Leaders and Cultural Intelligence

"Strength lies in our differences, not our similarities." Stephen Covey

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom." Proverbs 11:2

It's more than classroom education; it's your real-world education.
Classroom education and business acumen will attribute to our leadership development, but in today's world, we need more than just these two elements. Leadership today has many more high-touch experiences with stakeholders and leaders at every level, than in preceding decades. Add to this that leaders need to be able to maneuver ever-changing cultural settings. We cannot miss the fact that as our world "gets smaller" business is becoming more globally founded and leaders must be able to understand, appreciate, and support these differences to lead effectively.

Cultural intelligence is the ability to negotiate cultural practices, leadership nuances, team distinctions, and communication diversity. These are skills learned while interacting with culture and abilities that are intricate to bridge and yet critical to understand and can strengthen or weaken alliances. Leaders who actively grow their cultural intelligence are in stronger positions to lead through changing circumstances. Here are three postures of the culturally intelligent leader.


Posture One | Humility
Leaders who are overconfident of themselves are destined to fall. The question is usually how far and how hard. Hubris keeps a leader self-focused prohibits them from listening carefully to cultural nuances, but humility works hard to be others-focused taking the position of a learner. Cultural intelligence requires the humility to understand that we hold some level of expertise in our role and position but recognizes that we don't know all things about all cultures. It assumes that while a solution, system, sequence, or segmentation works well in one culture, the implementation of this may not work well in another.

Posture Two | Curious
Humility gives way to a leader being curious. The best thing we can do in a cross-cultural situation is to ask a lot of questions and draw people out rather than to talk about ourselves, our methods, and our ideas. In our questions, we seek to understand not merely be understood. We may even need to yield our cultural ignorance or inexperienced to build a meaningful connection with others. The more time you spend with someone of another culture the more, you will become sensitive to other cultures and recognize how much you may not know. This leader is willing to invite questions and discussion knowing they may create the best exchange and being able to encourage others to share their viewpoints is an art in every culture. Keep in mind some cultures employees are not allowed to challenge a process, and others make decisions by consensus. We don't know what we don't know so be inquisitive.

Posture Three | Sensitive
In conversations and dialogue with those from another culture than you whether in a group setting or one on one it is essential to be sensitive to matters that could be risky. For example criticizes a government, while fine in American culture, may be taboo in another. Remember that each cultural group has a unique worldview and the fact that it is different from ours does not mean that it is wrong, just that it is different. And, just because another country speaks the same language – Canada, the United Kingdom, and Kenya for instance – does not mean that their worldview is the same.

Remember this when interacting with those from a different culture.

  • Our worldview is different
  • Our collective experiences are different
  • Our leadership practices are often different
  • Our practice family is often different
  • Our view of authority is different
  • Our social strata are different
  • Our politics are different

All this is enough to suggest that humility, inquisitiveness, and sensitivity are critical components in developing cultural intelligence.

Vince Speaking 9

Vince Miller is a speaker, author, and mentor to men. He is an authentic and transparent leader who loves to communicate to audiences on the topics of mentorship, fathering, leadership and manhood. He has authored 16 books and small group curriculum for men and is the primary content creator of all Resolute materials. Contact Vince Miller here. His newest book is Thirty Virtues That Build A Man.