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Infusing Cognitive Dynamism and Real-Life Practicality

By former GCSP Executive-in-Residence Rebecca Chung

Orchestrating Case-discussion and Leading Policy-drafting in the LISC

In the fall 2015, I had a brief but exhilarating experience as an Executive-in-Residence at GCSP by chance. Being a teacher and researcher of business management, I was allured to this experience because of two elements:

  1. classroom as my favourite venue; and
  2. interacting with practitioners as my strategic activity. 

Hence, I committed to share with the Centre my expertise in leadership and pedagogy, while I put myself in a new environment with a different audience to inspire my further innovations of the Case Method and the Action-based Learning Approach.

During these few months, I enjoyed the opportunities to attend some courses and to exchange ideas with participants, GCSP staff and other Fellows. The programme of which I am fondest is the Leadership in International Security Course (LISC), where I felt joy, enthusiasm, pride and optimism. Its participants are spending eight months of their life with the Centre. I agreed to develop innovative teaching materials to educate them.      

Careful Preparation

It was the first time that I worked with an audience of mostly emerging political leaders.

Although government officials often come to business schools to seek management knowledge and to share practical experience with business executives, it was the first time that I worked with an audience of mostly emerging political leaders. In October, I was very excited to walk into the classroom to meet this group of carefully selected participants, who are mainly from the offices of prime minister or president, foreign or internal affairs, and defence. I observed their class interactions and progress at least once a week. I realised very soon that they are smart, energetic, confident and supportive. Seeing that they asked sophisticated questions and made witty comments, I knew that I could try my favourite, but challenging Case Method and Action-based Learning Approach.

The Case Method, aiming to sharpen thinking and convincing skills, is adopted in leading business schools as well as Harvard Kennedy School. It puts participants into the shoes of a decision maker in a unique real-life situation facing hard choices. It then presses participants to practise applying management theories to make the best decisions, and to extract learning that can be employed in other situations. My role is to orchestrate an engaging, dynamic and rigorous discussion to take participants climb up the invisible learning curve. To prepare for such cognitive interactions, I wrote a case about the leadership challenges facing a new Secretary General of an international NGO in Geneva.

The Case Method, aiming to sharpen thinking and convincing skills, is adopted in leading business schools as well as Harvard Kennedy School. 

The Action-based Learning Approach is to facilitate participants to practise applying concepts and frameworks as well as to strengthen certain skills through ACTIONS, such as solving problems. I originated a role play on the evolving high-impact Europe’s Migration Crisis, asking four teams of national leaders with their advisors to draft a refugee policy comprising both external and internal elements. I arranged commentators to evaluate their policies using the criteria of responsible leadership, innovativeness, comprehensiveness, feasibility and sustainability.

Collective Delivery

In the morning of 26 November 2015, our minds connected. I started the class with the case discussion, and then the role play. Participants were engaged in the plenary discussion. Not only that I pushed them to analyze rigorously, but also they challenged each other intellectually during the debates. The dynamic discussion empowered us to learn from each other. Because of the insufficiency of real-life decision-based cases in the area of security, I invited participants to collaborate with me in the future simply by offering me case leads, i.e. situations of hard choices.

During the role play, they developed a deeper understanding of the crisis’ complexity:  broader perspectives, more diverse stakeholder interests, longer-term negative consequences and richer pragmatic insights. Although the role play was a serious cognitive task, we were entertained by some brilliant episodes of theatrical acting when the prime ministers made their public statement. In addition to being an effective experiential learning, the role play turned out to be a stress test to let the course director and me make an inventory of their competences and areas of improvements, especially in the team setting.

I am impressed by these participants’ courage to tackle tough matters, eagerness to work with each other, sense of urgency and empathy. I encourage them to continue taking time to crystallize their own career vision; juice up their creativity; and apprehend the thinking mode and behavioural style of other communities, be they foreign governments and people, the business sector or civil society.  

Coruscating Future

It turned out that the most valuable benefit of this GCSP experience is the intensification of my desire and determination to educate (potential) political leaders.

It turned out that the most valuable benefit of this GCSP experience is the intensification of my desire and determination to educate (potential) political leaders. When I nurture others, I grow. I am sure that the LISC participants will further develop their talents in the coming few months with the Centre. Most importantly, I hope that they will remember for the rest of their life: be a responsible leader to shape the environment.


Rebecca Chung is Chinese with rich international experience and broad perspectives. After working in the industries in China and North America, Rebecca has conducted research on business management and international studies, and has immersed in executive education at leading business schools such as IMD, Switzerland and CEIBS, China. Believing in the importance of translating research findings into recommendations for practitioners’ actions, she devotes her mind and energy to advocating and exercising this conviction. She has published numerous teaching cases, practice-oriented articles and book chapters on different topics, including a leadership article “The China Question” and a case study “Change at Michelin Shanghai factory” on Financial Times. She also speaks at academic and business conferences around the world. For instance, she presented her thoughts about “Future Scenarios of China’s Economic Role in the World” at the PricewaterhouseCoopers Conference held in Beijing.Being passionate about the Case Method, she won the EFMD case writing competition several times. Because of her track records of experimenting new pedagogical approaches, Rebecca received the prestigious EURAM Imagination Lab Award for Innovative Scholarship. She was granted a Summer Fellowship in Research Translation for Practice by the Center for Global Leadership, University of California, Irvine.Rebecca holds a MBA (honored on the Dean’s list) from the University of Western Ontario. One of her aspirations is to further develop insights into China’s role in relation to the world, extending her observations and analysis from the economic and social/cultural aspects to the political and legal fronts. Another aim is to help scale up social entrepreneurship by creating and disseminating knowledge.