If the events of the past months, weeks, and days are any indication, global uncertainty in the markets and the constant shifts in the geopolitical landscape are here to stay. And today’s business leaders, who are increasingly being called upon to act as corporate diplomats, will need to be prepared to address these risks now and mitigate them well into the future.

Corporate diplomacy is the approach within companies to engage and negotiate effectively on behalf of their strategic interests with external stakeholders across sectors: governments, non-governmental organizations, competitors, and key influencers.

In a time when geopolitics is being driven by increased nationalism, the failures of globalism, and complex security challenges we need more bold, ethical corporate diplomats who are trained, prepared, and resourced not only to engage in the interests of their companies but of society as a whole.

 

A lesson from business students

I have been working in the corporate diplomacy domain with senior global executives my entire career. It is a discipline I am deeply passionate about. On Monday, I finished teaching my annual deep-dive Corporate Diplomacy and Geopolitical Risk elective at Hult International Business School’s San Francisco campus. In class, we had over 40 nationalities discussing and debating the fate of the world.

Despite all that’s wrong in the world today, my faith in humanity was restored spending time with business students from across the globe—from Russia to China, India, Germany, and everywhere in between—who are determined to find a way to come together constructively and make a positive difference in the world. 

If we can come together, disagree, and then problem-solve over the course of just four days, surely we all have something to be optimistic about.

 

“My faith in humanity was restored spending time with business students from across the globe who are determined to find a way to come together constructively and make a positive difference.”

And here is where government could learn a lesson from business:

Business, and the corporate diplomats who operate on behalf of businesses around the world, can transcend political, cultural, and racial divides to find a way forward. Business can problem-solve and communicate effectively, dispassionately, and productively—so that we can all progress.

True corporate diplomats—the ones I admire and have worked with for decades—work quietly and steadily to build relationships and maintain them even through deep disagreements and challenges.

 

The limits of individual power

At a time when politics feels increasingly divisive and even threatening to the global economy, it’s difficult to watch from the sidelines.

Fortunately, with the power of social media and mobilized communities, there is much the average citizen can do. We can and should become more informed on government policy—locally, nationally, and internationally. We can join student or community-led initiatives and amplify our voices through social media. We can protest, mobilize resources, and pressure elected officials. And we can vote.

But what happens after the election? Where does our power to positively impact decision-making and problem-solving go? As an individual, without the massive monetary resources to buy continued influence, the answer often is nowhere.

On the other hand, corporate diplomats and the massive resources of their global companies, are positioned to have a deeper and more lasting influence if they are engaged purposefully on several fronts outside of their immediate business sphere.

Leveraging the collective power of the private sector

I’ve built my corporate diplomacy course and subsequent consulting practice on the lessons learned working with companies in their tri-sector engagement efforts as part of a non-profit I co-founded alongside advertising legend Keith Reinhard, called Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA).

I’ve often said that corporate diplomats are exceptional at puzzles and game theory. They are the ultimate chess masters, carefully studying the issues that affect humanity across business, government, and NGOs to build the social capital—a diverse network of trusted relationships—that helps to prevent conflict.

True corporate diplomats help guide decisions and find solutions that last beyond political and emotionally charged rhetoric. They are passionate about diversity and leverage discretion to their advantage. They bring people together, and they know how to solve problems.

Corporate diplomats are experienced negotiators, communicators, and coalition builders. And they lead with transparency, a global mindset, and competence in all that they do. Every time. Not just when it’s convenient or career-enhancing, but when it is hard.

There are numerous cases to illustrate this, many of which are documented in Alice Korngold’s brilliant book A Better World, Inc.

“True corporate diplomats help guide decisions and find solutions that last beyond political and emotionally charged rhetoric. They bring people together, and they know how to solve problems.”

A global call for corporate diplomacy surge capacity

If ever there was a time to build up this capacity across every industry in the private sector, and for business to come together in a real and sustained way to support collective corporate diplomacy surge efforts, now is that time.

Ultimately, we need a collective swarm of global business leaders who are concerned on enough fronts to act and take their corporate diplomacy efforts to the next level. And we need more than expanded and accelerated corporate diplomacy efforts—we need a Delta Force and Seal Team 6 of corporate diplomats that are continually trained, resourced, and ready to respond.  They need to be “locked and loaded,” as we say in Texas, and prepared to jump in when geopolitical messes compound and governments seem completely unable to solve problems that will impact business and society in the short and long term.

In today’s geopolitical climate, we need rapid-response, surge capacity corporate diplomacy, not just to react to political shifts at home and abroad, but to respond in thoughtful, measured, productive ways that will have lasting impact.

“We need a Delta Force and Seal Team 6 of corporate diplomats that are prepared to jump in when geopolitical messes compound and governments seem completely unable to solve problems that impact business and society.”

And as educators, it’s our responsibility to prepare the next generation of business leaders for the challenges ahead and arm them with the tools to use business as a force for social good on a global scale. It begins in business schools and we need more programs focused on the essential skill set and mindset for effective corporate diplomacy.

Hult is one of those rare schools dedicated to developing the next generation of global leaders, and you can feel that energy every time you step on campus. My students are focused on global impact and finding ways to solve the world’s most pressing problems by leveraging the reach and resources of business.

The next generation of corporate diplomats must be ready to lead where governments cannot.

 


Recommended reading

If you’re interested in learning more about corporate diplomacy and the intersection of business and politics, I recommend:

 

 


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