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Culturally Intelligent Leadership in a Merger 

Published on August 2nd, 2023

A merger is a big event for any company, no matter the size. It can be a time of great opportunity or great peril. The key to making a merger successful is leadership, and more specifically, culturally intelligent leadership. Culturally intelligent leadership is the ability to lead in a way that respects and values the diverse cultures within an organization. In a merger, this means being able to effectively communicate with and manage employees from different cultures. It also includes being able to understand and integrate the two organizational cultures into one cohesive whole. 

What is Culturally Intelligent Leadership? 

Culturally intelligent leadership is effectively managing and communicating with people of different cultures. It involves understanding cross-cultural dynamics, leveraging cultural differences for organizational success, and creating an environment that values diversity. It requires a certain level of self-awareness and knowledge of other cultures in order to lead individuals effectively in a multicultural context. Culturally intelligent leaders recognize the importance of cultural dynamics and understand how to create an inclusive work environment that values everyone for the unique contributions they bring. By being culturally mindful, these types of leaders can foster innovation, collaboration, and overall team success. Ultimately, culturally intelligent leadership empowers individuals and creates a more efficient workplace that is enriched by diversity. 

Culturally Intelligent Leadership in a merger  

A merger of two companies can be a complicated and sensitive process. If the merger is to be successful, it is essential that the leaders of the emergent new company are culturally intelligent. They must be aware of the challenges that can arise when two cultures are brought together and be able to sell the vision of the new company to both employees and customers.  

When two companies come together, there can be a range of cultural challenges arise. These include communication difficulties, different approaches to problem solving, clashing values and norms, conflicting incentives for employees, and misunderstandings about corporate policies. Cultural intelligence can help leaders and managers to anticipate these issues ahead of time and take measures to address them before conflicts arise. It can also help leaders to craft a shared vision for the merged company that will appeal to both employees and customers. By understanding how different cultures interact, leaders can better encourage collaboration, foster trust, and respect, and create more effective strategies for managing change. In short, cultural intelligence is essential for successful mergers. 

Leaders must also provide support during the transition, helping employees to adapt to the new culture. They can do that by offering training and resources that target cultural challenges, such as language barriers, different values, communication styles, and the like. Additionally, leaders must be willing to challenge their own assumptions about the other culture in order to create a more inclusive work environment. Through this effort, employees will gain a better understanding of each other’s backgrounds and perspectives – which can lead to a more unified culture.  

By understanding and responding to different cultural challenges, leaders can create a stronger foundation for their merged organizations. In addition to providing training and resources, they must also be open to incorporating different perspectives, as this can lead to a more unified culture. Without cultural intelligence and sensitivity, mergers won’t reach their full potential. 

They must also work with all stakeholders to carefully co-create the culture of the new company, one that reflects the best of both organizations. Only then can culturally intelligent leadership hope to navigate the challenges of a merger and create a successful new company. 

Leaders who are culturally intelligent bring a number of important assets to the table during a merger. They are confident in their ability to recognize the value of their new co-workers and former rivals, build relationships and trust, and create high-performing teams. This confidence allows them to navigate the challenges of a merger with greater ease, helping to ensure a smooth transition for all involved.  

Furthermore, their cultural intelligence also provides them with the skills necessary to effectively communicate with employees from all backgrounds, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and understands the goals of the merger. By leveraging their cultural intelligence, leaders can ensure that a merger is successful and that all employees are able to thrive in their new environment. 

The importance of culturally intelligent leadership 

When two companies merge, there is always the potential for cultural conflicts to arise. After all, each company has its own unique history, values, and way of doing things. If these differences are not managed properly, they can quickly lead to disharmony and even derail the merger altogether. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to be culturally intelligent.  

Cultural intelligence is the ability to understand and adapt to cultural differences. It involves both cognitive skills (such as understanding different values and beliefs) and behavioral skills (such as being respectful and building relationships). Leaders who are culturally intelligent are better able to navigate the challenges of a merger and help their employees to do the same. As we enter a new era of corporate consolidation, culturally intelligent leadership will become increasingly important. 

Key components of culturally intelligent leadership 

There are four key components of culturally intelligent leadership:  

  1. cross-cultural communication 
  1. cross-cultural management 
  1. cross-cultural understanding  
  1. cross-cultural integration  

Let’s take a closer look at each one.  

Cross-cultural communication is the ability to communicate effectively with people from other cultures. This includes understanding cultural differences in communication styles and using that knowledge to adapt your own style. It also includes being aware of potential misunderstandings and taking steps to avoid them. Cross-cultural communication is essential for building trust and rapport with employees from both cultures.  

Cross-cultural management is the ability to manage people from other cultures effectively. This includes understanding how different cultures view authority, hierarchy, and power dynamics. It also includes being aware of potential conflict points and taking steps to avoid or resolve them. Cross-cultural management is essential for maintaining productivity and harmony within the organization during a merger.  

Cross-cultural understanding is the ability to understand how other cultures think, feel, and behave. This includes understanding cultural differences in values, beliefs, and norms. It also includes being aware of potential misunderstandings and taking steps to avoid them. Cross-cultural understanding is essential for making sure that everyone feels respected and valued during a merger.  

Cross-cultural integration is the ability to integrate two cultures into one cohesive whole. This includes understanding how to meld the best of both cultures into something new and even better. It also includes being aware of potential conflict points and taking steps to avoid or resolve them. 

A key challenge during a merger  

One of the key challenges during a merger is ensuring that employees feel psychologically safe. This is important because feeling safe is essential for employees to be able to take risks, be creative, and experiment. A lack of psychological safety can lead to employees feeling like they need to conform, which can stifle innovation and creativity.  

Leaders need to be culturally intelligent in order to create a psychologically safe environment. They need to be aware of the different cultures that exist within the organization and how those cultures can impact employee behavior. They also need to be able to communicate effectively with employees from all backgrounds and build trust. By creating a psychologically safe environment, leaders can encourage employees to take risks, be creative, and experiment, which is essential for a successful merger. 

Why 70-90% of international mergers fail? 

A large part of the reason why international mergers fail is because of a lack of cultural intelligence among leaders. In order to successfully lead a merger, it is essential to be able to understand and respect the cultures of both organizations involved. Without this understanding, it is difficult to create a cohesive team that can work together effectively.  

Additionally, a lack of cultural intelligence can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings, which can further damage morale and productivity. By contrast, leaders who are culturally intelligent are better able to create a harmonious environment in which both sets of employees feel valued and respected. This, in turn, leads to greater cooperation and collaboration, and ultimately a more successful merger. 

2021 was a record year for mergers and acquisitions (M&A). In the United States alone, M&A activity totaled $581 billion. This figure includes both announced and completed deals. The previous record was set in 2007 when M&A activity reached $563 billion. Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major factor driving M&A activity in recent months. With many businesses struggling to survive, there has been a wave of consolidation in several industries. As businesses continue to adapt to the new normal, it is likely that we will see even more M&A activity in the coming year. 

Having all that in mind, it is obvious why culturally intelligent leadership is essential for making a merger successful. Leaders need to be able to effectively communicate with, understand, manage, and integrate employees from both cultures into one cohesive whole. By doing so, they can create an environment where everyone feels respected and valued and where the best of both cultures can shine through. 


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