Hornbuckle, High School and College Counselor, American School of Brasilia, Brazil

Are the teachers and leaders in your school interculturally competent? Does it really even matter? Gavin Hornbuckle’s research, highlighted below, demonstrates that we shouldn’t assume international school staff are culturally competent. Explore this topic in-depth at the CIS Symposium on Intercultural Learning in Amsterdam (9 & 10 March) or Singapore (23 & 24 March). More information here.

“You should be predisposed to other people's power -- how can I make the people around me do great things. If they do, then, by definition, I'll succeed, because that's my job, is to get this team moving in the right direction.”

President Barack Obama, 
Remarks at a Town Hall with Young Leaders of the UK, April 23, 2016

The Challenge

Being a leader in a 21st century international school requires a unique set of skills.  As educators, the work we do – facilitating learning - inherently involves leadership, whether it is inside or outside of the classroom. This involves working with students, parents, and colleagues; keeping up to date with trends in the profession of education, all while keeping an eye on global political and economic events that may have an impact on our lives and work. 

Leadership skills must be as widely distributed as possible to meet the challenges that schools face. Giving a variety of members of the school community a say in decision-making has a stronger effect on student outcomes than when decisions are made solely by an individual leader (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2011). In order to lead effectively in an interconnected and rapidly changing world, it is imperative that we have the ability to bridge cultural differences. This requires the ability to shift cultural perspectives, adapt to different cultures, and have a flexible mindset, skillset and attitude (Hammer, 2012). 

The Research

My interest in this area stems from the research I conducted for my doctorate at the University of Minnesota, which sought to better understand what teachers thought helped students develop intercultural competence in an international school in Southeast Asia (Hornbuckle, 2013). The results of this study and others indicate that while teachers often believe that they possess the intercultural skill-set required to play that role, in reality this may not be the case.

As a part of my study, nine teachers agreed to take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) ®, which assesses intercultural competence (Hammer, 2011; Hammer, Bennett and Wiseman, 2002). The IDI measures development along an Intercultural Development Continuum. The results of the IDI indicated that these teachers tend to highlight cultural commonalities, universal values and principles that can mask a deeper understanding of cultural differences (Hammer, 2012). As a result, opportunities for collective and shared leadership are often missed. 

This is not out of the ordinary. Other studies conducted with teachers, administrators and counselors in international schools have found that their IDI scores fell within the same range (Fretheim, 2008, Helmer, 2007, Steurnagel, 2014, Jubert, 2016). This research indicates that the majority of educators are stuck in a more monocultural mindset, while their students show evidence of being more sophisticated in their intercultural development (Cushner, 2012). 

Given that intercultural competence does not come naturally and that educators in international schools tend to minimize difference, what can we focus on in order to achieve the goals they set for our students? Research in the field of cross-cultural management provides some answers. No matter the culture, a good leader demonstrates integrity, charisma and interpersonal skills (Northouse, 2016). Leaders can focus on the following universal leadership behaviors to guide their actions (Quast, 2016):

    • Live up to commitments
    • Create an environment where people work their best
    • Make timely decisions
    • Convey a sense of urgency.

The Solutions

While these attributes may be a place to start, understanding how other cultures view leadership is essential. Making a conscious effort to engage with the cultural difference and get outside of the “expat bubble” that many international schools create is good place to begin. It is common to overestimate one’s level of intercultural competence, so keeping an open-minded, curious attitude towards cultural differences– and consciously avoiding snap judgments – is essential. 

Professional development is imperative in developing intercultural leadership skills, and has shown to be successful. Providing leaders at all levels of the school with opportunities to become familiar with basic intercultural concepts and theories and gain knowledge of how intercultural development happens is an important first step.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that schools are most effective when as many members of the organization as possible are prepared to be leaders. Intercultural competence is an essential part of this preparation. The more people who are ready to face the challenges in running an international school, the more successful they will be in preparing students for an interconnected and rapidly changing world. 

Gavin Hornbuckle is currently the High School and College Counselor at the American School of Brasilia, Brazil. He has over 18 years of experience as a counselor, teacher, administrator, resident director and admissions officer at the K12 and university levels in Asia, Latin America and the United States. He holds a doctorate from the University of Minnesota and a master's degree the Harvard Graduate School of Education.     


Bennett, M. (1993). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (pp. 21-71). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Cushner, K. (2012). Planting seeds for peace: Are they growing in the right direction? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(2), 161-168.

DeJaeghere, J., & Cao, Y. (2009). Developing U.S. teachers' intercultural competence: Does professional development matter? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33(5), 437-447.

Fretheim, A. (2008). Assessing the intercultural sensitivity of educators in an American international school. Unpublished Ed.D. Dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN USA.

Hammer, M. (2011). Additional cross-cultural validity testing of the Intercultural Development Inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(4), 474-487.

Hammer, M. (2012). The Intercultural Development Inventory: A new frontier in assessment and development of intercultural competence. In M. Vande Berg, R. M. Paige & K. Hemming Lou (Eds.), Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it (pp. 115- 136). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Hammer, M., Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The Intercultural Development Inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations., 27(4), 421–443.

Helmer, J. (2007). Factors influencing the referral of English language learners within an international elementary school: A mixed methods approach. Unpublished Ed.D. Dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Hornbuckle, G. C. (2013). Teachers' views regarding ways in which the intercultural competence of students is developed at an international school in Southeast Asia: a mixed methods study. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

Jubert, D.J. (2016). Factors Contributing to the Intercultural Competence of International School Administrators: A Mixed Methods Study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2012). Collective leadership: The reality of leadership distribution within the school community. In K. Leithwood & K. Seashore Louis (Eds.), Linking Leadership to Student Learning (pp. 11-24). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and Practice, Fifth Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Quast, L. (2016, August 5). Cross-Cultural Leadership Training: What Works and What Doesn’t? [Web log]. Retrieved from https://cehdvision2020.umn.edu/blog/cross-cultural-leadership-training/

Steuernagel, J.A. (2014). Factors that Contribute to the Intercultural Sensitivity of School Counselors in International Schools: A Path Analysis.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. 

“How can I make the people around me do great things?”: Leadership development for an interconnected world
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“How can I make the people around me do great things?”: Leadership development for an interconnected world