Read an Excerpt
You Lead Across a Multicultural Terrain: Why CQ?
Leadership today is a multicultural challenge. Few of us need to be convinced of that fact. We’re competing in a global marketplace a managing a diverse workforce, and trying to keep up with rapidly shifting trends. However, many approaches to this leadership challenge seem either far too simplistic (e.g., “Smile, avoid these three taboos, and you’ll be fine”) or far too extreme (e.g., “Don’t go anywhere until you’re a cross-cultural guru”). Cultural intelligence offers a better way. The four-step cycle of cultural intelligence presented in this book is one you can run through every time you jump into a new cross-cultural situation.
What are the biggest hindrances to reaching your goals personally and professionally? How do you effectively lead people who come from different cultural backgrounds? What kinds of cultural situations bring you the greatest level of fatigue? How do you give instructions for an assignment to a Pakistani employee versus one from Bosnia? What kind of training should you design for a management team coming from multiple cultural backgrounds? How do you get feedback from a colleague who comes from a culture that values saving face above direct, straightforward feedback?
And how can you possibly keep up with all the different cultural scenarios that surface in our rapidly globalizing world? These are the kinds of questions answered by running through the four-step cycle of CQ presented in this book.
All my life I’ve been fascinated by cultures. From as far back in my childhood as a Canadian-American kid growing up in New
York, I was intrigued by the differences we’d encounter on our trips across the border to visit our relatives in Canada. The multicolored money, the different ways of saying things, and the varied cuisine we found after passing through customs drew me in.
I’ve learned far more about leadership, global issues, and my faith from cross-cultural experiences and work than from any graduate course I’ve ever taken or taught. I’ve made people laugh when I’ve stumbled through a different language or inadvertently ate something the “wrong” way. I’ve winced upon later discovering I offended a group of ethnically different colleagues because I spent too much time complimenting them. I’m a better leader, teacher a father, friend, and citizen because of the cross-cultural friendships
I’ve forged through my work. And through the fascinating domain of cultural intelligence, I’ve discovered an enriched way to understand and prepare for my cross-cultural work.
Cultural intelligence is the “capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures.”1 It can be learned by almost anyone. Cultural intelligence offers leaders an overall repertoire and perspective that can be applied to a myriad of cultural situations.
It is a capability that includes four different dimensions enabling us to meet the fast-paced demands of leadership. This book describes how to gain the competitive edge and finesse that comes from running through the four-step cycle of cultural intelligence. Think about a cross-cultural assignment or situation facing you. Take a minute and walk through the four-step cycle of CQ right now:
1. CQ Drive: What is your motivation for this assignment?
2. CQ Knowledge: What cultural information is needed to fulfill this task?
3. CQ Strategy: What is your plan for this initiative?
4. CQ Action: What behaviors do you need to adapt to do this effectively?
If you don’t have a clue how to answer one or more of those questions right now, the book will explain how to do all that. But before more fully describing what cultural intelligence is and how to develop it, it is important to see its direct relevance to leadership in a rapidly globalizing world. This chapter reviews some of the most compelling reasons for becoming more culturally intelligent. We
begin with a story and then we look at an overview of the relevance of cultural intelligence to our most pressing leadership demands.
FROM WEST MICHIGAN TO WEST AFRICA
It’s the day before I fly to Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia.
Liberia, a small country on the coast of West Africa, isn’t a place a ever planned to visit. But given that my organization has recently formed a partnership there, it’s now become a regular destination for me. I’ve spent far more time working in Europe, Asia, and Latin
America, which are much more familiar destinations to me. West
Africa still feels very foreign. Yet, the flattened world of globalization makes even the most foreign places still seem oddly familiar in some strange way. Wireless access in the hotel where I stay, Diet
Coke, and the use of U.S. currency remove some of the faraway feeling of a place like Monrovia yet I still have to make a lot of adaptations to do my job in a place like Liberia.
It’s amazing how life and work in our rapidly globalizing world brings us an unprecedented number of encounters with people a places, and issues from around the world. I guess the world is flat — isn’t it? Economist Thomas Friedman popularized the term flat world to suggest that the competitive playing fields between industrialized and emerging markets are leveling.2
The day before I leave for West Africa is spent tying up loose ends prior to my weeklong absence. I respond to e-mails from colleagues in Dubai, Shanghai, Frankfurt, and Johannesburg and I talk on the phone with clients in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. My wife and a grab a quick lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant, and we talk with a Sudanese refugee who bags the groceries we pick up on the way home. Before my kids return from their Cinco de Mayo celebration at school, I call my credit card company and I reach a customer service representative in Delhi. Even in the small city of Grand Rapids,
Michigan, where I live, cross-cultural encounters abound.
One would think travel across the flattened world would be easier than it is. Getting from Grand Rapids to Monrovia takes some very deliberate planning and it wreaks havoc on the body.
My travel and work have to be planned around the three days a week when Brussels Air, the only Western airline that flies into
Monrovia, goes there. But still, the fact that I can have breakfast with my family one morning and go for a run along the Atlantic
Coast in West Africa less than twenty-four hours later is still pretty amazing. So maybe the world is becoming flat.
On the flight from Brussels to Monrovia, I sit next to Tim, a twenty-two-year-old Liberian guy currently living in Atlanta. We
chat briefly. He describes his enthusiasm about going home to
Liberia for his first visit since his parents helped plan his escape to the United States during the civil war ten years previously.
As we land, I see the U.N. planes parked across the tarmac. A
mere eight hours ago, I was walking the streets of Brussels and grabbing an early morning waffle. And here I am making my way toward passport control in Monrovia. Maybe travel across multiple time zones isn’t so bad after all.
Eventually I end up at the baggage claim next to Tim, my new acquaintance. A porter who looks so old he could pass for age 100 is there to help Tim with his luggage. The porter asks Tim, “How long are you staying here, man?” Tim responds, “Only two weeks. I wish it was longer.” The porter bursts out with a piercing laugh. “Why a my man? You’re from the USA!” Tim responds, “I know, but life is hard there. I wish I could stay here longer. Life is better here.” The porter laughs even harder, slaps Tim on the back, and says, “You’re talking crazy, man. Look at you. You have an American passport!
You don’t know what a hard life is. I’ve been working the last thirtyseven hours straight and they haven’t paid me for six weeks. But a can’t give up this job. Most people don’t have jobs. But look at you.
You’ve been eating well. You look so fat and healthy. And you live in the USA!” Tim just shakes his head and says, “You don’t know. You have no idea, no idea. It’s hard. Never mind. Just get my bag.” I can see the fatigue penetrating Tim’s broad shoulders.
I can understand why the porter found it absolutely laughable that a twenty-two-year-old bloke who can afford a two-week vacation across the ocean could consider life “hard.” Yet I imagine there are some significant hardships for Tim as a young African-
American man living in Atlanta. The statistics are stacked against him. How many people lock their car doors when he walks by?
What extra hoops did he have to go through to get hired at the fitness center where he works? And Tim had told me the enormous expectations placed on him by his family and friends who stayed back in Liberia. After all, they didn’t get to escape the war, so the least he can do is send regular amounts of money to support them.
Observing these kinds of interactions as we travel provides insights into how to negotiate and fulfill our strategic outcomes.
As I walk out of the Monrovia airport, a brightly smiling woman adorned in glowing orange from head to toe sells me a
SIM card for my phone for USD $5. I hand her five U.S. dollars. a send a text message to my family to let them know I arrived safely.
While walking, texting, and looking for my driver, I nearly trip over a woman relieving herself, I see kids selling drinking water a and I pass men my age who by Liberian standards are statistically in their final years. Using my phone to send a text message home makes the foreign seem familiar, but watching my kids’ peers sell water makes the same place seem foreign.