We were all, probably, brought up to believe that Intelligence Quotient (IQ) – the ability to analyse facts and information, and analyse them quickly and intelligently – was the beginning and the end. And I think there came a moment where everybody began to realise that was not enough, that you needed Emotional Intelligence (EI) – the ability to understand people – as well. I think we are going to make the next jump.

The ability to have Cultural Intelligence (CI) – to understand and lead people who are not like you – will define the successful leaders of the future. Now, they may be different from you because they are in the West, and you are in the East; or because you are in the public, private or the voluntary sector.

If as leaders, we want to crack the difficult problems for our organisations and for our societies, we need to develop Cultural Intelligence to be able to cross the boundaries, like the problems do, and solve them.

The ability to understand people, and – crucially – to be interested enough in people to want to learn to understand them, is an essential prerequisite to leading them.

Despite globalisation and the development of new technologies, the world is as complex as ever. Leaders from different cultures are finding that they need to work together even more. Crossing the divides between people in cities and, increasingly, across the world is the only way we can begin to address the big complex problems we face daily.

Ask yourself:

• Are IQ, EQ and CQ equally valued in the world?

• What problems require only IQ to solve them?

• What examples can you give of when EQ has not been enough to solve problems?

Cultural Intelligence is the ability to cross the divides that exist between people and thrive in multiple cultures. This also extends to the divides that exist between sectors, organisations, generations and all people who are different from us. Fundamentally, Cultural Intelligence is about understanding our own culture, what it means to us, and the multiple sub-cultures we belong to. It is also about being fully aware of what makes us who we are, and how our culture influences the way we work with other people.

Cultural Intelligence is needed wherever cultures clash and problems go unsolved. It is about more than bridging national borders and developing our capability to operate globally. It is about learning to operate effectively in unfamiliar surroundings and finding a way to break down barriers that may not be geographical at all.

Most of the problems we see around the world are because of failure to communicate, misinterpretation and misunderstanding. There needs to be a desire and willingness to do things differently. Leaders need to manage this complexity and be prepared to articulate the issues in a way that brings people together and makes progress.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) has found its moment. This is not about theories of leadership, but the realities of how leaders need to adapt in the modern world.

Changes are taking place globally that call for leaders with Cultural Intelligence

Here are the 8 key reasons why:

The need for collaboration; the reality of networks; the importance of trust

5. The urban magnet

People around the world are moving to cities and these cities are not just growing in size but are fast becoming magnets of talent, bringing together people from multiple backgrounds and different cultures.

6. The pressure to focus

The leadership journey looks very much like an hourglass. As our career progresses, we become more and more knowledgeable in a smaller and smaller field. Suddenly, we get that next promotion when we need a broader view again and nothing has prepared us for it. As leaders gain more influence and responsibility, they need a wider perspective – at the very moment when everything and everyone else is pressing us to focus.

7. Growing world, shrinking leaders

The number of people with global roles is multiplying. They travel almost constantly and they touch down frequently. They are expected to deliver wherever they land, and deliver fast. They must be able to adapt a framework that helps them to deliver.

8. The spark of innovation

Everyone is crying out for innovation: new ways, new ideas, new processes, new technologies, and new ventures. Innovation will not come from working with people who think like we do, or who operate in the same way, or in the same space. It comes from diverse groups – led by leaders with Cultural Intelligence – who see things differently. With diverse perspectives, they take ideas and turn them on their heads, and, in the process, they break out of ‘groupthink’ – to create something genuinely new.

Before going deeper into Cultural Intelligence we need to stop and make a tough decision.

Up until now we have been working around the outer layer, but from this point onward it becomes more complex as we need to start looking internally, at ourselves. At times this might seem uncomfortable, but without this understanding we are doomed to fail. The questions will be difficult, and challenging, but equally rewarding.

To be leaders with cultural intelligence, we need to be both interested in answers to some tough questions and we need three crucial mindsets or prerequisites

  1. A deep interest in other people: both people who are like us and people who are not like us. It needs to be deep enough that we avoid seeing ourselves as the benchmark against which we should be judged. This deep interest in other people comes easier when we let go of our ego. If we can keep our own ego under control, we are more likely to become fascinated by what both people who are like us and people who are not like us. It needs to be deep enough that we avoid seeing ourselves as the benchmark against which we should be judged. This deep interest in other people comes easier when we let go of our ego. If we can keep our own ego under control, we are more likely to become fascinated by what others have to share. We listen harder, we question and watch more carefully and over time people around us will see our genuine interest in listening and learning from them. This is when our ‘instinct’ with people grows. We need to stop looking at other cultures, generations, sectors, geographies, faiths and races merely as variants of our own. Where ours is the main brand and theirs simply a line extension. To have any chance of getting other people to trust us, and to expand our mutual understanding of Cultural Intelligence we need to be equals, not just variants of each other, and what we know, and how we do things
  2. A determination to get to the bottom of what makes us feel either superior or inferior to other people. Whether conscious or subconscious, these feelings get in the way. We need to mentally prepare ourselves to walk into a room without biases. Despite hierarchies existing in society and different cultures, for Cultural Intelligence to really work we need to acknowledge each other as equals, with equal value given to all voices. Superiority translates rapidly into exchanges with other people that leave them feeling offended or patronized. To develop Cultural Intelligence, we have to be prepared to make these discoveries about ourselves, and slowly even out the playing field.
  3. The stamina to proceed on a long and uncomfortable journey with no end destination. Cultural Intelligence comes through the journey and the attitude of a leader who accepts this, who understands that there is always more to learn. The moment leaders think that they have ‘got it’ with Cultural Intelligence is the moment they throw away what they have learned. Cultural Intelligence is full of questions with no answer, and it is because they have no answer that we need Cultural Intelligence. We can’t be impatient for answers if we want the real ones. As we start developing our Cultural Intelligence we are guaranteed to make a fool of ourselves at times and, at worst, make horrible mistakes that deeply offend people. This is also a journey on which we will hear things we don’t want to hear. Forgive others their mistakes. Worst of all, we will have to forgive our own mistakes. We need to learn to reveal our mistakes, in the hope that others will reveal theirs to us. It all takes time.

The pre-requisites are extremely important because, without them, the circular nature of developing Cultural Intelligence cannot progress. We only develop Cultural Intelligence because people choose to share their ideas, thoughts, stories and aspirations. They will only do it if they think we have enough Cultural Intelligence not to judge, dismiss, ignore or discredit them. The writter is the Head, HR of Rider Steel Ghana.

By Aparna Dantu


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