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What is a ‘global’ leader?

davidlivermore | January 18th, 2022 No Comments

Last week, Albertsons’ CEO Vivek Sankaran said the US grocer has struggled with low inventory for months. Just about the time he thought their supply chain issues were resolved, the Omicron spike put them back where they were six months ago.

Albertsons has no stores outside the US. Is Sankaran a global leader?

Helena Helmersson became H&M’s CEO just before the pandemic. Six weeks into her role, H&M’s shares decreased by 50 percent and the Swedish retailer was facing huge backlash for accusing China of human rights violations.

H&M operates in 62 countries. Is Helmersson a global leader? 

Tina Freese Decker is CEO of Spectrum Health, an enterprise of hospitals in Michigan that is on the cusp of merging with another $4.5 billion healthcare system on the other side of the state. Like all health care executives, Decker has been laser focused on local Covid realities.

Spectrum solely operates in Michigan. Is Decker a global leader? 

“Global leadership” is one of those fancy terms that gets used in glossy consulting reports and EMBA marketing briefs but what does it actually mean to be a “global leader”? Is it anyone who leads people internationally? Can you be a global leader if your role is solely domestic?

If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we all function in a global environment. What starts as a variant in South Africa influences the lives of people in rural America and the bushlands of Australia within a matter of days.

I’ve worked with leaders of local organizations who approach their work globally. And I’ve worked with leaders at international organizations who approach their work locally. 

Global” refers to whether you lead in light of the global context. It certainly includes an ability to influence and build trust with people from Germany, Korea, or Brazil. But it applies equally to your ability to walk into a room of faculty, angel investors, or clergy, and find an ability to connect and make a good impression. It’s your ability to anticipate how realities on the other side of the world shape how you need to lead here. And it’s knowing how to lead a transformative, innovative, inclusive culture across a remote, distributed team. 

Domestic leaders think and operate within local boundaries whereas global leaders think and operate without boundaries (global).

LEADERSHIP: Influencing others to work toward common goals 

GLOBAL LEADERSHIP: Influencing a diverse group to work toward common goals within a global context

These are the kinds of questions I repeatedly hear from “global” leaders:

  • How do I get my people to think and act globally? (“No. Chinese New Year isn’t a good time for a sales meeting”).
  • How do I resolve cross-cultural conflicts?
  • How do I build trust among diverse, remote teams?
  • How do I create a competitive, transformative organizational culture that is in inclusive?
  • How do I recruit more diverse staff?
  • How do I scale and deal with myriad demands for localization while also developing a unifying culture?
  • How do I ensure our DEI programs address global realities?
  • How do I anticipate and manage external threats (new competition, economic recession, technology breeches, supply chain issues, etc.)?
  • How do I leverage our emerging markets’ insights/successes for the rest of the organization?
  • How do I address ethical dilemmas in different regions?
  • How do I inspire people who are wired so differently?
  • How do I foster critical thinking?
  • How do I get people to speak up?

Being a global leader is less about whether you’re flying around the world and operating in different currencies and more about three critical factors that consistently emerge from some of the most important research on global leadership. 

The more global the context, the more leaders need to navigate complexity, ambiguity, and constant flux. When the pandemic began, Spotify was the global leader in music streaming, and it seemed like a business model ideally suited for life under lockdown; but Spotify’s model relied on free users who listen to advertisements. A sudden recession meant  advertisers slashed their budgets and Spotify’s revenues plummeted. These kinds of volatile, unforeseen disruptions are becoming more common to all of us as leaders. Fortune 500’s, local real estate developers, and independent consultants all have to function in an environment characterized by volatility, ambiguity, and almost constant change. A global leader needs to move swiftly, deliberately, and thoughtfully in managing the complexity of things like infection rates, supply chain issues, labor shortages, and government mandates. 

The more global the context, the more leaders need the ability to cross a variety of borders inside and outside the organization. We used to think of those borders as being marked by passport control but today, they can just as easily be the borders between liberals and conservatives sitting next to each other on your executive team. Diversity among the workforce and customers is here to stay but learning how to effectively manage the flow of information and relationships across a diverse workforce requires a different approach to leadership than a context where most everyone thinks and acts the same way. This is of course where cultural intelligence (CQ®) plays a critical role. CQ provides the skill set to manage information exchange, decision-making, social bonding, and myriad other priorities that determine the flow of communication and relationships cross a diverse community of stakeholders.

The other dimension that consistently emerges in research on global leadership is the degree to which the leader needs to influence and lead people in a variety of locations. Traditionally, this meant being present with your customers and staff in different countries but platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams changed all of that. Whether staff and clients are joining from the same zip code or from a workspace on the other side of the world, global leaders need to be present with stakeholders in multiple locations simultaneously, often at all hours of the day. Even in a firm where everyone lives within an hour of each other, the realities of one individual’s remote work environment compared to another’s requires a different sensibility and presence from leadership. The variation in contexts has a dramatic effect on how individuals need to be lead. How do you create a trusting environment while also not being played by individuals who are working multiple full-time jobs or pretending to be sick when they actually just don’t feel like joining today’s meeting. 

We’re in a new leadership frontier. We’re all doing “global” work now. Whether it’s attending Zoom meetings all hours of the day, anticipating how issues on the other side of the world will affect this quarter’s bottom line, or building trust across a remote, distributed workforce, “global” is the context for leaders in most any organization, whether that’s  H&M, Albertsons, or a local accounting firm.

This is the first in a series of articles on global leadership; the follow-up articles will outline why global leadership is needed and how to develop it. 

A “global” leader is when you’re called upon to lead anyone, anywhere. 

Are you a “global” leader?

When Does Cultural Immersion Go Too Far?

davidlivermore | April 18th, 2016 8 Comments



It’s easy to travel far away from home and experience very little of the local culture.

Study abroad students are encouraged to get off Snapchat and soak up the local culture.

Business travelers are told to go beyond the hotel lounge to meander through the local streets.

And staff and students are told to move outside their in-groups and interact with peers who are different from them.

This comes pretty naturally for me. I describe myself on my Twitter bio as “insatiably curious” and my family shares my curiosity for all things cross-cultural. Whenever we travel together, we try to encounter the local culture up close. We prefer to stay in locally run hotels or better yet, we usually rent an apartment or house in a local neighborhood.

We did this a couple weeks ago when we took a brief vacation together in Panama. We stayed in an apartment in Panama City and rented a little house in Bastimentos, a coastal village on the Carribean side of the country. We asked locals to tell us their favorite places to eat and we used public transit. When the water stopped running for awhile in Panama City, we asked our neighbors what to do.

As much as I loved being in the cosmopolitan world of Panama City, I particularly enjoyed visiting Bastimentos, a sleepy island that is only accessible by boat taxi. Soon after we arrived in Bastimentos, we headed into Old Bank, the little town on the island that has a mini supermarket, a few cafes, a couple churches, a police station, and no cars. I felt completely alive. This was a curious traveler’s dream! Most everyone we walked by appeared to be locals. And given that there are no cars or roads, it was pretty tough to walk around without seeing the culture up close. While trying not to stare, it was impossible not to get a glimpse right inside people’s homes where men were chasing chickens, women were bathing their children, and teenagers were heading off to school up the hill.

Whoa! And all of this was just a short flight away from the U.S.! It was intoxicating!

But then…I started to wonder if we were intruding. The pathways around the island went right alongside people’s homes. Our home in Michigan sits alongside 11 acres (45,000 m2) of public woods and I was trying to imagine how I would feel if I looked out my window and saw a Panamanian family strolling by our house with smart phones in hand.

Bastimentos has only recently been discovered by travelers like us. We had lunch one day at a local café. We were the only foreigners there. We started talking with the grandmother who runs it. She’s lived on this land her entire life and we asked her how she felt about people like us coming to her village. What’s she supposed to say, right? But in between her hospitable welcome, we picked up on her growing concern that gringos are taking over the island. She was grateful for the new opportunities for business—though she said most of the foreigners simply stay and eat at other foreigner’s businesses. And she wonders what her homeland will look like in the years ahead.

These same realities happen closer to home. A neighborhood near us is often lauded as a compelling picture of revitalization. It’s gone from having little more than a liquor store to being filled with hip boutiques, coffee shops, and foodie haunts along with lofts and condos. A woman who has lived there her entire life recently said, “I don’t feel comfortable walking around my own neighborhood anymore. I suddenly feel like an outsider and like I’m invading the newcomers’ community.”

There’s a lot of useful research that analyzes the complexities related to tourism and gentrification. We ought to resist easy answers and I’m certainly not suggesting we should all stick to ourselves and leave others well enough alone. But for curious travelers like me, our CQ Drive—the interest and motivation to engage with different cultures, must be combined with CQ Strategy—the ability to plan accordingly in light of the cultural context.

Vincent Mattox, an administrator from Kentucky State University attended our CQ Certification program last week. Vince introduced me to the idea of “delayed curiosity”. He suggests that while curiosity about other cultures is a good thing, it runs the risk of being offensive and may sometimes need to be restrained. Vince agrees that political correctness is not the way to create a culturally intelligent environment, however, he sees the importance of tempering our expressions of curiosity when we aren’t sure how our questions and observations might impact others. Just think of the wildly-popular video where the Caucasian runner asks an Asian-American woman, “Where are you from?” Curiosity is a huge asset for creating the necessary interest and motivation for working and relating with people from different cultural backgrounds; but it needs to be guided by the other three CQ capabilities—knowledge, strategy, and behavior.

I will continue to advocate for getting to know a culture up close and moving beyond surface-level encounters. But I’m going to think further about when I need to delay my curiosity or even give up some of the cultural experiences I’d like to have because they may do more harm than good.

When has your curiosity gone too far? How do you encourage others to get outside their comfort zones without needlessly making another uncomfortable? My curious mind wants to know!

Why do all the Chinese students sit together?

davidlivermore | March 14th, 2016 12 Comments

China 2

By David Livermore and Sandra Upton

A few years ago, Beverly Daniel Tatum published a fascinating book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? She addressed the reality that African-American kids usually sit together in the school cafeteria and the same goes for Latinos, Asians, and other ethnicities. Tatum suggests this might not all be bad. It can be a coping strategy for students who may feel marginalized and misunderstood in the classroom and on campus as a whole.

As more schools and universities recruit and admit international students, this same phenomenon occurs. And given the record number of Chinese students studying overseas, it’s often most visible among them. Many universities are struggling with how to assimilate Chinese students with the rest of the student body. And it’s having a negative impact on their educational experience.

Nearly 40 percent of international students studying in the U.S. report having no close U.S. friends and wish for more meaningful interaction with those born in the United States. 47% of international students studying in Denmark report feel isolated from the Danish students. Similar realities exist elsewhere.

The growing number of students studying internationally presents a great opportunity for everyone. Universities tap a new population of prospective students, students gain the benefit of the diverse perspectives of classmates, and the reach of a faculty member and university goes much further. However, the rise of international students on campus presents universities with challenges like the following:

  • Many international students experience racist insults on social media and in person.
  • Events and programs targeting international students are seldom attended by domestic students.
  • Student orientation programs for international students inadvertently prevent assimilation.
  • International Students form cliques and fail to get involved.
  • Domestic students lack curiosity and empathy for their international classmates.

How to Assimilate International Students On Your Campus
No one has completely figured this out but there are a few leading practices that universities can use to improve the experience of international students while simultaneously helping other underrepresented students on campus.

  • Inclusive Teaching – The biggest influence on most students’ university experience is what occurs in the classroom. Faculty need to be equipped to create inclusive environments in how they select texts, handle non-native English speakers, encourage participation, and facilitate learning. Developing faculty’s cultural intelligence will improve their teaching and help students gain more from their diverse classmates. It can also have a lasting impact on student learning well beyond their university experience.
  • Integrate Multicultural and International Offices – Many institutions have seen the value of housing the offices of multicultural affairs and international student services in the same location. While domestic and international students have some distinct needs and expectations, both ultimately want to be integrated into campus and form friendships outside their race, ethnicity and nationalities. Working collaboratively increases opportunities for positive interactions among all students.
  • Make integration the responsibility of all students – Too often integration is seen as the disproportionate responsibility of the international student, instead of one mutually shared with the domestic student. If you’re the international student, you have a strong motivation to learn about the dominant culture. If you’re from the dominant culture, learning about underrepresented students might pique your curiosity but it’s rarely a matter of immediate survival. Students from the dominant culture need to see what they can learn from international and underepresented students living across the hall. Begin by helping all students see the benefit of building a global, diverse network that will enrich their university experience and provide them with a lasting professional network.
  • Cross-Cultural Engagements Outside the Classroom –Something powerful happens when students experience a different culture together outside the classroom—whether its volunteering in a diverse neighborhood nearby or traveling together overseas. These kinds of experiences help domestic students move beyond stereotyping all Chinese students as driving luxury cars and speaking in Mandarin and seeing them as peers who want friendship and a career.
  • Modeling the Way – Authentic and sustainable integration happens when there is active facilitation, support, and modeling by faculty, staff, and administration in both curricular and co-cur­ricular contexts. When students “see” campus leaders demonstrate their commitment to creating an inclusive culture, they are more likely to engage and even mimic their actions. Do students see faculty and staff of different cultural backgrounds engaging on a regular basis? Are they sitting together in the cafeteria? Or are they too working and relating separately?

While Chinese students represent the largest population of international students on most campuses, similar realities exist for many underrepresented students. When assimilated with a culturally intelligent strategy, the growing diversity on your campus not only expands enrollment, it provides your university with a built-in resource for providing your students with the experiences and skills to thrive in today’s global marketplace.

Oscars So White? Welcome to the Film Industry!

davidlivermore | February 28th, 2016 No Comments

Guest post by Emily Livermore


As a first year film student, I’ve been watching the controversy surrounding the whiteness of the Oscars with great interest. Media is accessible all over the world by people from all backgrounds and cultures. When I spent time in Asia as a child, I was struck by seeing the same movie posters from the U.S., displayed on the sides of buses and billboards across cities in Asia. It was bizarre to watch thousands of Malaysians walking by life size images of Reese Witherspoon on a Legally Blonde poster. Back then however, the number of locals who actually saw the advertised movies was more limited, because it required the resources to go to a movie theatre or have a television.

Today, people from every age group, culture, and socio-economic status are watching the latest movies on their smart phones in any given environment. In doing so, they enter a world where white men are in charge, women are sexualized, and people of color are rarely seen much less heard. It is unlikely that Hollywood is consciously trying to create this kind of world any more than the Academy is intentionally trying to focus on awarding white actors. But the consequences are real and the Oscars look a whole lot like the world of Hollywood as a whole.

Consider just a few alarming statistics from this study:

  • 12% of the protagonists in the top 100 films of 2014 were women.
  • 4% of speaking roles done by women are Latinas.
  • You’re more likely to see an alien on screen than an Asian or Latina female,

It all seems somewhat unimportant when thinking about a single film or series but when you think about an entire industry built around an image where white males are in charge, women’s primary role is to be sexualized, and other ethnicities are virtually invisible, it becomes deeply problematic. Therefore, placing diverse people in key positions on and off the screen is more than just good and right…it’s literally creating the world in which we all live.

The field of social psychology sheds some light on all this. Our brains and bodies are hard wired to perceive people as friends or foes and we implicitly categorize people largely based on appearance, something researchers describe as unconscious bias. This explains the difficulty of obtaining equal representation for underrepresented groups on and off the screen. When directors are making casting decisions or when studios are looking for a director, their unconscious biases impact their decisions. Particularly if directors need to make a decision under high stress, unless they consciously manage their implicit biases, they will hire based on instinct, which will inevitably favor people like them.

Stereotype threat, another interesting idea I learned about last semester in a book by Fiske and Taylor is when the expectations of a certain group, positive or negative, determine how the group members behave in reality. For example, people often lack confidence in women’s ability to lead. Knowing this stereotype adds pressure to female directors and can negatively impact their performance. When hired, women may get caught directing dramas or romance films because these are the types of films that require less special effects and a smaller crew, resulting in fewer factors for the woman to lead.

One of favorite classes so far at USC was with Dr. Stacy Smith who is a leading researcher examining diversity in the media. Dr. Smith led an extensive study, which analyzed the characters and directors of the top 100 films from 2007-2014. Of the 779 directors of the films included, only 28 were women. In the most recent year of films examined (2014), 27% of the characters were non-white and 28% of the speaking characters were female. In the real world, half the world is female and 85% can be classified as non-white.

Smith addresses the recurring argument that there just aren’t enough diverse candidates in the film pipeline and the person most competent for the job has to be hired. When a scarcity of talent is assumed, it impacts the hiring of female directors in a couple of ways. First, when a position becomes available, the people who find out about it are usually in the same network of the people hiring. If the person who is hiring happens to be a white male, then the majority of his network and the people that interview for the job will be other white men. In addition, producers want the most competent individuals and assume they must know which women are competent for the role since they assume there are so few to even consider. In the interviews done for this portion of Smith and team’s research, 12% of the people interviewed (film executives, filmmakers, buyers, and sellers) brought up the fact that women may not be able to handle large productions, especially ones with large crews that she would then have to control. This uncertainty in women’s abilities or competence diminishes the number of females that get hired to direct. This is the same reason many women do not get to play certain roles on-screen. Women are less likely than men to be cast in action/adventure films. From a sample of the top 100 films in 2014, Smith’s research revealed that women only played 21.8% of the speaking characters in action/adventure films. This likely stems from the stereotypes people have about the appropriate role of women in general and the implicit biases of the casting directors.

As an aspiring film director, it’s a bit daunting to enter the male-dominated world of Hollywood. But I’m resolved to do whatever it takes. Someday, I hope to hire, cast, and direct a diverse set of actors who create award winning films. I want to use my time in film school to be the best filmmaker I can be. And tonight, I’ll be watching the Oscars with my classmates from around the world. Alongside our laughter and dialogue, our diversity will undoubtedly make the conversation richer. And together, we will be a generation of filmmakers that will create a film industry that more accurately displays the colorful, diverse mosaic of the world….and hopefully make the world a better place at the same time.

Emily Livermore is a film student at University of Southern California and is inspired by the power of film to communicate globally. She grew up getting to travel the world and views herself as a global citizen. When she’s not making films and studying, she loves to make music, go rock climbing, and explore LA with her friends.

New Book on Culturally Intelligent Innovation

davidlivermore | January 18th, 2016 1 Comment

DRIVEN BY DIFFERENCE: Releases February 17
Pre order now.

driven by

The following is an excerpt from an interview about the book:

Q: What prompted you to write this book?

A: I’m insatiably curious. That’s what drives any research or writing project I pursue. And the same is true for this book. I was reviewing some of our research that revealed a troubling finding—homogenous teams often perform better than diverse teams do. Homogenous teams get things done more quickly and as a result, they consistently come up with more innovative solutions than diverse teams do when left to themselves. That’s not a very popular message in an age when everybody is talking about the importance of diversity.

However, diversity unquestionably offers a rich resource for innovative solutions. It’s just that it’s not automatic. It requires a culturally intelligent strategy for effectively using a team’s diversity to come up with more innovative solutions. Our research findings revealed some recurring practices that are essential for tapping the potential of diversity. I wasn’t content to simply see those findings reported in the tables of an academic journal. I wanted to see these insights help teams and organizations in the real world.

Q: You argue that hiring a diverse workforce is not sufficient. Why not?

A: If you’ve ever had a roommate, not to mention a spouse, you probably know the answer to this. “Different” ways of doing things is a novelty at first but under stress, differences can become the source of conflict and annoyance. It’s easier to work with people who think, act, and behave the same as us. So simply hiring a more diverse workforce is not sufficient. And it can actually make productivity and innovation worse.

Our research reveals that cultural intelligence is the moderating factor in whether diversity is an asset or liability for innovation. Cultural intelligence (CQ) is a research-based measurement that predicts how an individual will work and relate with people from different cultural backgrounds. Diverse teams comprised of members with low CQ, significantly underperform homogeneous teams. But diverse teams comprised of members with moderate or high CQ, significantly outperform homogenous teams on pretty much every measurement—not the least of which is innovation.

Q: In the book, you mention a vital area of concern – diversity fatigue. What is diversity fatigue and how should it be addressed in the workplace?

A: Many individuals, particularly in workplaces across North America and Western Europe, can’t bear the thought of one more diversity workshop. Shame and an emphasis upon punitive measures for not embracing diversity are prevalent in many approaches to this topic and that rarely brings about lasting change. Other times, diversity measures are viewed as solely being about compliance or as having little to do with bottom line results.

On a brighter note, many organizations have moved toward an emphasis on teaching about unconscious bias—the automatic impulse an individual associates with certain cultural groups. I’m a big supporter of this effort and we’ve collaborated with some of the leading researchers at Harvard in this space.

Awareness is the first step. But it’s not enough. The question I often hear is, I know my biases. So now what? This is where cultural intelligence (skills) comes in. And then teams need to develop a strategy for using a fusion of their cultural differences to drive innovative results. Together, these solutions offer a fresh, sophisticated way of approaching diversity.

Q: How did you discover the 5D Process for Culturally Intelligent Innovation?

A: As both a researcher and business leader, I’ve been helped immensely by the work of people like Clay Christiansen on disruptive innovation and the innovation models that come from Stanford’s d school. These models together with our research on cultural intelligence are what led to the discovery of the 5D process for culturally intelligent innovation.

The process includes the kinds of things included in most books and models on innovation, such as identifying a pain point, coming up with a solution to relieve that pain, and designing with the end-user in mind. What we wanted to discover however, was how those consistent innovation practices need to be adapted for a culturally diverse team of innovators or users.

For example, Jeff Bezos insists that high level meetings at Amazon include an empty chair, which represents the customer. Apart from cultural intelligence, you might assume a customer wants what you want. But by using the 5D process, a team can design for a diversity of customers. And if the room already includes a diverse team, that’s all the better because it provides built-in insights around what the customers represented by the empty chair want.

Q: What is the number one issue that derails diverse teams and how can it be overcome?

A: I think it’s the absence of a strategy for how to effectively address and use the diversity on the team. By nature, we’re attracted and drawn to people who think and act like we do so without an intentional strategy to lean into and use the differences on a team, they inevitably create conflict and gridlock.

An effective strategy begins with looking at the two forms of diversity that most powerfully influence what happens on a team—visible diversity and underrepresentation. Instead of being afraid to name the differences, a culturally intelligent strategy explicitly identifies the differences and then creates processes that minimize the interpersonal conflict that ensues from the differences and maximize the informational diversity from the team.

Apart from a strategy for how to effectively use your diversity, it’s unlikely the diversity will lead to innovation and may actually work against it.

Q: In your opinion, which companies are getting it right and how can others learn from them?

A: No leader or company gets it right all the time. In fact, mistakes are one of the best ways to improve cultural intelligence and come up with innovative solutions. But our research has uncovered dozens of companies that have worked hard at developing a strategy for culturally intelligent innovation. Several of them are featured throughout the book including Google, IKEA, Coca-Cola, Qatar Airways, and Novartis.

Novartis uses their employee resource groups to effectively design medications for culturally diverse patients. In the world of finance, you have CEOs like Ajay Banga (MasterCard) and Brian Moynihan (Bank of America) who personally chair their companies’ diversity and inclusion councils because they believe there’s a direct link between their diversity efforts internally and customer satisfaction. And despite the diversity challenges facing most tech companies, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, says, “One of the secret sauces for Alibaba’s success is that we have a lot of women.” Women hold 47 percent of all jobs at Alibaba and 33 percent of all senior positions.

Q: If readers took only one thing away from the book, what would you hope it would be?

A: It’s my hope that all of us will slow down the impulse to view a different perspective as threatening, wrong, or inferior and instead, to see it as an opportunity for growth.

In those moments when we see things differently from those around us, we have a few choices: We can hold on to our views, defend them, and argue for their superiority. We can let go of our views and entirely acquiesce to the views of others. Or we can allow our perspectives to be broadened, enriched, expanded, and deepened. Culturally intelligent innovation begins with changing our impulse from Why can’t you see it like I do? to Help me see what I might be missing! Together, we can work together to come up with innovative solutions to solve problems big and small.

The Power of Attention for Culturally Intelligent Innovation

davidlivermore | December 14th, 2015 No Comments


driven by

At the end of January, our new book on culturally intelligent innovation will be available in bookstores everywhere. This month’s article is an excerpt from Part 1 in the book.

If you buy a silver Honda, you start seeing silver Hondas everywhere. It’s not that there are really any more silver Hondas on the road. But this simple reality demonstrates the power of the mind to more readily notice whatever you’ve been thinking about most. And the more you think about diversity and innovation, the better your climate for culturally intelligent innovation.

Your life has largely been fashioned by what you’ve paid attention to and what you haven’t. If you paid attention to other things, your reality and life would be very different. And a great deal of research supports that we become what we practice. If you develop patterns of being mean and nasty, you will get mean and nastier. If you practice being kind and caring, you will get kinder and more caring.[1] The same is true for an organization. The behaviors and respective priorities of a company or university shape what and how they operate. Our individual and organizational personalities become a composite of the things that grab our attention.

If you still aren’t convinced of the power of attention, how does your back feel right now? That information was available to you all the time you were reading the previous paragraphs but it’s only when it’s brought to your attention that you bring it up to the level of awareness. When you’re driving and you become engrossed in the news or a conversation on your phone, you become less aware of the scenery. You’ve turned down the sight dial in your brain so that you can allow the auditory inputs to capture your attention. And according to something psychologists call negative bias theory, you pay more attention to unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, or the annoyance of a bad driver than to positive emotions because the negative ones are more powerful.[2] Negative bias theory has enormous implications for a culturally diverse team. Imagine a team meeting that includes a working lunch together. Because we’re socialized to eat in a certain way, watching someone eat in a different way can be jarring and strike us as rude or even barbaric. If you’ve learned that good manners includes closing your mouth when you eat or breaking off small pieces of a bread roll rather than picking up the whole thing, seeing someone deviate from those norms immediately surfaces on our attention. But when people eat like we expect them to eat, their behavior largely goes unnoticed. You’re unlikely to notice when someone eats “politely” but you’ll most definitely notice when they don’t. Good manners, respect, and appropriate professional behavior are culturally bound.

Beware of too quickly assuming someone isn’t acting professional or demonstrating confidence. Similarly, we’re less likely to notice a colleague’s cultural differences when things are going well. He’s just “John” or “Jose” when you’re working without any conflict. But when something negative occurs, the first impulse is to view John or Jose in light of his culture. Suddenly the thinking becomes: You just can’t trust people from that culture because they end up letting you down. Giving undue attention to negative feelings shrinks your world and your breadth of perspective. Focus on the positive and you’ll expand your view. This is the power of attention.[3]

How to Pay Attention to Culturally Intelligent Innovation
Your mind is your most powerful asset for innovation. Spend time thinking about innovation and it will help foster creative breakthroughs for diverse users. Maintaining and developing a climate of culturally intelligent innovation among a multicultural team requires a deliberate, ongoing effort. Our attention and therefore our companies are easily distracted. But there are a few practices that can help.

Map Your Differences
Start by paying attention to your differences rather than tolerating or overlooking them. Identify each team member’s differences. Create a list with names and the most relevant differences they bring to the team. Start with the two kinds of diversity that are most relevant for how you work together: visible diversity and underrepresented groups. Consider other differences that might also be relevant such as personality styles, skills, industries previously worked in etc.

Many of the organizations we work with use each individual’s cultural value scores from the CQ Assessment reports to create a team list that everyone posts by their desks. That gives each person a visible reminder of the different values and orientations each team member brings to the team.

Prime for Innovation
Priming is the process of presenting a particular stimulus to make us feel and act in a certain way, such as a supermarket that puts “freshly cut” flowers at the entrance of the store so you think of freshness from the moment you enter. To what degree do people across your organization share a vision for innovation and looking ahead? And to what degree is diversity consciously linked to innovation as a resource for new ideas?

The most important way to prime for culturally intelligent innovation is for the leadership to surround themselves with a diversity of perspectives, utilizing that breadth to drive their own innovative approaches. Innovation needs to be built into every person’s role and across all the systems and processes for product development and implementation. Images, signs, town hall meetings, and written messaging need to be used to keep everyone’s attention on the customers of tomorrow.

Become conscious of blind spots
Tap into the power of attention by becoming more aware of your subconscious. Take one of the tests at Project Implicit and consider which groups of people you find most difficult to trust. How might that difficultly connect to a deeply rooted bias? And how might it be closing you off from innovative breakthroughs? By becoming more aware of unconscious bias, you begin to retrain the mind to open yourself and others up to learning from the perspectives of others whom you may otherwise tune out.

Train yourself (and others) to think differently
The brain is an amazing organ. And we can train it to be consciously thinking about innovation through things as simple as taking a different route to work or shifting around our morning routine. One of the best ways to consciously innovate is to disrupt your habits at least once a day. Make a habit of forcing yourself out of autopilot. Change up your morning routine. Drive to work a different way. Work from a different space. Don’t always run your meetings the same way or in the same place. When your team comes up with a solution, stop and ask each other whether this is the best option or whether a third alternative is worth exploring.

Beware your gut
The gut can be a shockingly reliable mechanism for decision-making because our subconscious has been programmed over time. When assessing a familiar situation, the gut often leads to a better result than spending hours reviewing pros and cons. But the gut is subject to enormous error when the cultural context changes and as a result innovative solutions are often missed. Consult with others and consciously suspend trusting your gut. Questions your assumptions and proactively seek out third-way solutions.

Paying attention to culturally intelligent innovation is not enough. You also need to develop a process for effectively leveraging the diversity on your team to come up with more innovation solutions. But there’s tremendous power in what we pay attention to and what we don’t. You can’t force yourself or anyone else to have eureka moments. But the degree to which you consciously utilize the diversity around you and explore creative solutions is directly tied to the probability of producing innovative results.


Portions of this article excerpted from Chapter 2 of Driven By Difference: How Global Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. Download a sample chapter and pre-order your copy now.


Advance Praise:

“This book provides a compelling and refreshingly practical account of how and when to use ‘CQ’ to drive higher levels of innovation performance.”
— Paul Polman, CEO Unilever

“Livermore makes a strong, science-based case for why diversity and cultural intelligence matter more than you think. Rooted in research and amplified with powerful case studies and examples, this book is an essential read for those hoping to leverage an increasingly diverse workforce to drive innovation.”
— Daniel H. Pink, author of TO SELL IS HUMAN and DRIVE

“This book is a must read for any leader wishing to develop more culturally innovative teams and organizations.  Dr. Livermore’s in-depth research provides the missing link to diversity efforts that are not being fully leveraged.”
— Andrea Kelton-Harris, Sr. Diversity Leader, Harvard University

“Filled with numerous examples and straight talk on how to drive culturally intelligent innovation, Driven by Difference should be mandatory reading for your entire team. ”
— David Butler, Vice President of Innovation, Coca-Cola

“Driven by Difference presents an intriguing, compelling, and thought-provoking approach to unleashing the creative and innovative potential of diverse teams.”
Anthony Mayo, Director of Leadership Initiative, Harvard Business School

“For more than two decades, there has been a discussion of the link between diversity and innovation. This book succeeds at advancing our knowledge of this link by providing the frameworks and practices that guide us to think and act culturally intelligent as we leverage diversity to innovate.”
–Lynn Wooten, PhD, Associate Dean, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

“Through concrete research and real life examples from across the globe, David Livermore’s new book shows us how diversity can be consciously linked to innovation.”
Anindita Banerjee, PhD, Renaissance Strategic Consultants, India

[1] Susan Smalley & Diana Winston, Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, (Philadelphia: Lifelong Books), 2010, 134.

[2] John F. Pratto, Automatic vigilance: The attention grabbing of negative, social information, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61 (1991): 380-391.

[3] Barbara Fredrickson, Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive, New York: Crown, 2009.

How to respond to low CQ, racist comments, and Facebook rants

davidlivermore | August 14th, 2015 1 Comment


What should you do when you’re on the receiving end of low cultural intelligence (CQ)? Ideally, CQ is a two-way street where all parties seek to understand each other and use their diverse perspectives to come up with better solutions. But in reality, we continue to encounter friends, family members, colleagues, and clients who make little effort to engage with cultural intelligence.

There are so many variables to consider, including the nature of the relationship and whether one party comes from a more dominant cultural group than the other. But here are a few suggestions for how to respond:

1. Begin with positive intent
Start with assuming the best. It’s possible the other party was intentionally offensive but it’s just as likely it stems from ignorance. So perhaps the greatest test of your CQ is seeing whether you can take on the perspective of someone who exercises low CQ. How does this appear from their point of view and is there information that will help you better understand their perspective?

Beware of confirmation bias—the tendency to look for and favor information that confirms what you already thought. Confirmation bias occurs when you interpret something that is ambiguous or anecdotal and automatically assume it further supports the viewpoint you already have. We tend to scour social media, the news, and conversations for confirmation of what we already believe and ignore information to the contrary.

Sandra Upton, one of my colleagues at the Cultural Intelligence Center, recently interacted with a group of friends about an incident involving Kevin O’Leary, a.k.a. Mr. Wonderful from the TV series, Shark Tank. Some of Sandra’s friends felt O’Leary was being racist when he told two African American entrepreneurs selling colorful lipstick, that they were “colorful cockroaches”. O’Leary frequently uses inflammatory language (including “cockroach”) with all kinds of individuals whose pitches he doesn’t like. Granted, cultural intelligence would help him understand that calling two African American women “cockroaches” is not the same as calling two Caucasian men that. But before too quickly assuming ill intent, applying CQ when observing something like this requires stepping back to see through the other individual’s eyes. What was the intent from what was said?

Good intentions don’t eradicate inappropriate behavior. But consideration of the intent is required before figuring out how to respond.

2. Use it as a teachable moment
Next, look for opportunities to have courageous conversations about why a behavior may be inappropriate or culturally ignorant. This has to be done carefully because most of us don’t want to be told we’re insensitive. But look for a chance to privately share how you interpreted the behavior and ask whether the other individual has ever considered that. If you believe their intentions were good, begin by reiterating that assumption. Then share your concern that you wouldn’t want others to misinterpret their intentions.

An effective solution for the Shark Tank incident may have been for Daymond John, the African American shark on the show, to talk with Kevin privately afterward. Daymond could affirm Kevin for his ongoing commitment to investing with people of color and ask if he’s aware that “cockroach” is sometimes used as a racial slur and may reflect on him in ways he didn’t intend. For that matter, any of the other sharks who have moderate CQ could have had this conversation with O’Leary.

When a family member, colleague, or client engages in culturally offensive behavior, speak up! I’ve made my share of stupid comments and if no one ever told me the negative connotations of what I said or did, I may continue to needlessly offend others.

There are several contingencies to speaking up. If I encounter a group or culture that doesn’t respect women, I’m not going to just sit back; but it’s also unrealistic for me to challenge every sexist comment I hear when I’m with that group. We have to figure out which interactions are most important and have the most potential for transformation to occur. And then we need to use our CQ to develop strategies to have these crucial conversations.

3. Don’t obsess over PC language
By now you’re probably assuming I’m advocating politically correct language. Not at all! In fact, I’m confident that an obsession with political correctness prevents us from having real conversations about these issues. Far too many students and people in the workplace are fearful of ever speaking up about these issues for fear they’ll be labeled a racist or an overly sensitive person.

I would never call anyone a “cockroach”, much less someone from a culture that has been consistently marginalized. And I think word choice is a big deal because of how quickly people form impressions based upon our language. But part of exercising our own CQ means not getting too caught up with policing people over whether they use the exact “correct” terms and instead, creating space for honest, heart-felt conversations focused on mutual understanding and solutions. Consider Amanda Taub’s viewpoint that “political correctness” doesn’t really exist but instead, is a used against people who ask for more sensitivity to a cause than we’re willing to give—a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them.

4. Remember your own CQ fails!
If you have a brain, you’re biased. So while giving people the benefit of the doubt, I’m not denying the inevitability that many comments stem from a position of bias. In fact, we’re spending a growing amount of time at the center researching and teaching about the connections between diversity, unconscious bias, and CQ. Stay tuned for more on that front.

My frustration with others’ CQ fails is tempered by remembering my own implicit biases and the ongoing journey toward living and leading with cultural intelligence. I recently gave a keynote presentation, during which I said “That’s insane!” and “He must be crazy!” One of the audience members wrote me a scathing note about my abysmal CQ by using such offensive language for those who struggle with mental illness. While I wish she would have started by assuming positive intent, I immediately understood her point and it got me thinking about whether I have some unconscious biases in that area. Those kinds of incidents increase my grace toward others’ when they have CQ fails.

5. Avoid Social Media Arguments
Whether it’s debating sanctions for Iran, flying the confederate flag, or integrating Muslims in Europe, I’ve yet to see someone change their perspective based upon a Facebook argument. I’m sure there are some rare exceptions but social media seems to do little to move these conversations forward.

This comes back to confirmation bias. Most individuals post diatribes on social media that reinforce what they already believe and they aren’t interested in being challenged, even if their viewpoint is proven to be false. Pick up the phone, go to coffee, and see what can be discovered together through conversation, mutual understanding, and disagreement!

Cultural intelligence is an ongoing journey for all of us. The next time you are on the receiving end of low CQ, take a deep breath, seek to understand, and allow the experience to broaden, enrich, and expand your perspective….and see if you can nudge the other party to do the same.

Top Two Reasons Organizations are Building CQ

davidlivermore | July 20th, 2015 No Comments

By David Livermore and Linn Van Dyne, PhDs

Whether it’s tapping the opportunities in emerging markets, avoiding a cultural faux pas on Twitter that goes viral, attracting and retaining the best talent, or increasing profitability and cost-savings, the ability to work and relate effectively across cultures addresses a burgeoning number of organizational concerns. Top executives agree. Mikkel Ohlsson, CEO at IKEA, believes getting people to work effectively across cultures is both the right thing to do, and it makes business sense. In discussing this point, he says, “My leadership on this is vision-driven from a business point of view and values-driven at the foundation.”[1] Jonathan Broomberg, chief executive of the South African insurer Discovery Health is convinced that the rainbow nation’s mosaic of cultures is its most valuable source of creativity and innovation.[2] And Robert Mortiz, chairman of PWC in the Americas says, “CQ is a critical capability for navigating today’s increasingly global and diverse business environment….It’s so important that we made it one of our core behaviors at PwC.”[3] Among these varied motivations of executives, the top two reasons organizations are building cultural intelligence (CQ) is the growth of diverse markets and the increasingly diverse workforce.

First, organizations need culturally intelligent managers and staff in order to successfully reach the diversity of markets at home and abroad. Fortune 500 companies expect their greatest revenue streams over the next decade to come from emerging markets; and top universities are recruiting students from around the world and from groups previously underrepresented on their campuses. As a result, organizations need individuals who know how to design and adapt products and services that meet the needs of these increasingly diverse customers. Doug Flint, CFO of banking giant HSBC, says,

If you were to go into any business forum in Europe and America and ask which country is going to be most important in the global environment in the next 25 years, I suspect that a vast majority would say China, and the second-highest number might say India. If you then ask how much do people in Europe and America understand about the history and culture of those countries, the answer would be a negligible amount.[4]

Organizations need managers who can help them tap the opportunities that exist in emerging markets at home and abroad.

Second, organizations need to equip staff to work effectively with each other. Workplaces are becoming increasingly diverse, and this can be an asset or a liability, depending upon how it’s managed. When internal diversity is used strategically and combined with cultural intelligence, it offers a proven way to reach diverse markets more effectively. Rather than solely relying upon market research and surveys, a diverse workforce offers first-hand insights on the motivations and concerns of diverse customers. Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard, and Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, personally chair their companies’ diversity and inclusion councils. They believe there’s a direct link between their diversity efforts internally and customer satisfaction. Moynihan says, “When internal diversity and inclusion scores are strong…[we] will serve our customers better, and we’ll be better off as an organization.”[5]

The convergence of consumer diversity with workplace diversity is the nexus of the greatest challenges and opportunities for a culturally intelligent approach. Understanding culture and its seminal role in how people think, work, and relate is the first step toward harnessing the potential of diversity within the organization and the diversity of customers. But cultural awareness isn’t enough. Organizations need leaders, teams, and staff who can simultaneously advance the values and needs of an organization while adapting to the cultures touched by the organization. This requires more than cultural sensitivity and awareness and it’s where cultural intelligence becomes the truly essential intelligence for the 21st century.


[1] Boris Groysberg & Katherine Connolly, Great Leaders Who Make the Mix Work, Harvard Business Review, September 2013,
[2] Ibid
[3] Robert Moritz, “The Four Q’s of Career Success”, LinkedIn Post,
[4] Economist Intelligence Unit. CEO Briefing, 14.
[5] Boris Groysberg & Katherine Connolly, Great Leaders Who Make the Mix Work, Harvard Business Review, September 2013,



Growing Up Between Smalltown USA and Singapore

davidlivermore | June 9th, 2015 5 Comments

[Guest Post by Emily Livermore]


The feeling of a plane’s descent hits me one of four ways. One: I’ve just arrived at a new destination and can’t wait to immerse myself in the multisensory experience. Two: I’ve just returned home and I can’t wait to be in my own bed. Three: How am I going to kill several hours during this layover? Or four: Panic sets in. I might not make my next flight!

These sentiments have become extremely familiar to me because my family has spent a lot of time travelling and living overseas. Our travels have taken us all over the world, but whether we’re there for a few days or several months, we make every effort to live like the locals and bring a part of every place home with us. From learning to make Argentinian stew in Buenos Aires to creating stationery from elephant dung in Lampang, Thailand or riding public transit in Sydney, I always come home a different person than I left. But the thing that usually causes me the most culture shock is arriving back home.

The place I call home is East Grand Rapids, Michigan. This quaint little town is where my family lives between our overseas adventures, and it’s a stark contrast from most of the other places I’ve been. Consider, for example, the contrasts between life in East Grand Rapids with life in Singapore, the other city where I’ve spent the most time growing up. East Grand Rapids is a quaint little town of 11,000 people, 96.3% of whom are white. Winters are long and cold, the biggest event of the year is the high school football season, and the restaurants mostly serve comfort foods like burgers and pastas. Singapore is a massive, cosmopolitan city-state with a population of 5 million people made up of mostly Chinese, Malays, and Indians but with over a million people from other places around the world as well. The weather is tropical, the city never sleeps, and the eating options are truly endless with a side of chili sauce available for most every dish. Being in both places feels “normal” to me, but I haven’t always felt that way.

For awhile, I hated leaving Michigan to go back to Singapore. I had to say goodbye to my friends, our Michigan home, and my favorite Western foods. But in middle school that changed. Our trip to Singapore included some side excursions to China and Malaysia and it was the first time I remember really enjoying the novelty of each place we went. I tried whatever foods I could, learned to use chopsticks, and picked up some Mandarin and Malay. When we returned to the States, I made a 180-degree turn. I was suddenly thirsty for more diversity in my middle school and I didn’t want to be surrounded by all the familiar faces and language of East Grand Rapids! I moved from hating Singapore to hating East Grand Rapids and I couldn’t wait for another chance to leave home. It wasn’t until much later I began to realize both cities are rich with beauty.

East Grand Rapids has a culture of its own; it just took me a while to see it. There’s a history and way of doing things that I missed during my years of loathing life in Michigan. But I’ve come to see that understanding other cultures begins with understanding my own. This realization helped me become more open minded at home as well as overseas.

Learning to understand, appreciate and embrace the vastly different worlds of East Grand Rapids and Singapore is core to who I am. I never feel entirely at home in either place because I’m always missing the other one. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It has shaped me to seek beauty and depth in the foreign and the familiar and to bridge otherwise seemingly disparate ideas, people and places. It seems to me, that’s what cultural intelligence is all about.


Emily Livermore is starting at University of Southern California this Fall to pursue a degree in cinematic arts. She has a passion to create meaningful films that speak to diverse audiences around the world.

10 Questions to Consider When Negotiating Across Cultures

davidlivermore | May 12th, 2015 No Comments

Imagine you’re negotiating a contract with a bank where your brother is a senior executive. To what degree should both of you be directly involved in the negotiation? This was the dilemma recently faced by a U.S. executive working in Mexico. His U.S. company was negotiating a deal with a Mexican bank where his brother was a vice president. The Mexican bank believed it was essential that both brothers be directly involved in the negotiation because their ties and reputation were an asset to the deal. But the U.S. company said, “Absolutely not. That’s a conflict of interest!”

Regardless of the cultural context, the objective in negotiation is to reach an agreement that mutually satisfies both parties’ interests. Accomplishing that across cultures requires a high level of cultural intelligence. Jeswald Salacuse, author of The Global Negotiator, suggests ten questions to consider when negotiating across cultures. These questions, together with the four CQ capabilities, provide you with an effective strategy for negotiating across cultures.

1. Negotiating Goal: Contract or Relationship?
For some cultures, partnering implies building a relationship, whereas for others it’s primarily a contractual transaction. Determine the goal as soon as possible. If you’re trying to partner with relationally driven negotiators and you over-emphasize your ability to deliver a low-cost contract, it can cost you the deal. For those who primarily want a contract, trying hard to build a relationship may be viewed as pandering and wasting their time.

2. Negotiating Attitude: Win-Lose or Win-Win?
Many negotiation books presume everyone is after a win-win; however, some cultures and organizations are driven by an approach that assumes one side wins and the other side loses. Win-win negotiators see deal making as a collaborative, problem-solving process, whereas win-lose negotiators view it as confrontational.

3. Personal Style: Informal or Formal?
Some cultures, such as Koreans, prefer a formal style of negotiation that emphasizes titles and avoids discussions about personal matters. North Americans usually begin more informally by starting negotiation discussions with some small talk and referring to people by their first names. It’s safer to begin with a more formal approach and move toward a more informal one when it becomes evident that the culture and situation allow for it. 

4. Communication: Direct or Indirect?
In cultures that rely on indirect communication, such as many of the Confucian Asian cultures, an initial meeting will rarely disclose a definite commitment or rejection. Indirect negotiators are wise to recognize that their direct counterparts may not accurately understand what’s occurring if it isn’t explicitly stated. When CQ is low, direct communicators interpret indirect communicators as being passive aggressive and indirect communicators perceive direct negotiators as being aggressive and pushy.

5. Sensitivity to Time: High or Low?
In many Asian and Latino cultures, it’s impossible to reach an agreement without extended time to get to know each other. This may include going out for dinner or drinks, visiting national landmarks, playing golf, or going to a cricket game. In contrast, many Western European and North American cultures value expediency in reaching a deal. For these individuals, vast amounts of time socializing can seem like a disregard for the value of one’s time. Adjust your expectations and remember that it almost always takes longer to negotiate across borders. 

6. Emotionalism: High or Low?
To what degree should you express the emotions you feel related to reaching a deal? Affective cultures such as Latin Europe are more likely to show their emotions at the negotiating table, whereas neutral cultures such as the Dutch and Japanese are unlikely to disclose their feelings toward the deal. Start more neutral and follow your counterpart’s lead.

7. Form of Agreement: General or Specific?
North Americans typically prefer detailed contracts that cover any type of situation that may arise. However, many other cultures, such as the Chinese, prefer contrasts that represent general assumptions and guidelines, believing that the agreement is based primarily upon the relationship between the two parties, not an abstract document.

8. Building an Agreement: Bottom Up or Top Down?
The norm among French negotiators is to begin with agreement on general principles, whereas North Americans begin with agreement on specific deliverables and develop the principles based on those. As with all of these, an organization’s culture and the individual personalities involved also play a significant role in whether a bottom up or top down approach works.

9. Decision: One Leader or Group Consensus?
Any effective negotiation requires learning who ultimately makes the decisions. But this isn’t always easy to determine. Many collectivist cultures have large groups show up for a negotiation meeting and many others not at the table may also be involved in reaching consensus. And many individualist cultures expect that one or two key individuals will ultimately be the ones who make the decision. Don’t assume you know who the decision maker is. Use your CQ Knowledge and Strategy to figure it out. 

10. Risk Taking: High or Low?
Finally, determine where the other party falls on the uncertainty avoidance dimension. Those from high uncertainty avoidance cultures such as Israel and Japan will often want much more information and detailed processes to help alleviate ambiguity. In contrast, those from low uncertainty avoidance cultures may be frustrated with an over-emphasis on too many details.

As always, beware of an overreliance on broad cultural norms. They’re a good first guess, but they can derail your entire negotiation process when applied too broadly or mindlessly.

Once you have a negotiation plan in mind, hold it loosely and be ready to adapt. Anticipate ahead of time where you will and won’t adjust. And the more you become adept at using these kinds of questions and reading the cues, you’ll find they make you a better negotiator within your own culture as well.


Excerpted from the new edition of Leading with Cultural Intelligence, now available in bookstores everywhere.