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Leadership and Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Business guru Peter Drucker said aptly, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The world is currently dealing with intense conversations and debates around cultural differences, political issues, and challenging social issues.

Organizations continue to expand their business on the global market, and leaders face cross-cultural challenges. Leaders of today (and tomorrow) will need the skills to ensure success and navigate unavoidable cultural differences in the global economy. While there may be various strategies, I believe that the most effective solution is through Cultural Intelligence, also known as Cultural Quotient (CQ), for the road ahead.

What is Cultural Intelligence?

Cultural intelligence (CQ) is recognizing and adapting to cultural differences. It goes beyond being aware of diversity as the ability to relate to people of different races, genders, cultures, ages, religions, sexual orientations, political and religious beliefs, socioeconomic statuses and so on. It can give you the confidence to operate successfully in a wide range of settings.

Cultural Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence do share similar characteristics. I believe that cultural intelligence picks up where emotional intelligence leaves off, although some aspects of cultural intelligence are innate. However, anyone reasonably alert, motivated, and poised can attain an acceptable level of cultural intelligence.

An influential Harvard Business Review article outlined that cultural intelligence resides in the Head, Body, and Heart, naming them as the three critical components of Cultural Intelligence (CQ).

Head is the knowledge and understanding that you need good CQ to recognize a culture’s shared experiences, enabling you to adapt your decision-making and communication.

Body means translating cultural information into visible actions, such as gestures, body language and the way you carry out culturally significant tasks.

Heart means that to have a high CQ, you will need to be self-assured, not afraid to make honest mistakes, and confident enough to keep improving by tackling new cultural situations.

People with high CQ use all three elements to monitor and moderate their actions. Without making quick judgements or falling back on stereotypes. They have the intelligence to interpret what is happening in any cultural setting and adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Leaders, we need to realize that ethnocentricity does not work anymore, and we need to keep an open mind and plan for unavoidable cultural differences. In addition, we must continue to create safe, collaborative environments where people build trust and, finally, continue to develop our Cultural Intelligence for the road ahead.

I will conclude with a quote from renowned American psychologist Daniel Goleman who said, a propensity to suspend judgment-to think before acting.”


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