Skip to content

Cultural Intelligence in Modern Day Leadership

Sometime in the past, having a high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was an essential element of leadership. Over time, emotional intelligence (EQ) complemented this ability to quickly and intelligently analyze facts. I’m convinced that leaders with a high degree of emotional intelligence are able to connect with their audience and engage them in a personal and authentic manner.

Cultural intelligence (CQ) has now found its moment. This skill has never been needed as much as it is now. It is not about leadership theories, but the reality of modern-day leadership. The cultural intelligence skill offers leaders the advantage they need to thrive in today’s world, where people of different backgrounds work across borders, both in a cultural and physical sense.

Every human is like all other humans, some other humans, and no other human.

Cultural intelligence goes beyond the mere ability to understand others; it is the ability to understand people who do not share similar cultural norms and work with them in a mutually beneficial fashion.

Modern-day Shifts That Show the Need for Cultural Intelligence

Increased Need for Collaboration

Huge tasks cannot be solved when people, sectors, communities or even countries operate alone. There is now, more than ever, the need for collaboration across the board. Without cultural intelligence, leaders will be unable to lead functional collaborations – people may perform tasks on their own and collaborations will never hit the ground running. Without collaboration, resources will be wasted, clashes between sectors will exist, and divides will continue to deepen, leaving problems unsolved.

The Value of Trust

Trust has increasingly become an asset in our world today. People only patronize brands they trust, follow leaders based on trust, and listen to influencers they trust. A lack of trust will make it difficult for people to give their best; they will simply move on to a source they trust.

As a leader, you have to make yourself trustworthy: building a distinguished record over time, handling matters correctly and with consistency, and making the right decisions. 

One thing is to achieve all of this in your sector or culture, where the standard of trust is the same for everyone. It is a different ball game when it comes to establishing your trustworthiness with those whose standard of trust differs from yours. This is why you need to develop real cultural intelligence.

The Urban Life Thrill

People are moving to cities all around the world, now more than ever. As a result, these cities have not just become home to a large population of people, but now has a large pool of talent, of people from varying cultures and backgrounds. I experience this firsthand in the city I live in – Singapore is a great example and an absolute melting-pot where east meets west.

To be a successful leader in cities like these, cultural intelligence is key. You will need to be able to connect with your new friends, neighbours, colleagues or employees, rather than make them feel they must leave their differences at the door before coming in. As a leader, you must be able to create a culture that makes people feel welcome and encourages them to be all they ever dreamt of being.

Demographic Demands

When older and younger people form a bond, it makes for meaningful relationships that improve the well-being of both groups. Unfortunately, such links have become a rare sight throughout the world. In some cases, it is as a result of the declining number of young people who cater for their elders; many now consider it a burden. In other cases, young people want to gain independence from adults as quickly as possible.

The connection between the young and old is vital – one that must happen. CQ is key to bridge the gaps to make for improved relationships between these different age groups.

Final Thoughts

Cultural intelligence makes it easy for leaders to connect with people on a personal and professional level and in a consistent manner. Primarily, this is because CQ leaders possess fundamental awareness. This awareness helps them determine whether a person’s behaviour is motivated by his cultural value or a characteristic idiosyncrasy/habit.

Without CQ, a simple “Hello” may even sound insulting, and could destroy the potential relationship you may have built with an individual. First impression matters in today’s society – this is even more reason leaders must be culturally aware.

I truly believe that cultural intelligence is crucial to the success of modern-day leadership, especially if you are:

  • charged with crafting techniques to improve business performance;
  • to advertise or sell a product in a manner that appeals to the culture of your listeners; 
  • leading the negotiation line for cross-border businesses;
  • connecting the new digital economy with the – in many areas still prevailing – mindset of the analogue past.

Image Source: © AS-Schneider