I have been teaching for many years the Chinese managers at an American company. Some of these managers already have very good English skills and it became a challenge to keep their interest or provide something that they really needed.
From my research and experience, I found that managers with good English skills nonetheless felt they weren’t communicating well. They always feel that the other managers are getting their points across better. They feel they are not persuasive enough.
So I have focused them on the fact that, as far as English training goes, low level students need a basic English to describe things. Mid-level students need English to relate situations or events. But upper-level students have more abstract demands on their English skills. They need to be able to explain, defend, argue, relay shades of agreement or disagreement and various sensitivities on topics.
To this end, some of these managers have been coming back for a couple years to discuss new concepts in management, ethical conundrums, the role of behavioral economics and choice architecture, game theory, DeBono’s lateral thinking, and more.
I challenge them, argue with them and generally try to blow their mind with a way of thinking they haven’t considered before.
I often finish with the caveat that “well, whether we’re right or not, the main thing is that we practiced our English” but the students say they like the new ideas and like seeing new ways of thinking.
For material, I often use stuff from the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review and the New York Times. We have used Jack Welch’s book, “Winning”, and I have shared with them about Richardo Semlar, that crazy CEO of Semco. Some of these names carry a lot of weight and they know them and respect them. If you or anyone would like, I can send some simple lessons that I made from articles from these publications.
I have also used material from TED Talks and that even resulted in one of my students inviting Pranav Mistry, the inventor of Sixth Sense, to China.
So I would say that leaders are excited by ideas. I often begin with the old “9 Dots and 4 Lines Puzzle” to teach them about thinking outside the box and then we blast off from there.