Cultural intelligence is defined as the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures. And research demonstrates a leader’s CQ may easily be the single greatest difference between thriving in today’s shrinking world or becoming obsolete.
The continually shifting landscape of global leadership can be disorienting and expensive. And, experience and common sense alone are not enough to overcome that. When working in our own cultures, we intuitively use a set of social cues to lead effectively. We have a wealth of information, most of which is subconscious, which helps us do our work (e.g. managing and motivating staff, casting vision, marketing, addressing conflict, negotiating, etc.). But those rules change once we start leading in a different cultural setting.
Cultural intelligence is a set of capabilities and skills that enables leaders from outside a culture to interpret unfamiliar behaviors and situations as if they were insiders to that culture. It can be learned by most anyone. In testing leaders’ CQ across the world, there’s a consistent set of strategies and practices proven to enhance anyone’s CQ. The findings consistently demonstrate a strong connection between leaders’ CQ and their effectiveness in reaching their performance outcomes. Our model stems from rigorous academic research on intelligence and cross-cultural interaction across 25 countries and includes four steps toward becoming more effective cross-culturally.
The four steps can easily be applied to any cross-cultural situation:
Step 1: CQ Drive
CQ Drive is your level of interest, drive, and energy to adapt cross-culturally. Do you have the confidence and drive to work through the challenges and conflict that inevitably accompany cross-cultural work? Without ample motivation, there’s little point in spending time and money on training, travel, and global strategizing.
Step 2: CQ Knowledge
CQ Knowledge is your understanding about culture and its role in shaping how business is done. Do you understand the way culture shapes thinking and behavior? While CQ Knowledge remains at the core of many cross-cultural approaches, this element is just one dimension of becoming culturally intelligent and yields little results when used on its own.
Step 3: CQ Strategy
CQ Strategy is your ability to effectively strategize when crossing cultures. Can you draw upon your CQ Knowledge to plan an appropriate strategy? Your usual business strategy won’t have the same effect in every culture so CQ Strategy is needed to develop a plan of action, revise the plan as needed and assess the effectiveness of the strategy in the particular cultural setting.
Step 4: CQ Action
Finally, CQ Action is your ability to adapt appropriately in a range of cross-cultural situations. Can you effectively accomplish your performance goals in different cultural situations? When working in a different culture, it may seem like a good idea to mimic what you see; however, locals often perceive this as humorous or worse yet, insulting. On the flip side, not adhering to any cultural norms or behaviors may come across as disrespectful and impede your success. Developing CQ Action will help you decide when to adjust your behavior to fit a cross-cultural setting and by how much.
Like many leaders today, one week I’m in my U.S. office meeting with visitors from Indonesia, Mexico, and Spain and the next week I’m jumping on a plane to Dubai. For the longest time, I was so frustrated because I knew I shouldn’t wing it when I jumped into a new cultural situation, but there just wasn’t time to master all the do’s and don’ts of every culture I encountered. And frankly, I watched some Americans look pretty foolish when they tried too hard to follow the “do’s and taboos” they learned in some books. I saw the value of gaining an overall skill set that could be applied to any cultural context through the use of the cultural intelligence model.
Cultural intelligence is uniquely suited to those of us who travel widely more than deeply and for all of us working with the growing multiculturalism in our own contexts.
Enhancing CQ is proven to enhance your effectiveness and competitive edge in multicultural and global contexts. It contributes to your personal development as a leader and best of all, it allows you to treat people with a greater degree of dignity and respect, whatever their cultural background and thereby make the world a better place.