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Cultural intelligence: Skill for contemporary leaders 

Published on August 2nd, 2023

In the contemporary business landscape, cultural intelligence is an essential skill for leaders to possess. With an increasingly global reach, companies are utilizing and managing diverse teams in order to produce cutting-edge results. 

Leaders must have the ability to understand and fluently interact with people from a wide array of backgrounds, cultures, and ages. Too often, we see senior executives struggle to properly manage their employees due to a lack of understanding – sometimes resulting in issues or even scandals that could have been avoided had they possessed sufficient cultural intelligence.  

As organizations maintain their competitive edge by leveraging diversity, it’s vital that leaders embrace cultural intelligence to navigate both power structures and communications across all departments without issue. 

It is the capacity to cross cultural, language, and identity boundaries to communicate effectively with people from all backgrounds. A leader with strong cultural intelligence can unpack complex social and cultural dynamics while adeptly navigating the ever-changing environment of modern business.  

Having a deep understanding of cultural attitudes and behaviors enables such a leader to build inclusive teams that are more creative, productive, and successful than those with limited cultural knowledge. Honing your own cultural intelligence also helps ensure an organization avoids any historical or current biases that can unintentionally creep into business decisions. The development of intercultural competencies is paramount both for individual success and group harmony as businesses expand across international borders. 

Leaders lead people

To lead effectively requires modern leaders to be able to manage their human capital by understanding the unique diversity of cultures present in any business today.  

That is why cultural intelligence – an integral part of any effective leader’s toolkit – is such an invaluable skill for contemporary leaders. It allows them to meet the challenge of leading a multicultural environment and effectively generate better results for all those involved. 

We live in a global marketplace with a multicultural workforce that requires diverse approaches to management style. Additionally, due to the complexity of organizations today, less hands-on leadership is necessary, making trust and understanding between leaders and their teams paramount.  

Cultural intelligence helps bridge this gap and leads to superior performance results. Without it, even the best strategic responses can fall flat due to a lack of culturally aware communication. For 21st-century leaders, cultural intelligence is essential. 

It is no accident that certain people excel at leading while others lack this quality. The key to effective leadership lies in understanding the people you lead, and that means cultivating a skill known as cultural intelligence. Being culturally intelligent involves building empathy with people so that you can understand how they think, what motivates them, and the beliefs and values they hold on to.  

Good leaders know how to use this knowledge to create an open communication channel where everyone works together towards common goals. To develop your cultural intelligence, you need to do more than just learn about different cultures; you need to get out of your comfort zone and actively build relationships with people from various backgrounds. Only through interactions and dialogues can we gain a deep understanding of diverse cultures and viewpoints, which will ultimately make us better leaders. 

Cultural Intelligence 

Cultural intelligence, or CQ for short, is crucial for understanding, navigating, and potentially thriving in any cultural context. It involves a combination of attitude, awareness, knowledge, and skills, all of which need to be developed in order to gain insight into the perspectives of those who are different. A beginning point can be self-awareness as well as other awareness.  

Further development requires empathy, curiosity, agility, and a tolerance of ambiguity in comprehending and collaborating across cultures. When combined effectively, cultural intelligence has been demonstrated both in research and practice to provide tremendous benefits in societal navigation and personal growth. 

Perceptions of leaders 

A global experience and mindset have always been essential traits of a leader, but during this time of hybrid working it is becoming even more crucial. Leaders must be able to ‘put the person back into the machine’; meaning they need to ensure employees feel seen, heard, valued, and listened to; either online or onsite.  

People ultimately work for people. Organizations need to recognize that as a basic humanization principle in order for teams to be more successful. Furthermore, positive results can be achieved when organizations entrust their staff with great leadership; particularly when that leader has cultural intelligence and understands employees’ perspectives from diverse backgrounds. A culturally intelligent leader will add the extra value needed for teams to effectively collaborate whereas the lack thereof can lead to serious issues down the line. 


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