360 Degrees of Leadership

Interview with Deborah Winslow Nutter

In today’s increasingly interconnected world, the lines dividing business, politics, security, trade and finance are becoming ever more blurred. This is a fact leaders, whether in the private or public sector, must face. We talk to Dean Deborah Winslow Nutter of The Fletcher School about how their Global Masters of Arts Program, now in its fourteenth year, seeks to instil in leaders a 360-degree understanding of international affairs, and why this matters.

Why is the 360-degree understanding of international affairs that The Fletcher School’s Global Master of Arts Program (GMAP) provides so important for leaders today?
In order to understand this complex global environment, it is no longer sufficient for us to specialise in one specific area, say international business. Increasingly, a diplomat needs to understand international finance; a business executive has to comprehend international politics and security issues, and a soldier has to appreciate the challenges of international development. Leading an institution means taking on greater responsibilities, which require you to understand the global trends, ask the right questions and make well-informed decisions. Thinking about the intersection of politics, security, trade, finance, energy in our world can be a profoundly overwhelming and destabilising experience. GMAP will teach leaders how to feel at home and navigate these issues comfortably.

The program is designed for both private and public sector professionals; why do you think there is increasing overlap in the challenges leaders in both sectors face today?
Many of the world’s biggest challenges necessitate the collaboration of both the private and public sectors: climate change, global health pandemics, humanitarian disasters, civil unrest, and economic instability. Everyone is affected by these issues, and no single government entity or private organisation has the resources or know-how to solve them alone. Take the current Ebola crisis – it is a problem not limited to the countries in West Africa, but affects the rest of the world, whether you are in America, China or Argentina. Aside from governments sending military personnel and defining policies, we need doctors and healthcare workers, administrators and experts in Ebola and pandemic prevention to step up and work together towards a solution.

How does GMAP equip decision makers to deal with these challenges?
GMAP’s distinctive curriculum allows participants to understand not just individual topics in international affairs – trade, finance, security, law, etc. – but more importantly, how these issues affect each other. We call this a 360 – degree perspective, a broadened horizon with a nuanced understanding of each of the factors. This is a perspective critical for the key decision makers in today’s world. The cross-sector experience, having participants from the private, public, and NGO world work and study together, provides an indispensable perspective
and knowledge.


GMAP is an interdisciplinary program; why is this important, and what advantage does it give GMAP students?
The inter-disciplinary nature of GMAP allows participants to cross the narrow boundaries of subjects. Almost every issue we face internationally crosses subject matter. International Politics is driven by trade, finance and other transnational issues. An understanding of security issues in, say, Afghanistan cannot be separated from the humanitarian and developmental concerns. GMAP’s participants are leaders in their fields – and to succeed in their roles, they have to understand and thrive in these intersections.

More importantly, GMAP participants are part of a peer group which is drawn from around the world, and whose members share their passion for international affairs. By engaging in such a community and developing camaraderie with other accomplished international professionals, participants learn from each other, and develop a powerful network of expertise in a range of different subjects.


GMAP combines traditional face-to-face teaching with 21st century technology; why is this synthesis of teaching methods so important?
Participants in GMAP are practicing international professionals who remain in their jobs. The technology allows participants to remain in their fields, staying constantly relevant and applying their lessons from GMAP immediately.

At the same time, the face-to-face residencies are critical for participants to form relationships with their faculty and fellow students, who will be interacting closely with them during the internet-mediated period of their study. Meeting in person allows GMAP participants to build their networks and feel a part of the GMAP and Fletcher community.

How does GMAP combine the international affairs’ theories that underpin the program with the real-world career needs of its students?
The GMAP curriculum is not just theoretical – it brings in practical examples and case studies to ensure that participants are able to see its relevance in the real world immediately. In addition, our faculty are also practitioners in their field and not just researchers. Many of them have had years of experience in the field before turning to academia. This has a huge impact on the way they approach theoretical work in the classroom.

Why is teamwork so foundational to the program?

In looking back at how leaders such as Napoleon, Churchill, and Mao Zedong reacted to different situations, students glean lessons and models of leadership – key for our GMAP participants.

GMAP participants work in teams throughout the term – studying, completing assignments, and becoming lifelong colleagues. The GMAP team approach emulates real-world project management and problem solving, a hallmark of all programs at Fletcher. It also ensures that participants work with a variety of different classmates from across the world and with fields in which they might not have had a lot of prior interactions. Over weekly conference calls, and team projects, GMAP participants continue to build the connections that began during the in-person residencies.

With regards to the GMAP course on Foreign Policy Leadership that you teach, you look primarily at historical figures. Why do you think these leaders’ examples are still relevant today?
Leadership, especially in crises of great import, will always be relevant. Oddly enough, the qualities of leadership do not change. The situations leaders face do, however, change. In looking back at how leaders such as Napoleon, Churchill, and Mao Zedong reacted to different situations, students glean lessons and models of leadership – key for our GMAP participants who aspire to leadership themselves, and also for allowing them to understand the changing geopolitical landscape.

For these reasons, we look at historical figures because it takes time for history to judge our leaders. Historical distance allows us to see leaders and their challenges, accomplishments and failures with more clarity and perspective. As documents get declassified and discovered, and archives are opened, we get a fuller picture of the circumstances that were driving these leaders.

What role does GMAP envisage private sector leaders can play in mitigating the Transnational Social Issues – such as environmental problems – that the program addresses?

We bring our participants to different parts of the world to interact with policy-makers, business leaders and thought-leaders who are facing the precise real-world problems that the students are trying to study.

In solving complex global issues, private sector leaders can play an enormous role both on their own and in collaboration with governments and international organisations. The resources and expertise available in private sector research are valuable to the overall picture in trying to mitigate the effects of climate change. We see this happening at all levels: in the international sphere, the UN’s Framework Convention for Climate Change works with private sector partners for innovation and new technologies. In Boston for example, we see this partnership happening at the local level: the Boston Green Ribbon Commission is working with private sector players on climate change issues. In short, we see the private sector as a key stakeholder in solving global problems, and they are often the most able to provide some of the solutions. For this reason, we see almost 40% of GMAP participants coming from the private sector; many private sector companies recognise the need to understand this role they play, and how they fit in the global landscape.

GMAP has held its midyear residency in a wide selection of international locations, how do the chosen cities reflect the nature of the course?
We believe that in order for us to understand the world, we need to bring our participants to different parts of the world to interact with policy-makers, business leaders and thought-leaders who are facing the precise real-world problems that the students are trying to study. We strive to bring students to locations where they will have front-row seats in watching the issues of foreign affairs unfold. For example, we were last in Tallinn, Estonia this August 2014, right when the Russia-Ukraine crisis was heating up and just a few days before President Obama arrived in the city. We were learning first-hand how Estonia, a Baltic country, was using every tool in their diplomatic arsenal to ensure their security from a much larger neighbour. We have been to Berlin, Singapore, the Hague, Brussels, Abu Dhabi, and we look forward to many more residencies in international cities around the world.

DWN-Updated-Photo-2013-CMYKDeborah Winslow Nutter, PhD, is Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Practice at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the United States’ oldest and leading professional school of international affairs, at Tufts University. Professor Nutter is also director of the school’s Global Masters of Arts Program (GMAP), a cross-disciplinary course for global professionals that has been producing innovative leaders and problem-solvers since 2000.