Traits of Exceptional Multicultural Leaders
At the National Diversity Council’s 2nd Annual Multicultural Leadership Roundtable held in San Diego recently, I was among five leaders of color who hold executive positions within their organization asked to speak on topics related to multicultural leadership and diversity.
This is a very timely topic. The world is reeling right now with intense discussions around religious conflicts, political discord, and challenging social issues. With all this in the background, people and companies continue to move into new geographies, expand operations, and want to sell in new cultures. More students, tourists and workers are globetrotting around the world. As a result, the world is getting smaller and leaders are presented with more global challenges every day.
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How does this generation of leaders (and the next) navigate through these unavoidable cultural differences and clashes? By developing the four main traits that exceptional multicultural leaders possess.
1. Great leaders resist being ethnocentric.
Ethnocentrism is judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture. The aptitude to understand and be introspective about your own culture is an indispensable talent of a multicultural leader. The capability to see your own biases and know how you view others through your own cultural lens is vital as well.
My mother, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was 25 years old, taught me my earliest life lesson about ethnocentrism: “People speak, act and think differently from you; just remember, they are just as right as you are.”
Trusted and respectful multicultural leaders understand, relate to, and can adjust to the perspectives of others. All leaders learn valuable lessons when they are open to see the significance of diversity of thought, perspective and cultures. Exceptional leaders actually search out different perspectives and opinions which, in turn, challenge them and others to reach higher.
2. Great leaders plan ahead for cultural differences.
Highly effective multicultural leaders wisely avoid minimizing cultural differences and, better yet, plan for differences. Business guru Peter Drucker said it quite aptly, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Leaders who work across cultures know, with certainty, that cultural differences will surface with interactions among employees, peers or customers. The best leaders will plan and help their teams to recognize and adjust to these cultural differences.
3. Great leaders foster personal connections and relationships while building trust.
Effective leaders foster positive relationships and trust. Shrewd leaders understand that the first step to building rapport and trust is establishing personal connections. The challenge is that blazing the path to constructive connections, rapport and trust is unique in each culture.
Great leaders proactively plan and prepare to build bridges, not walls. This starts with asking key questions, such as:
- Does this culture expect a business-first or a relationship-first approach?
- Do managers and employees interact in an equal or a hierarchical manner?
- Are communication styles direct or indirect?
- How does this culture value time?
- How are decisions made and executed?
- How do we move these diverse groups closer together?
Forging trust is a difficult and fragile concept, even in one’s own culture. Doing it in another culture takes a tremendous amount of knowledge and effort.
4. Great leaders have high cultural intelligence (CQ).
Successful multicultural leaders have high cultural intelligence (CQ), which is the capability to relate to and work effectively across cultures. The concept of cultural intelligence was developed by the work done by Ang and Van Dyne (2003) as a research-based way of measuring and predicting intercultural performance.
CQ can be thought of in the same way one considers an individual’s intellectual quotient (IQ) or emotional intelligence (EQ). These “quotients” are research-based measurements of human competence and capability. The remarkable thing about cultural intelligence is that it is malleable and can be increased. People with high CQ can lead, adapt or blend in more effectively within any environment than those with a lower CQ.
Mastering these key competencies will help multicultural leaders to successfully navigate cultural differences in this rapidly changing world.
Research has also shown that teams with higher levels of CQ are more successful. While homogenous teams will outperform diverse teams if both teams have low CQ, a diverse team with high CQ will outperform a homogenous team by an estimated factor of five. This concept can be crucial for leaders who are reaching for higher levels of innovation, productivity, profitability, speed, efficiency, employee engagement, marketing, and selling into cross-cultural markets. Cross-cultural explorers can take a CQ assessment to measure their baseline CQ levels and participate in training programs to enhance it, thus increasing their effectiveness across cultures.
Developing these four traits will help leaders understand and embrace the value of diversity and be most successful in this multicultural environment.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Founder & CEO
HR Without Borders
After several decades climbing the corporate ladder, I recently decided to leave and start my own consulting firm. It was time. Similar to other women who join Ellevate, I believe we want to work in the areas of purpose, passion and for the greater good. I regularly focus on helping women and underrepresented groups to effectively maneuver inside organizations, get unstuck, or achieve their greatest possible success. I am now listening to my 8-year old self,... Continue Reading
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