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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.