Culturally Intelligent Leaders Know When it’s “Cultural” … and when it isn’t.

davelivermore | February 20th, 2015 4 Comments

 

 

You’re talking to someone from a different culture and he won’t look you in the eye. Is it cultural? Is it a personal quirk? Or is something else going on? How do you know? And what difference does it make?

“A problem is a problem, regardless of the source.” But getting at what’s behind the problem and knowing how to interpret the communication you receive is a critical part of leading successfully in today’s multicultural context. In fact, few things more quickly demonstrate your cultural intelligence than whether you can sort through what’s cultural and what’s not and how to respond.

I spend many of my waking hours thinking, writing, and talking about culture. How does culture influence the way someone is motivated? To what cultures is a leader’s style best suited? And what cultural values shape the way an organization images itself?

Culture lurks at every corner, influencing how we see the world. But culture doesn’t explain everything. Sometimes the behavior you encounter is more a reflection of someone’s personality than his or her cultural background. And sometimes you’re being played. “Cultural differences” are sometimes used as a disguise for something else.

How do you tell the difference? When is it cultural”? When is it personality? And when is it some other factor?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you sort through this:

1. How does the “unusual” perspective or behavior you’re encountering compare with what research indicates about the norms for this culture?
Find out whether empirical evidence supports that this behavior is something often utilized by individuals from this culture. This is where some of the most widely recognized work in the intercultural field is helpful, whether it’s Edward Hall’s work on communication norms or the cultural dimensions from Hofstede, Trompenaars, or the GLOBE leadership study. For those unfamiliar with this work, a few places to begin are:

2. What are other possible explanations for this perspective and/or behavior?
Rather than just assuming culture is the only explanation, stop to consider the variables you should include when understanding any unusual encounter or situation. Go through the following categories and consider whether these shed light on what’s occurring in addition to or instead of culture:

  • Personality: To what degree does this reflect a pattern of behavior from this individual? When have you seen this among others? Might this be an idiosyncratic behavior?
  • Circumstances: What else is going on that might explain this? I was recently interacting with a senior executive whose behavior seemed unusually bizarre to me. Only later did I find out that just before we met, he had learned of some devastating news regarding a family member.
  • Organizational Factors: What pressures exist within the organization? And in what ways might the individual be primarily representing a dynamic that reflects more on the organization involved than anything else?
  • Power struggle: I recently walked into a situation where I was told there was a cultural conflict; but the more I learned about the situation, the more it became evident that two managers separated by several time zones and cultures were vying for the same senior leadership position. There were certainly cultural aspects to how they approached the power struggle. But the cultural difference wasn’t the primary thing causing the conflict.

3. How do others who have experience and understanding with this culture perceive the situation?
I always want a safe person with whom I can ask unfiltered questions about whether my experiencing aligns with their understanding of the culture. Particularly when the situation involves a culture with which you have limited experience and familiarity, a cultural interpreter is essential. One time I thought I was being deceived by a West African leader but when processing the situation with a trusted, West African colleague, I learned that my approach was making it impossible for the leader to give me the kind of input I wanted.

4. Consider whether confirmation bias influenced your interpretation.
If you’re convinced all Millennials are entitled and all white guys are sexist, you’ll be predisposed to find examples that support your premise, something described as confirmation bias. So before you decide what explains a behavior, stop to consider whether you really sought to understand the situation and put your assumptions at bay.

With enough information, any behavior begins to make sense. Sorting through what’s cultural and what’s not is a critical part of leading with cultural intelligence. With the insights you gain through improved CQ, you know whether a customer complaint stems from an isolated situation or whether it’s something you need to address for an entire market segment. Heightened CQ helps you know when a negotiation tactic is playing dirty versus a cultural norm for doing business. And you can more quickly discern whether the absence of eye contact means respect, insecurity, or deception. Those insights separate the culturally intelligent from the culturally naïve leaders.

[The second edition of Leading with Cultural Intelligence releases next month. The new edition features brand new research on cultural intelligence, case studies, and leading practices from executives and organizations using cultural intelligence around the world.]

Cultural Intelligence in an Age of Terrorism

davelivermore | January 13th, 2015 2 Comments

 

What’s a culturally intelligent response to the horrific events in Paris last week? I’m not sure. Seeing one more “breaking news” alert about another terrorist attack fills me with a sense of sadness, disgust, and hopelessness. On the other hand, my resolve for promoting cultural intelligence (CQ) is greater than ever. Bear with me as I ruminate in a bit different direction than my usual posts about culturally intelligent work and leadership.

We’d expect that our increased connectivity through travel, technology, multiculturalism, and global trade would have made us better at interacting with people of difference. But culture runs deep. And as we become more global, our tribal identities assert themselves more powerfully than ever.

The greatest divisions of our day stem from vastly different views about how we should live together.People who believe in the ultimate right of free speech are living next door to people for whom following a set of creeds trumps all else. There are no easy answers to the hatred and rage that drives someone to kill a fellow human being in cold blood simply because they disagree with them. And thoughtful debates are needed for when free speech and satire is in part responsible for inciting that rage.

But I’m convinced that a culturally intelligent response begins with refusing to lose hope. The terrorists are not the majority. They’re a tiny minority among our population of 7+ billion people and they’re not getting the last word. And our best denouncement of terrorists’ misogynistic rage is to refuse to resort to their intolerance ourselves.

Don’t shut off the news in denial. And don’t resort to profiling all Westerners or all Muslims, police officers, or black men. We must unabashedly denounce terrorism, misogyny, and oppression, whatever the source. But as we do so, we’re wise to also step back and ask what’s behind the behavior. Every behavior makes sense if you have enough information. That doesn’t mean we accept or agree with it. But what might we learn if we step back to consider why someone believes something so strongly that they’re willing to kill others and themselves to uphold their beliefs? And why might some societies believe it’s in their best interest to give people the freedom to express vitriol?

My sadness by the events of last week was quickly turned into hope when I saw the global outpouring of support that happened in the hours following the attacks in Paris. The evening it happened, I walked by the French Embassy in Copenhagen and saw a diversity of people standing in the rain and cold for hours, simply to pay their respects.

Twitter erupted with Muslims denouncing the attacks and claiming that terrorism does far more to damage the image of Muhammad than a satirical cartoon does.

Non-Muslims in Paris started a #VoyageAvecMoi movement that mirrored the #IllRideWithYou campaign in Sydney. These are campaigns started by non-Muslims offering to escort Muslims who were fearful of revenge attacks.

Social media lit up with not only #jesuischarlie support, but also with outcries for the lives lost in Yemen and northern Nigeria last week.

Cultural intelligence begins with the motivation to learn and understand others’ cultural perspectives (CQ Drive).You can’t eradicate terrorism on your own; but you can make a difference in your own circle. What might that look like?

Speak up when someone in your network starts religious profiling. The vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are going about their lives peacefully. Just as the average Christian had nothing to apologize for when Christian fanatics engaged in genocide against Muslims in former Yugoslavia, Muslims shouldn’t be expected to apologize for horrific acts done by a few fanatics. When someone mutters some monolithic description about people from another religious or cultural group, challenge their ignorance.

Have lunch with your Other. Think of someone you know who views the world in a vastly different way from you—religiously, politically, or otherwise. Share your perspectives with each other and don’t try to convince the other person to see things your way. Seek to understand each other.

Don’t lose hope. Alongside the vicious acts of hatred are stories of people reaching across faiths, cultures, and languages to forge relationships and work together. Jews and Arabs are aligned together [e.g. Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies].  Police officers and African Americans are embracing and looking for solutions together. Hutus and Tutsis have worked together to rebuild Rwanda into an increasingly vibrant economy. Don’t let the stories of violence crowd out the larger stories of mutual understanding, reconciliation, and cultural intelligence.

I’m not suggesting we should ignore the violence and terrorism with blind optimism. Something has to be done. And I’m not interested in politically correct, culturally sensitive conversations that minimize debate and over-emphasize common ground. But for the majority of us who believe strongly in our own values and perspectives but also want to learn from the perspectives of others…let’s use the power of our differences to stop terrorism in its tracks. Now that’s something that gives me hope!

High CQ Prepares Youth to Compete with Robots for Jobs

davelivermore | November 18th, 2014 No Comments

 

In the race for global talent, employers and universities are looking for highly motivated young people who are self-aware, smart, and have an ability to influence and communicate across a myriad of differences. Are you ready?


McKinsey Report, 2013

70% of educators say their graduates are prepared for work. Less than 50% of students and employers agree.

And 90% of executives from 68 countries report that finding effective cross-cultural personnel is a top management challenge. (Economist Intelligence Unit)

As the world of work becomes more automated and robotic, cultural intelligence becomes a crucial way to stand apart. An avatar customer service representative can’t express empathy or engage in decision-making. And negotiation and trust-building can’t be easily outsourced. Now, more than ever, cultural intelligence becomes a critical part of preparing youth for their 21st century careers.

What Improves CQ Most?
What can students, parents, and educators do to give students’ the competitive edge that comes from improved cultural intelligence or CQ? As we work with high schools, colleges, and universities around the world, these are the kinds of initiatives that consistently enhance youth’s cultural intelligence.

Phase 1: Self-Awareness
Today’s youth put a higher priority on human rights and global consciousness than many generations before them. While there are notable exceptions, today’s adolescents and young adults are incensed by racism and discrimination. But many of them still lack the personal awareness that is the foundation for building cultural intelligence. What does it mean to understand and respect my cultural background while also respecting others’ backgrounds? How does my upbringing influence the way I make decisions and view the world? How might my minimization of cultural differences limit me? High school and university are the ideal times to wrestle with the crucial questions of identity and development. Use of the CQ Assessment alongside reflective writing exercises can be useful tools for promoting the self-awareness that is essential for enhancing youth’s CQ.

Phase 2: Meaningful, Immersion Experiences
Most educational institutions prioritize giving students the chance to experience another culture first hand. Whether it’s through study abroad programs or requiring some engagement with communities in nearby neighborhoods, there’s no substitute for experiencing other cultures firsthand. But as I consistently point out, not all immersion experiences are equal. If not done well, they can perpetuate ethnocentrism and erode cultural intelligence. But when designed using the research-based interventions that are proven to enhance cultural intelligence, they offer a transformative opportunity that will go with the young person for the rest of his or her life and career.

Phase 3: Intercultural relationships
Most students don’t need a passport to encounter diversity. Different cultures are as close as the person living in the dorm room next door. Yet university campuses continue to be extremely segregated. Chinese students socialize and study with Chinese students. Christian kids hang out with other Christians. And students from underrepresented cultures (e.g. African Americans in many U.S. business schools) eat together because they don’t feel connected to the majority community. Ironically, students often travel to the other side of the world to learn about different cultures yet come back on campus and default to only spending time with people like themselves. Schools that make an intentional effort to help students utilize the diversity across campus are more likely to simultaneously help their students improve their CQ.

Phase 4: Job Skills
As students become upperclassmen, the emphasis upon cultural intelligence needs to move toward preparing them for the workplace. Many job recruiters tell me they rarely hear students who can articulate how their study abroad experience will make them better at their job. High school guidance counselors and university career service advisors play a pivotal role in helping students develop the language and skills for describing how their journey toward cultural intelligence will influence the ways they teach, lead, manage projects, etc. This phase is where the cultural intelligence model and assessments are ideally suited. As compared to other intercultural inventories that focus on personal preferences and attitudes, the CQ Assessments predict students’ performance in culturally diverse settings.

Better College and Job Prospects
As admission to top universities becomes increasingly competitive, standardized test scores and impressive resumes of community service aren’t enough to get into many schools. A growing number of universities are prioritizing admission of students with “average” test scores who demonstrate self-awareness, curiosity, and people skills—all characteristics that are connected to cultural intelligence.

Executives from Google, Lenovo, McKinsey and several other leading companies consistently ask me, “Where do we find culturally intelligent young people?” They’re on the hunt for talent who have the skills that go beyond technical functions. As the linear and numerical functions become more automated, the most attractive employers are looking for young talent who have the people skills, self-reliance, teamwork, and ability to communicate effectively across a number of contexts and situations—all things that are shaped by one’s CQ. And as companies like Google and universities like Harvard adopt CQ as part of their assessment and development process, students who can describe and demonstrate their CQ have a distinct advantage.

It’s a whole lot easier to instill the values and skills related to cultural intelligence in youth than adults. We’d be delighted to work with you in that process. And best of all, when we improve the CQ of youth, we make the world of today and the world of tomorrow a better place for all of us.