Saybrook students collaborate with Austria’s IMC Krems for global leadership course

By Shamontiel Vaughn

Dr. Charles Piazza and master’s student Kelly Rundle discuss what was learned from the 16-week “Global Leadership & Culture Intelligence in Context: Examination in Austria” course, in which they partnered with Austrian students at IMC Krems. Discussion topics included cross-cultural intelligence, international business leadership, global startups, immigration debates, and networking.


For Saybrook student Rundle, enrolling in the “Global Leadership & Culture Intelligence in Context: Examination in Austria” course was threefold. The course gave her the opportunity to visit Europe for the first time, study alongside students in Austria who she’d spent two months getting to know virtually, and expand her global leadership and cross communication skills.

Kelly Rundle

“I have a lot of passion around cultural pieces,” says Rundle, a Seattle-based student who is pursuing an M.A. in Management: Specialization in Global Workforce Collaboration. “In this field, I get to dig into what it takes to be a cross-cultural communicator, all the ins and outs, including cross competency and cultural intelligence.”

Global economics and immigration views from America to Austria

Rundle, who currently holds a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Applied Behavioral Science, wanted to learn from people who had a wealth of knowledge in global leadership and business management. But there was another area that intrigued her, too.

“There was a lot in the course around global economics and what’s happening politically and globally that affects organizations,” she says.

Rundle, who studies white privilege and behavioral health within American society, was intrigued to find that there were similar political and employment debates between urban and rural communities in Austria when it comes to embracing or shying away from immigration in terms of employment.

“We studied regulations around the EU, agriculture, exports and imports, and issues around immigration,” Rundle says. “Those all are very different if you live in small villages versus a big city such as Vienna or Berlin. For example, a lot of people in the urban area see an influx of immigration and migration as a good thing. Their viewpoint is that diversity expands the pool of talent for their companies, whereas in a rural place they don’t want a lot of immigration and people coming in from different countries. They want to be able to keep things the same and have a lot of stability and predictability. They don’t want a lot of competition for jobs. So it’s two different, diverse aspects that affect a lot of how people do business.”

Saybrook’s synergy with IMC Krems management programs in Austria

The first-time course studied collaborative workplace environments that draw upon the strengths of the students’ approaches to leadership, work relationships, problem-solving skills, professional ethics, lifestyles, and sense of recreation.

Dr. Charles Piazza

Piazza, the program director and chair of the CSS Leadership and Management Department, chose Austria as the first global location after one of the students from Saybrook introduced him to key administrators and faculty at IMC University of Applied Sciences in Krems.

“There was a real synergy between their international business-related programs and graduate and doctoral programs, which are very human centered,” Piazza says. “They also fit well with organizational systems and organizational development, so that synergy drove us to develop a partnership with them.

“We wanted to be able to expose our students to international business in the European Union,” Piazza continues. “We have American professionals interacting with Austrian professionals, and in that space, they learn how to work together. Today in the business arena, professionals have to be able to work with individuals and companies from other countries.”

The distance-learning course itself was 16 weeks and had students nationwide—from Washington D.C., Washington State, California, Illinois, Arizona, and beyond. Austrian students from IMC Krems and Saybrook students initially got to know each other virtually, then the two groups came together for nine days to meet and work together in a collocated manner.

Immersion Week: From physical presentations to entrepreneurial discussions

In addition to visiting tourist spots—such as Vienna’s historical sites, the Heuriger Stoiber, Oberer Weinzierlberg 22 winery and restaurant, and the opera house—the students got down to business for Immersion Week, which consisted of discussions on conducting business in the EU, global management practices and issues, virtual international business operations and global sustainability issues.

Rundle, who met an Austrian student who plans to network with her during an upcoming move to Seattle, found the discussion on startups to be especially helpful as a future consultant for her company Kelly Rundle Executive Coaching LLC.

“As part of the practical professional development component of the course, Austrian and American students came together to create a presentation for other students as well as other lecturers who were there for the business symposium,” Rundle says. “It was all excellent because I got to see all of the different ways that other people lecture, teach, and present. But there was one guy who talked about startups that stood out for me because I’m actually in the startup world right now.”

One other standout speaker in Austria included an international business leader who conducted a workshop on distributed and virtual international business dynamics, processes, and challenges.

“What made him stand out was that he is an international business person working in a class with different companies and in different countries,” Piazza says in reference to the latter speaker. “He talked about what we call the global supply chain and global operations.”

In addition to hearing from international professionals, Piazza proudly boasts that the students in the course “became global leaders because they stepped out onto that global stage.” The Austrian and American students created and presented their own workshop on global leadership and cultural intelligence to each other and other Master Day presenters and attendees. The students were assigned to plan their own presentations, create learning activities, and implement them by the end of the course.

Cultural intelligence for global leaders

As with most managers, networking and communicating with a variety of personalities comes with the business territory. From a global leadership standpoint though, it is all but certain that international professionals will have to learn to dialogue on a larger scale.

Austrian flag

“In Austrian culture, it seems that they were very detail-oriented and very conscientious,” Rundle says. “They also were less likely to ask questions or engage with professors or lecturers. There’s a little more of a strict hierarchy there. And the U.S. students were much freer to be engaging, dialoguing, asking questions, pushing back, and sharing information. Austrian students weren’t used to seeing so many people ask questions and be engaged at that level. They would sit back and take notes and listen. It was interesting to observe the differences in cultural mannerisms.”

Interestingly, Piazza observed the hierarchical viewpoint from a different perspective regarding business negotiations.

“What was key was how global leaders operate and work with other companies that are not necessarily their national origin,” Piazza says. “Oftentimes in Germany and in Austria, they’re going to be very straightforward. If there’s something that is needed or they have a particular point of view, they’re going to tell you point-blank, whereas Americans will usually soften their stance. There was one paper that presented as an illustration of differences between Americans and Austrians. For Austrians, if the answer is no, they’re going to say ‘no.’ Americans may be more likely to negotiate and speak in a manner that is not as direct.”

“This is why learning about cultural intelligence and global leadership are so significant,” he continues. “How do you really lead in a way where you can engage with professionals that are highly talented but have a different worldview, have a different way of understanding leadership, and have a different way of operating? That’s what the course is really about.”

Rundle happily points out that she “learned a ton” during the course, and “it’s been really outside of my comfort zone.” And if all goes well, according to Piazza, future courses may head to South America or India next.