Why cultural intelligence is your key to becoming a skillful international leader

Marianne Slotboom
Dec 16, 2021

In this post we are going to take a look at how, in an ever-connected world, a strong cultural intelligence has become critical to becoming a skillful international leader. We will take a look at the four areas of cultural intelligence and give you a checklist so that you can assess the cultural habits of your international team members.

The ever-connected world that we all live in means that we need more and more global managers and global team members. These global team players might work alongside their international counterparts in a business to business environment, or even in the same organization and have the same basic objectives.

It is no surprise that managing cultural differences has become a vital skill when it comes to achieving success in international business: a person’s ability to manage cultural differences and capitalize on those differences comes down to their cultural intelligence, which has four areas.

The Four Areas of Cultural Intelligence

Before we go on to explore how we can improve and grow our cultural intelligence, it is important for us to properly define exactly what we mean when we talk about this relatively new term.

Cultural Intelligence is a concept developed by Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne, and consists of four major areas, which are used to measure the depth of a person’s ability to navigate different cultures skilfully. The four areas are broken down in the following way:

  1. Drive

Drive is a person's interest and confidence in functioning effectively in culturally diverse settings. It includes:

  • Intrinsic interest – deriving enjoyment from culturally diverse experiences
  • Extrinsic interest – gaining benefits from culturally diverse experiences
  • Self-efficacy – having the confidence to be effective in culturally diverse situations 
  1. Knowledge

Knowledge is a person's knowledge about how cultures are similar and how cultures are different. It includes:

  • Business – knowledge about economic and legal systems
  • Interpersonal – knowledge about values, social interaction norms, and religious beliefs
  • Socio-linguistics – knowledge about rules of languages and rules for expressing non-verbal behaviors
  1. Strategy

Strategy is how a person makes sense of culturally diverse experiences. It occurs when people make judgments about their own thought processes and those of others. It includes:

  • Awareness – knowing about one's existing cultural knowledge;
  • Planning – strategizing before a culturally diverse encounter;
  • Checking – checking assumptions and adjusting mental maps when actual experiences differ from expectations.
  1. Action

Action is a person's capability to adapt verbal and nonverbal behavior to make it appropriate to diverse cultures. It involves having a flexible repertoire of behavioral responses that suit a variety of situations. It includes:

  • Non-verbal – modifying nonverbal behaviors (e.g., gestures, facial expressions)
  • Verbal – modifying verbal behaviors (e.g., accent, tone)

Reading over these four categories, it will become clear to you that some of these areas are more intuitive and natural, while others will require study and learning. It is a great exercise to read over these categories and attempt to honestly assess yourself and your own performance in each area, and consider ways that you might be able to improve.

The following checklist is a great first step to become aware of the most important cultural differences within your environment, and to develop your cultural intelligence, in order to become a successful international leader.

Assess the preferences of your International team members and discover yours

This checklist is based upon “The Cultural Map” by Erin Meyer. By completing the checklist you might reveal some interesting insights into the way that your international contacts and colleagues work, and improve your own cultural understanding.

1. Communicating: Do they communicate in a direct or indirect way?

• Is their communication style precise, simple and explicit?

• Or is their style nuanced, sophisticated, layered?

2. Evaluating: How do they communicate their opinion or criticism?

• Do they say exactly what’s on their mind?

• Are they very careful when it comes to giving negative feedback?

3. Deciding: Is decision making dependent on group consensus or possible by individuals?

• Are they looking for individual recognition or as a team?

• How does maintaining harmony affect their group affiliation?

4. Trusting: What constitutes a good relationship for them?

• Is trust built through work or through deeper personal contact?

• What role do social activities play in the relationship building process?

5. Disagreeing: How do they express their disagreement?

• Can they say ´no´directly and without reservation?

• Do they communicate their disagreement very dimly or are they comfortable with it?

6. Scheduling: How do they manage their time?

• What can you expect in terms of punctuality? Deadlines are met?

• How do they balance personal and professional time?

Successful international business people are able to manage cultural diversity and capitalize on differences, they are culturally intelligent.

Do you think that this test was helpful and made you look at your own role as an international leader in a new way?

I do hope so, and I would love to talk about this fascinating topic with you in further detail. It is a very interesting and critical topic in today’s business environment, and it brings up so many exciting questions, such as:

  • What do you think, of the four key areas of cultural intelligence, is the most important area?
  • Do you think that it is possible to improve all four of the areas?
  • How do you see cultural intelligence developing as the world continues to become more globalized?

Why not share your views on some of these questions in the comments below? Thank you!

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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