Political events over the last several years have led to an increasing amount of national navel-gazing. In the UK, the USA and individual European countries there has been more dialogue about what each nation wants for themselves (and what/who they don’t want), and less of a focus on collaboration.

To some degree, of course, we need to do that. We need to look after ourselves before we can work with others. But the balance appears to have shifted to a degree that the inward gaze is firmly fixed and earplugs have been rammed into collective ears so as to drown out other points of view.

Why is this relevant to leaders at the very top of organisations?

One could argue that political and social navel-gazing is not as relevant to organisations as we might believe. The result of the Brexit vote, or the 2017 UK general election, has not significantly changed the daily workings of organisations … yet.

International clients and teams, and the relationships with them, have not gone away. In fact they need to be cultivated more carefully and wisely than ever before to detract from the noise of politicians and media outlets claiming to represent an entire nation (which is ironic, with so many nations politically split virtually right down the middle!).

Putting aside politics, there are stories of project gaffes and flat-out failures arising from misunderstanding the cultural nuances of different markets. And the end result is not only financial loss, but reputational loss too: In 2011 Puma lost significant dollar amounts in product design and promotion in the UAE when it put the nation’s flag colours on a new shoe. Anger arose from putting such important and symbolic colours on an item considered dirty in Arab culture. ⁽ᵃ⁾

Leading with Cultural Intelligence (CI) is more important now than ever – whether you have a diverse team right under your nose, satellite offices or an international client base. Leaders with high CI and a global mindset:

  • are faster at problem-solving in complex environments
  • develop strong alliances to help them capture new opportunities
  • are better equipped to inspire and lead diverse workforces
  • are more inclusive – and so better able to promote and share knowledge at all levels

To have high levels of CI leaders need to develop:

  • cross-cultural agility – requiring self-awareness of their own and others’ cultural influences. Understanding their own biases to help address business challenges.
  • an inclusive work-place culture – inviting innovative perspectives and not penalising those who think or do things differently. Innovation comes from this well-spring.
  • an understanding of the wide pool of potential customers – pursuing these is essential for growth. To do this effectively demands understanding those very different to the self. ⁽ᵇ⁾

I cannot stress enough the importance of leading with Cultural Intelligence. Leading in this way is good for the bottom line, and fostering it as a competency in your organisations is an essential component of responsible corporate citizenship.

a. A World of Difference, Menzies (2016)
b. The Inclusion Paradox, Tapia (2016)