Why we need cultural intelligence to be effective leaders

Cultural intelligence is that ability to cross divides and thrive in multiple cultures. It is crucial for those who are looking to lead to be able to operate in a multitude of overlapping worlds: racial, cultural, political, geographical, religious and social. It is no longer possible to succeed by concentrating on one of these worlds and ignoring the rest unless your leadership style is based on authority alone. The ability to work and live within other cultures is crucial if you are to create diverse networks. Collaboration between diverse networks inspires new and exciting innovations. However, in order to lead a diverse group of people, you need to have enough cultural intelligence to communicate effectively and continue to motivate staff towards common goals. Cultural intelligence is also important for those looking to build trust in the outer circles. Coalitions do not function without a high degree of trust. It is one thing to build trust in your own culture or sector, where the reference points for trust will be familiar on all sides.It is much harder to establish your own trustworthiness with people whose frame of reference for trust is very different. Developing cultural intelligence allows us to get better at building trust with leaders from other cultures and communities.

Big problems can no longer–that is if they ever could–be solved by one person, one culture, one department or even one continent operating alone. So, leading across cultural, organisational or community boundaries through collaboration is crucial. On a daily basis we face challenges:

  • Internally, organisations require separate divisions-production, sales, marketing and finance–and their leaders to collaborate, if the organisation is to be successful in delivering goods and services.

  • Cities need the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to find ways to work moreeffectively together, if they are to use their resources and assets to best effect.

  • Countries and continents face global problems of an order that require old and new divides to be crossed.

The world as we know it today is crying out for innovation: new ways, new ideas, new processes, new technologies and new ventures. The secret of innovation is that it comes best from well-led discord. The enemy is groupthink. Culturally diverse groups–led by leaders with CQ(cultural intelligence) –see things differently. Innovation needs people who actively seek to encourage difference. To prod it, push it, test it, enjoy it, and thrive on it. Itis not enough to say “I am good with people” because quite often what we mean by that is “I am good with people like me”. We need to be good with people who are not like us and for this we need to be culturally intelligent.

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