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Modern leadership reinvented: cultural Intelligence and leading with empathy. A practical outlook.

In “The Culture Map”, Erin Meyer examines the range of cultural differences in communication, leadership, decision-making, and giving feedback. Cultures are discussed, with conclusions of direct or indirect feedback, hierarchical and egalitarian leadership, and high or low context communication. 

With the world of work extensively globalised and diverse, the concept of cultural intelligence (CQ) has emerged as a critical skill for effective leadership. 

Cultural intelligence goes beyond the traditional understanding of intelligence, expanding it to include the ability to relate to, work with, and lead people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Cultural intelligence recognizes that different members of your team may have different ways of thinking or expressing themselves. Understanding how a team member’s culture differs from your own makes you a more inclusive, supportive, and effective manager. 

Cultural intelligence is applicable in a variety of situations—from helping you lead effective 1:1 meetings to making your team members feel more comfortable in group settings.

Cultural Intelligence: what it is and why modern leadership needs it

Similar to IQ (intelligence quotient), which measures intelligence, or EQ (emotional quotient), which measures emotional intelligence, CQ measures cultural intelligence, or cultural quotient. CQ, or cultural quotient, was first used by Christopher Earley and Soon Ang in the early 2000s.

Additional research done by David Thomas and Kerr Inkson around the same time period contributed to a holistic framework of cultural intelligence. Ang and Linn Van Dyne later expanded on this work to build a research-backed way to measure intercultural performance: the CQ Scale. 

As businesses operate on a global scale and workforces become more diverse, the command-and-control leadership style of the past no longer suffices. Success in the 21st century demands leaders who possess the ability to understand, adapt to, and leverage cultural differences. This is where cultural intelligence, or CQ, comes into play.

Cultural intelligence is the capacity to understand, adapt to, and benefit from cultural differences. Leaders with high CQ can navigate the complex tapestry of global cultures, enabling them to lead diverse teams and organizations effectively. It encompasses understanding the norms, behaviors, and expectations of various cultures and adjusting leadership styles to be more inclusive and effective.

In 2015, David Livermore published Leading with Cultural Intelligence. According to him, there are four main elements of cultural intelligence: 

  1. CQ Drive, which is a person’s confidence in their ability to function effectively in diverse cultural situations. 

  2. CQ Knowledge, which encompasses a person’s understanding of the similarities and differences between cultures.

  3. CQ Strategy, which includes how a person understands and processes experiences that are culturally different from their own.

  4. CQ Action, which is a person’s ability to adapt their verbal and nonverbal behavior to match different cultures.

People with high CQ have all four capabilities.

CQ matters now more than ever. The need for cultural intelligence in leadership is driven by several key factors:

  • Globalisation: leaders increasingly work with teams, clients, and partners from around the globe. A deep understanding of cultural diversity is vital for effective communication, collaboration, and decision-making.

  • Diversity and inclusion: with a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion, leaders who are culturally intelligent can create environments that work for their diverse workforce. 

  • Conflict resolution: CQ equips leaders with the tools to navigate and resolve conflicts more effectively, preventing them from escalating and negatively impacting team dynamics.

  • International expansion: for businesses aiming to expand into new markets, leaders with CQ can understand local dynamics, adapt strategies accordingly, and build essential relationships for success.

  • Talent attraction and retention: younger generations value diverse and inclusive workplaces. Leaders who demonstrate cultural intelligence are more likely to attract and retain top talent.

  • Risk management: cultural missteps can damage reputation and result in financial losses. Culturally intelligent leaders can mitigate these risks by making informed decisions and avoiding cultural insensitivities.

Developing and applying CQ

Building cultural intelligence involves a continuous process of learning, self-reflection, and adaptation. 

Here are some of the strategies to enhance CQ:

  • Cultural competence training: invest in training to understand diverse cultures, norms, and values. This foundation aids in improving intercultural communication and reducing misunderstandings.

  • Organizational values and norms: establish clear core values that emphasize inclusivity, respect, and diversity. These values help align cultural differences with organizational goals.

  • Cultural sensitivity: be aware of cultural differences in gestures, language, and nonverbal communication. Encourage team members to share their cultural practices and experiences.

  • Inclusive decision-making: involve diverse team members in decision-making processes. This approach respects their perspectives and contributes to higher-quality decisions.

  • Performance metrics: apply clear, objective performance metrics consistently across all employees to maintain fairness and equality within the organisation.

As companies continue to diversify and expand globally, navigating cultural complexities will increasingly define their success. Cultivating cultural intelligence is a journey that demands continuous learning, self-reflection, and a commitment to embracing differences. Modern leaders are CQ driven and their work truly reflects the diversity and richness of our global society.



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