RAND Study Says U.S. Needs to Improve International Skills of Future Leaders

For Release

July 13, 2004

The United States faces an urgent national challenge in training and drawing into government service a new generation of international affairs talent—professionals with a broad strategic view who can operate across cultures, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The problem poses challenges to the nation’s long-term world leadership position, and cannot be corrected by government alone or through crash program such as allocating funds to create new university training programs, according to researchers.

Rather, all three sectors—government, private and not-for-profit—need to undertake a fundamental overhaul of their career development strategies to create a system that shepherds a new generation of talent, providing young people with opportunities to build the broad portfolio of experience necessary to enable them to become international leaders, according to the report.

“Neither a series of minor regulatory remedies nor attempted agency-by-agency fixes will solve the problems of generating effective leadership for America’s institutions with international missions, or developing properly trained staff,” said Tora Bikson, a senior RAND researcher and a lead author of the report. “Comprehensive change is what’s required.”

Researchers say they found that the problem is not caused by workers lacking a certain skill—though government does face some specific shortfalls, such as in certain foreign languages.

“All three sectors say they have too few future leaders who combine substantive expertise, with an international experience and a broad strategic view,” said Gregory Treverton, a senior RAND analyst and the other lead author of the report. “That’s why a new approach to career development is necessary.”

During the early years of the Cold War the United States undertook an effort to develop leaders for the future. But the nation no longer nurtures young people to be leaders in today’s challenging international environment, according to the RAND issue paper titled “New Challenges for International Leadership: Positioning the United States for the 21st Century.” The study has a companion technical report titled “New Challenges for International Leadership: Lessons from Organizations with Global Missions.”

Researchers say the key reform that must be pursued is retooling personnel systems in all sectors, especially government, to encourage the development of “portfolio careers.”

For the government, such a system would attract bright young people into federal service and allow them to move among organizations—both public and private—and accept a variety of overseas assignments in order to steadily gain the experience needed to develop a wide range of international leadership skills.

Bikson and her colleagues say that—especially because a large proportion of the current leadership cadre is facing retirement—the problem is so severe that national leaders should appoint a special high-ranking commission to develop detailed recommendations and create the political will to put them in place.

The RAND findings are based on extensive interviews with 135 human resource and senior managers from 75 organizations divided among the public, for-profit and non-profit sectors. Organizations selected had international missions that engaged them across national boundaries and are old enough to have experienced the effects of increasing globalization.

Support for the project was provided by the Starr Foundation, with other funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the United Nations Foundation and RAND.

RAND researchers found that business and non-governmental institutions are having greater success than federal government agencies in attracting young Americans of talent and potential, and in training and advancing them to positions of leadership.

With the notable exception of the United States military, internationally oriented agencies of the U.S. government are neither attracting nor advancing to positions of leadership adequate numbers of individuals with the broad conceptual skills in political economy that will ensure that the nation’s interests are protected and advanced, according to the report.

Despite its relative success in developing leaders with international relations skills, the U.S. military probably is not a model that is easily reproducible for other parts of government because of its closed career structure, researchers say.

The report says raising pay and benefits might attract more young people to public service, but would by no means be sufficient. The success of the nation’s military in attracting, training, promoting and retaining the best and the brightest suggests that competency enhancement, job satisfaction and career development are far more important factors, according to the report.

Other authors of the technical report are Joy Moini of RAND and Gustav Lindstrom, formerly with RAND and now working with the European Commission.

The project was conducted by RAND’s National Security Research Division, which conducts research and analysis for the Defense Department, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, defense and intelligence agencies, allied foreign governments and foundations.

Printed copies of “New Challenges for International Leadership: Positioning the United States for the 21st Century” and “New Challenges for International Leadership: Lessons from Organizations with Global Missions”, (ISBN: 0-8330-3345-X) can be ordered from RAND’s Distribution Services (order@rand.org or call toll-free in the United States 1-877-584-8642).

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