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What’s a culturally intelligent and inclusive leader and how do you know you are one?


What’s a culturally intelligent and inclusive leader and how do you know you are one?

Leading the way to intentional inclusion begins with embracing ambiguity and exploring the depth of difference.

“The culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate”

Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker 1

When Steve and Todd wrote this in their book about school culture in 20141 they coined a notion that resonates in all types of organisations everywhere.

Leadership is responsible for culture. Leadership role models. Leadership has a responsibility to lead behaviour, as well as policy.

Conversely, it must also resonate to say, “The culture of any organisation can be shaped by the best behaviour the leader is willing to demonstrate“, so, what does this mean for inclusion, and how can leaders be intentional about it?

But, before that, maybe we need to take a step back and also ask – what does it mean to be a leader?

Richard D. Lewis charted 24 different leadership styles in his book “When Cultures Collide.” (see image: courtesy of Paul Sohn)²

Dr David Livermore, the man we like to call the Godfather of Cultural Intelligence (CQ), says of this image, “As always, avoid stereotypes but these visuals are a helpful starting point to consider leadership approaches across the world.”³

Whether you agree or disagree with the detail in the graphics, acknowledging that different people display different approaches to leadership is a crucial point of understanding.

Dr Livermore has also noted that 90% of leadership books assume a low power distance, individualist context, yet, 70% of the world is high power distance and collectivist.Power distance refers to whether you prefer shared- decision making, to expecting superiors to make decisions. (If you’re not familiar with these terms, please check out David’s book “Leading with Cultural Intelligence” for more detail on the 10 Cultural Value Dimensions). So, if you’re a subscriber to the vast majority of leadership literature you may not be cognizant of the gaps between your knowledge and experience and the needs of a diverse workforce.

The Global Leadership and Organisational Behaviour Effectiveness (GLOBE)5 study examined leaders and followers across 62 countries to determine similarities and differences in what followers want from their leaders. They had some agreement in what they did and didn’t want, however there was a vast difference in the behaviours used to describe how the leaders would manifest those attributes. E.g. what trustworthy looks and feels like to me, may be different to what it is for you, even though we both agree trustworthiness is an important leadership trait. Culture influences what people expect and need from their leader.

Once we can acknowledge there is no singular overarching way to be a leader, we have the propensity to become an inclusive one.

Cultural intelligence (CQ) is an essential skill for effective leadership in our multi-cultural, globalised world.

When Above Difference carries out its Masterclasses in Inclusive Leadership, CQ underpins the whole discussion.

You mustn’t be misled, however, in thinking this is necessarily for people who lead global organisations or multi-national teams, because a diversity of cultures exists under all our noses. There is often the misconception that “multi-cultural” refers to nationalistic or ethnic difference, when in fact culture simply refers to what is acceptable and familiar within a given group. And acceptability and familiarity can vary whatever the signifier, be it the culture of a particular generation, sexuality, health condition, non-alcohol drinkers, myth believers, etc.

So, inclusive leadership based in cultural intelligence, allows for any difference, the question is how do you react to that difference and are sure to think, behave and act in a way that consciously includes different perspectives.

In the first instance, culturally intelligent leaders are curious. They have a desire and motivation to know about difference. That is to say they are high in CQ Drive.

Next, they understand how differences such as values, norms, religion, family, laws, education, languages, economic influences affect the way their teams think and behave. They are high in CQ Knowledge.

Then they learn to plan ahead for unfamiliar cultural settings while remaining flexible. This is CQ Strategy.

Finally, they are high in CQ Action – they choose the right verbal and nonverbal behaviours, depending on context and successful adapt their behaviour to each situation.

Angela Earnshaw of Leeds and York NHS Trust told us, “The Above Difference programme provided me with new insight into how I can become a fully inclusive leader. The CQ Framework provides a clear foundation for taking forward personal development and improvements.”

In 2017, Deloitte cited Cultural Intelligence as one of the six signature traits of inclusive leadership.They say, “Inclusive leaders are tolerant of ambiguity, which enables them to manage the stress imposed by new or different cultural environments as well as situations where familiar environmental or behavioural cues are lacking.” This is important, because in the pressurised world of leadership, when stress hits you can be tempted to default to comfortable predisposed norms and fall back on biases.

Inclusive leadership is a journey of discovery about self as well as others and its rich rewards can be felt in personal growth as well as in the profit column.


How does your organisation feel?


How does your organisation feel?

Emerging research demonstrates that having a diverse organisation or team is not enough.

Having a diverse workforce won’t necessarily bring you the benefits all those consultancy reports say they will… in fact it may lead to a reduction in the bottom line… homogenous teams can perform better.1

And if you leave this article there, you’ll never know how you can leverage difference to maximise its value in your workforce.

You may have come to this website with various questions:

What’s the difference between Diversity and Inclusion? How do I improve my employee engagement with this? How can my bottom line be impacted by difference?

The short answer is, Cultural Intelligence (CQ).

The longer answer is this:

Diversity is a matter of fact. It’s the visible and invisible difference which encompasses us all and everything. But if diversity includes everyone, do we therefore conclude it means nothing? On the contrary, politics and economic ideologies have imbued certain identities with particular values and emphasis where are combination of some are – unfairly – socially deemed better than others. This is why acknowledging difference is so important; we can identify which identities are under-represented (e.g. black, female, disabled) and those that have no problem with representation (e.g. white, male, enabled).

However, working on this, and creating an organisation that reflects a diversity of populations is only part of the story. The benefits that difference and varying perspectives can bring can disappear if people don’t know how to relate and work effectively with each other.

“The predominant view of research on diversity is that it can be either good or bad but, in fact, in many cases it is both,” Randall Peterson of London Business School explains “Diversity is good because it gives you a different perspective, but it is bad because it makes it hard to work with each other because of the lack of social cohesion. Indeed, the power of the social cohesion problem seems to overwhelm the upside possibilities of sharing perspectives or having different perspectives on the same problem.”2

This, amongst other research, has repeatedly demonstrated that having a diverse organisation or team is not enough. You can’t simply concentrate on how your organisation looks in terms of visible diversity or acknowledging you have under-represented groups3. What you must also consider is how it feels to the groups who make it diverse, especially marginalised groups.

And, so, we come to the matter of inclusion. If Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is an act.

Inclusion is the environment where all difference is valued, respected and understood. Inclusion is for all, otherwise it’s not inclusion at all. We have to tackle all agendas pertaining to under-representation, not just gender, or race or age or sexuality etc. because this undermines the layers of identities people have, and the way someone might choose to identify themselves, may not be the way other, even the law, chooses to label them.

These, necessary conversations and knowledge building are vital to inclusion, but they’re not the answer to inclusion.

So, how? How do you create an inclusive organisation?

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) helps you enhance the lived-in experiences of all your workforce.

CQ is a quotient, a measurement, as well as an improvable skill, which is what makes it so uniquely well-placed to help you keep track of change.

CQ is the set of capabilities required to help you work and relate effectively with people who are different from you. Working above difference to create cohesion.

CQ is the Inclusion factor.

If Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is the act when CQ is unpacked.

To unpack CQ you should consider the research question that resulted in the quotient creation. What’s the difference between success and failure in today’s multi-cultural, globalised world?4 Great question, right? How to you determine who is successful and who will fail when managing difference and leading inclusion?


The answer when it came, from participant research across scores of countries and thousands of people, was you need four capabilities:

  • CQ Drive
    Motivation – do you want to behave in a new way to encourage inclusion?
  • CQ Knowledge
    Understanding – what do you need to know to behave in a new way to encourage inclusion?
  • CQ Strategy
    Planning, checking and awareness – are you thinking about what you’re thinking in order to behave in a new way to encourage inclusion?
  • CQ Action
    Behaviour – are you managing your speech, verbal and non-verbal cues to be inclusive?

Working on developing these four capabilities is what creates Culturally Intelligent individuals, leaders and organisations. The resulting impact is to get the best out of your diverse workforce where there is equity and innovative, bottom-line enhancing outcomes.

Organisations with inclusive cultures are 8-times more likely to have overall better business outcomes.5

If Diversity is a fact.

Inclusion is the act

when CQ is unpacked

with Equity impact.

When Above Difference works with organisational leaders whose CQ role modelling is crucial to organisational change, the outcomes are overwhelmingly positive:

“The model provided helpful building blocks towards action and provided an opportunity to consider one’s own CQ strengths and areas for development. I liked the concept of a CQ journey with opportunity for both personal, professional and organisational development”.

Having a diverse workforce won’t bring you the benefits all those consultancy reports say they will… unless you have an inclusion strategy underpinned with CQ.

Research by CQ Center, Developing Cultural Intelligence Workshop

2 Trust us: New research by Randall S Peterson sheds fresh light on how trust works in small groups, London Business School, August 2015
3 Driven By Difference, David Livermore, 2016
4 CQ Key Research Question
5 High-Impact Diversity and Inclusion: Maturity Model and Top Findings, Bersin by Deloitte, 2017