Border Post: Cultural Intelligence and Leadership

Cultural intelligence the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic and organizational cultures. It is the ability to be effective in accessing global markets and selling services and products to a diverse customer base. How important is this ability in the modern world of business? A look at the numbers is revealing:

• According to a survey of 700 managers from Asia, Europe and North America 42% of managers fail in their overseas assignments, a lack of cultural intelligence being a crucial factor (Right Management)
• 90 % of leading executives from 68 countries identified cross cultural leadership as the top management priority for this century
(Economist Intelligence Unit)
• 82% of multinational companies are losing money in China. (Economist Intelligence Unit)

The implication for leaders and organisations is clear. Cultural intelligence is not just an add on, it is a core skill in a modern world where engaging with diversity in the workplace and the marketplace is the norm rather than the exception. Cultural intelligence enhances individual and organizational performance and when applied to product development and customer service increases the likelihood of satisfied customers.

So what does this mean for leaders? Having cultural intelligence implies a willingness to enquire into the way we lead, the way we transact business and run our organisations, into how we interact with colleagues, partners and customers. It demands flexibility, humility, openness and forgiveness. Culturally and emotionally intelligent leaders are agile and adaptable, able to utilise diverse perspectives in the service of innovation and problem solving, committed to bringing out the best in themselves and others, always with the higher purpose of service to stakeholders, the broader community and the customer in mind. They are authentically themselves, while being able to adapt or change their leadership style to meet shifting and unfamiliar circumstances.

Peter Drucker states that the only thing we know about the future is that it will be different. Einstein said that we cannot solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them. The challenge for leaders in all sectors therefore is to evolve beyond old models of leadership to face the challenges of a world of increasing diversity, complexity, uncertainty and opportunity.

Are we brave enough?

Phil Voysey is the Director of Cultural Connexions and a partner of One Group Leadership.